Stew's Views: Coastal Carolina

Bill Stewart knows what Coastal Carolina head coach David Bennett might tell his players in the locker room before their game Saturday afternoon against a heavily-favored WVU team. After all, he once was in a similar spot as the leader of the VMI program in the 1990s.

In the first game of his third and final season with the Keydets, Stewart led his team into battle with Ole Miss.

A small school in what was then known as Division I-AA (now the Football Championship Subdivision), VMI was to be little challenge to the mighty Rebels of the Southeastern Conference. Stewart's squad had won only four games the season before.

But that mattered little to the Keydets and their head coach.

"I just talked to them a little bit about life's challenges, and how great of an opportunity [it was]," Stewart said, when asked to recall his pregame speech from 14 years ago.

"You find ways to motivate your troops. It's a wonderful opportunity. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

VMI stuck around for longer than some may have expected that day, before ultimately falling to the Rebels 31-7.

But other lower-division teams have managed to pull the upset in these games.

Stewart recalled a 1992 contest when The Citadel traveled to Fayetteville, Ark., and took down the Razorbacks 10-3. He then invoked the memory of perhaps the biggest upset in the history of college football, the 34-32 Appalachian State takedown of No. 5-ranked Michigan in 2007.

"I don't take any games for granted," said the third-year WVU head coach. "I'm not like those ‘experts.' We've got to play them all, one at a time."

Of course, Saturday afternoon's kickoff is the beginning of that process for West Virginia.

But even with the season-opener just four days away, Stewart was not backing down on the intensity in practice.

"We've been practicing very hard," he said. "I don't know what the temperature is today, and I don't care other than it's hot. We're going to go out in full pads today and get it again. It's been a physical camp. It's been a tough camp. It's been a demanding camp.

"And yet we've had some fun. We've found some young guys to add to the older players. I feel good that our team has bonded in a positive manner. They hopefully are becoming like a band of brothers. We are family."

That family will take to the Mountaineer Field turf for the first time as a team this weekend, culminating a lengthy process that makes a mockery of the term "off-season."

Stewart recalled how players began in the weight room in January, not long after the Gator Bowl loss to Florida State. That process went on for a couple of months before spring practice.

Stewart said players stayed in town over spring break to rest or to continue working out. That continued over the summer, as the Mountaineers went back to work on strength and conditioning while their classmates vacationed at beaches across the country. Then came preseason training camp, and now a two-week period in which classes and practices have coincided.

It all adds up to a lot of buildup, a lot of hours filled with work. And the "payoff" comes in the form of only 12 regular-season games and a bowl game.

"A play lasts, what, four and a half seconds?" Stewart asked. "Think about that. If you're in 70 offensive plays, at four and a half seconds, equate that."

A bit of quick calculation says that all of the offseason work, given Stewart's numbers of 70 plays per game and 4.5 seconds per play, is for exactly one hour, eight minutes and 15 seconds of action (assuming a team plays 13 games) over the course of a season.

After eight months of buildup, the WVU players will finally get the chance to enjoy the first few minutes of that action against Coastal Carolina.

"That's why this is so neat for the players," Stewart said.

But that chance to release some pent up energy is something enjoyed by more than just the players. Coaches feel anxious as well in these final days, according to the Mountaineers' head man.

"I can't imagine this time of year and not getting ready to play a football game," Stewart said. "I've never not done it since 1964. So I don't know what that's like, not to do it. I really don't. I don't look forward to that day coming, when I do hit that milestone and don't have an opener to get ready for."

"For the fans, I can't wait. I can only imagine what it's like. Because when I come out of that tunnel, I'm telling you, it's all business. It's a fun part, but it's all business. I want to see how tough, how explosive, how fast the Mountaineers play. I want to see how we bond. And I want to see how we fight fair as a family. That's what's exciting for me. That's why I'm so pumped for Saturday to get here. And it needs to get here quick."


  • Stewart said linebacker J.T. Thomas will play this Saturday, despite nagging pain in the senior's neck that has limited him in practices, both this spring and this fall.

    "Medically, he needs to play to see how he's going to react," Stewart said. "That's been told to me by our medical staff. So we're going to play him Saturday. He'll get in there and bang and do what he has to do, as all linebackers do. At that point, we'll see what's going on.

    "He's been cleared. He had an MRI and he is medically sound. He would not play if he weren't."

    The same may not be said for fellow linebacker Pat Lazear, who is recovering from a bone bruise just below one of his knees after being "leg-whipped" in a practice late in fall camp.

    Stewart seemed to imply that the senior was not practicing this week and that he was somewhat unlikely to be ready to go by Saturday.

    "That bone bruise, we're waiting for it to heal," the head coach said. "I can't tell you now, but I'll know more Thursday when we release the [injury] report."

  • The battle for the starting spots at the right guard and right tackle positions still rages, and according to Stewart, it may continue for the entirety of the season.

    Redshirt freshman Cole Bowers has been pushing for time at right guard, where Eric Jobe was the presumptive starter heading into fall camp. If Bowers doesn't beat out Jobe, he may work his way past Jeff Braun for the right tackle spot.

    Regardless of how things ultimately shake out, Stewart seems to think that all three men will be seeing plenty of playing time this season.

    "We just have to see," he said. "Come Saturday, I believe we'll go with Jobey and we'll see how the week goes.

    "I want to play eight or nine [offensive linemen]. There's about eight or nine linemen we feel comfortable with. Hopefully, we can bring along a couple young guys and get to 10."

  • While much of the focus in games that pit FBS teams against opponents from the lower-level FCS is on the benefits, both monetary and competitive, that the smaller schools receive, Stewart said his team will reap some rewards from this season-opener.

    "It's also good for us," he said. "We get the chance to gauge ourselves. I have a new quarterback [Geno Smith]. He's a sophomore. And two freshmen [Barry Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson] behind him."

    "It will be a good test for us. We'll hopefully get to see some young guys mature, particularly at quarterback and receiver, some defensive secondary guys, a linebacker here and there, and maybe we'll see how the tight ends do."

    It might be a bit tougher to get some of those younger players acclimated to playing at the college level if the opener was against a "tougher" opponent.

    So does Stewart prefer taking on a lower-division team to start the season, as opposed to rival Pittsburgh, which will travel to Utah for a stern test to begin the 2010 campaign?

    "I'm just glad we're playing Coastal Carolina on this Saturday in our home stadium," he said with a smile.

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