MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A few weeks ago, as the West Virginia Mountaineers football team flowed through the monotonous rigors of spring practice, standout running back Noel Devine gave a bit of a discourse on his tepid -- at best -- interest in getting hit by defenders this time of year.
"I never like to get hit," said Devine, who will be a senior in the fall, with a laugh. "But especially not in spring ball, man."
Friday night, though, was different.
The lights were on at Mountaineer Field. The band performed the Star-Spangled Banner. Fans were in the bleachers.
The players wore uniforms and went at it full bore.
This was the Gold-Blue Game, the closest thing this time of year sees to a real game.
Actually, the game was of little consequence, and most of the 21,029 inside the stadium won't remember the final score: Blue 38, Gold 0.
Instead, what most will take away from this exhibition was what West Virginia's superstar performer does when those lights come on. He rushed for 73 yards on 12 carries, scored on a 7-yard run and was, exponentially, the finest player on the turf.
"They have seen me do everything that I can do," Devine said of three years in Morgantown, where he has rushed for 3,381 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. "But this is a different environment than other practices. There are people here watching you. We haven't played in a while and with the people here, it gave us something to play harder for."
There were times when Devine breezed to the corner, cut it up and blew past a pursuer. There were other times when a play looked to go nowhere and he simply cut it inside and bullishly nudged through a linebacker.
"Looked to me like he was a man on a mission," West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart said. "That cat gave great, great, great effort. He was having fun, he was a leader. I thought he played really, really good and hard. That was the key, he played hard."
It was an escape from what some, perhaps erroneously, think -- the 5-foot-8, 180-pounder is only a run-away-from-you back.
"The work Noel has put in, to make those kind of reads, it is a tribute to him and [running backs coach] Chris Beatty," offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen said.
This spring game was as much about who didn't play, as it was about those Mountaineers who took the field after a moment of silence was held for the 29 miners killed last month near Charleston.
Geno Smith, who will be a sophomore this season and almost certainly the starting quarterback, didn't play Friday because he broke a bone in his left foot during conditioning drills in January. He has been limited in drills all through spring and was held out as a precaution.
In his place, Coley White, who will be a redshirt sophomore this season, took snaps as the first and second team quarterback, playing for both teams in the scrimmage. He finished a combined 22 for 36 for 189 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Also sidelined were seniors J.T. Thomas, a linebacker, with a slight neck injury, and Scooter Berry, a senior defensive lineman, who is still dealing with the impact of shoulder surgery.
Colin Dunlap: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1459.