State Ties Stronger

Despite growing up less than 40 miles from Pittsburgh, senior linebacker Zac Cooper never let his close proximately to the universities of the Steel City affect his loyalty to his home state. The Weirton, W.Va. native never wavered in his support of his home state -- although some of his friends did.

"I'm closer to Pittsburgh than I am to Morgantown," said Cooper of his hometown, "but, I was never a Pitt fan growing up. I was never even a Steelers fan growing up. All of my best friends growing up were Steelers fans and they were annoying. My brother went here so the first Backyard Brawl I went to set me in stone for the way that I feel now. I'm sure the feeling is mutual between us."

Although Cooper has never been much of a fan of the land of Three Rivers, he admits that there isn't a better, tougher team to be facing on his final home game as a Mountaineer.

"It's going to be exciting just like the other 101 games that have been played," said Cooper. "It will mean a lot being senior night. It will be pretty sad but it's the best team to go out on senior night with."

Cooper and the rest of the Mountaineer defense have been diligently preparing for the talented Panther offense. They will be met by veteran senior quarterback Bill Stull as well as newcomer freshman running back Dion Lewis.

"[Pitt] has a really good offense," said Cooper. "They have a great offensive line. An awesome running back, talented wide receivers, a good quarterback. They're very deadly. Very good. They play physical. They run right at you."

With the Backyard Brawl being strategically scheduled around Thanksgiving every year, players have to get used to missing their usual Thanksgivings at home with their families. Although it is hard to adjust to, the coaches do put something together for the team to celebrate the holiday. During his five years in Morgantown, he has made it home to Weirton just once for Thanksgiving – and that was due to a hernia operation which held him out of the game during his freshman season.

"We are having our Thanksgiving dinner [Wednesday] night and I am excited about it," said Cooper. "[Coach Kirelawich] doesn't cook. No players go to his house and eat. At the end of camp, we used to go to our coach's house for dinner and he never had anyone at his house. He always took everyone to [former] Coach Gibson's house."

As Cooper and the rest of the seniors' time in Morgantown comes to a close, they admit to have begun to reflect on their past four to five years with the football program. Emotions for them are running high as their last home game looms.

"Reed Williams, Pat Lazear, Nate Sowers, Trippe Hale, and I all get in the hot tub the night before the game," said Cooper. "A couple of week ago, we were just thinking about how it's all about to be over. Pat Lazear and Trippe [Hale] will still be there but me, Nate, and Reed will be gone. We started talking about life and how we have to get serious now and it was kind of depressing."

Before the seniors end their time as Mountaineers, however, there are three important games left in their careers. The first two, against Pitt and Rutgers, will go a long way in deciding WVU's bowl destination. But before that's analyzed or considered, there's the matter of the Backyard Brawl. Anyone who has spent five years in Morgantown doesn't want anything more than a win over the Panthers -- especially someone who has lived in close proximity to them for all of his life.

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