Big 12 media days: Mountaineers give program new identity

BIG 12 MEDIA DAYS



DALLAS -- This isn't the same West Virginia football team that barreled into the Big 12 two years ago, fresh off stomping Clemson, 70-33, in the 2012 Orange Bowl.

That West Virginia team was a Big East browbeater.

That team had been to three BCS bowls in a seven-year span.

That team had won at least eight games in 10 consecutive seasons.

And now, that team has hit the skids.

"The days of rolling through the Big East and being able to play in a BCS game are long gone," coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday at Big 12 media days. "We don't even think about that anymore."

In a way, the three player representatives Holgorsen brought to Dallas for the annual event were a symbol of Holgorsen putting the past behind the program.

Receiver Kevin White, cornerback Daryl Worley and punter Nick O'Toole are all second-year players for West Virginia. They haven't played in a bowl game, much less a BCS bowl. They haven't seen the days of the Big East. They haven't glimpsed the mountaintop.

What they do know is the bitter taste of 4-8, and that is motivation enough.

"If anything, it makes us strive harder," said Worley, a sophomore.

"Our first appearance wasn't good enough, so it makes us want to be stronger the next time around.

"We want to meet goals and have that winning season we've all been working so hard for."

O'Toole, a former junior-college transfer who was named an All-Big 12 second-team punter last season, offered the frank observation that the Mountaineers had "a terrible season" in 2013.

"We have a chip on our shoulders," he said. "We've all heard about the Orange Bowl win and all that. That's where we want to get to. That's our goal. It helps us fuel the fire."

For White, who transferred from Lackawanna College last year, there is little time to waste. He is the only senior of the trio, and said reaching a bowl game is his aim.

"This year, I pray and hope that I can experience it," White said.

"I know 4-8 is not acceptable, but it's a learning process. We'll be all right. ... It definitely gives us motivation. We know we can get there. We just have to actually go out there, play and actually show up."

When reminded that the three players -- all established leaders -- seated beside him had just one year of Division I experience, Holgorsen laughed.

"That's one reason we were 4-8," he said. "So many first-year players.

"Take the first- and second-place teams in the Big 12 last year. Baylor and Oklahoma are going in with how many fourth- and fifth-year seniors? Just look at who gets brought to media days."

He gestured toward the other side of the grand ballroom at the Omni Dallas Hotel where hordes of reporters circled around Oklahoma's five player representatives.

"You've got to have guys that have experience in your system in order to be successful," he continued. "I think we're at that point now."

West Virginia was forced to reinvent itself last season, particularly on offense after the departures of record-setting trio Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.

Worley called the change a "rediscovery."

"With losing such big talent, we didn't know who would step up," he said. "With guys having their first year in the Big 12, like me, I was unaware of what was going to happen. I was nervous and sitting back on my heels playing.

"Nerves were struck. It shocks you a little bit. Now, with everyone knowing what to expect, and going into our second year, we're a lot more prepared than before."

*

NOTES -- Holgorsen refused to comment on the status of running back Wendell Smallwood, who was extradited to his home state of Delaware earlier this month on a charge of intimidating a witness in a murder case. ... Holgorsen said he would "welcome back Pitt and the Backyard Brawl anytime they wanted it," though he acknowledged having to schedule nine conference games makes it difficult for both sides.

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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