“Day One. . . . First practice. . . ,” was how a hoarse Bill Stewart opened his first news conference, after the first day of camp Saturday on Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, W.Va. And it was a good day for him.
Forget about it being his first fall practice as a head coach in almost 12 years. Forget about it being his first official season start as the coach of his homestate university – “the American dream,” he calls it.
Rather, it was the first of many business days, with the preseason Top-10 Mountaineers ushering in yet another season brimming with expectation.
So let’s get down to business, as so much personnel has changed and continues to change:
- Nose guard Pat Liebig awaits approval from the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility, after skipping last season to return home to Florida and help his ailing father in the family business of three car dealerships. He expects to get the go-ahead Mond ay. At a spot Keilen Dykes manned to all-Big East proportions, Liebig and backup Chris Neild are joined by former Wake Forest recruit Uriah Grant to transform it into a deep, if not as starry, position.
- Middle linebacker Reed Williams awaits clearance from doctors to fully tackle and play, so he may don a cautionary green practice jersey and refrain from using his surgically repaired shoulders and arms to make tackles until the Aug. 30 opener against Villanova.
- All-America candidate Ryan Stanchek sat out the first practice because of illness, with Seneca Valley’s Don Barclay filling in. . . but only temporarily.
- Brandon Hogan, expected to start or split time at slotback, is being tried out at cornerback. That leaves slotback to fellow sophomore Jock Sanders, redshirt freshman Bradley Starks (who will double as the No. 3 quarterback behind Patrick White and Jarrett Brown), and senior Dorrell Jalloh, who, unbeknownst to Stewart, worked at slotback in summer sessions that coaches are forbidden to watch.
- Speaking of that secondary, which lost four senior starters from last season and at least two recruits who didn’t cut it (yet another recruit was added, former Virginia Tech signee D.J. Thomas of Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia), it will remain a concern for some time. However, Stewart was brightened by last year’s star defensive-back signee, junior-college transfer Ellis Lankster, who reported at the precise, lower weight that Stewart requested . . . in exchange for allowing Lankster to try to return punts and kicks this season.
- Backup outside linebacker Archie Sims cleared all academic hurdles and joins John Holmes, after his offseason arrest, as welcome returnees for depth. Yet Stewart likes the look of Williams, Gateway’s Mortty Ivy and J.T. Thomas as the starting linebackers. “It’s good to see John Holmes out there flying around,” Stewart said of the senior eight credit hours shy of graduation. “He’ll be OK.”
- Hair today. . . . Pat Lazear went with the honorary Owen Schmitt Mohawk; Usually beach-bleach-blond Pat McAfee of Plum went with a buzzcut. (His second field-goal try of camp? It plunked off the right upright. “But the first one went into the upper deck,” McAfee pointed out.)
- In case you missed it in the Sunday story, Jason Gwaltney is back. . . for a third time. It figures to either be a third-time charm or a third strike, but Stewart approaches it carefully. He told Gwaltney, who’s so Three Years Ago that he last played college football by sharing time with then-fellow-freshman Steve Slaton, that 2008 will be a red-shirt season and he must stick to the academics. If Gwaltney passes Stewart’s approval shortly after classes start, the coach might permit him to practice – with the scout team only.
- In the “Oops” category, receiver Kendall Washington is listed in the Mountaineers ' 2008 media guide, headshot and bio and everything on page 94, even though he hasn’t been with the program since May and seemingly won’t be back – particularly since he ended July in the Stark County jail in his native Ohio.