West Virginia: Thoughts of opening kickoff excite Mountaineers
West Virginia running back Noel Devine on the opening game of the season, "It is a chance to set an impression."
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There are 12 guaranteed opening kickoffs for Division I-A college football teams around the country. That number goes to 13 for the squads that earn a bowl bid.
One opening kickoff stands alone.
One is different.
One carries more pent-up energy, more hope and brings with it more opportunity and anticipation for most teams than all the others -- that first one.
That moment will come for West Virginia today somewhere around high noon, when its season starts against Liberty.
So, what is so special about that first kickoff -- what gets you so excited about it every year?
That was the two-part question posed to various members of the West Virginia football family.
• Game: West Virginia (0-0) vs. Liberty (0-0), noon today, Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, W. Va.
• TV, radio: WPCW; WWVA-AM (1170) and Mountaineer Sports Network.
• Liberty: The Division I-AA school in Lynchburg, Va. has won back-to-back Big South Conference titles. ... The Flames are 0-5 against Big East Conference schools, losing the most recent meeting, 59-0, at Connecticut in 2005.
• West Virginia: Is playing a Big South school for the 12th time, the other 11 meeting have been against VMI, of which the Mountaineers won all 11. ... Returns eight of 11 starters from last year's defense, which was first in the Big East Conference in scoring defense (17 points per game), red zone defense (64.3 percent), turnovers forced (28) and turnover margin (plus-12).
• Hidden Stat: Over the past six years, West Virginia's 58 wins are the 10th most in college football.
Here are some answers:
Head coach Bill Stewart:
"I know the fans are excited, and I'm excited. Most importantly, our players are excited. I just don't want them stumbling because it is the first game. It is like Christmas, you just don't know what you are going to get."
Junior running back Noel Devine:
"It is a chance to set an impression. All those people, those fans, they are out there in the RVs, some sleep out there the night before. I think about them, about giving them a show because of their dedication, that's what they came here to see. That first kickoff, that first game, man I can't explain the emotions going through me, I just can't.
Freshman receiver Tavon Austin, who will be making his college debut:
"Make your first impression like your last impression, that is what I've been taught. But I don't know what I will be thinking at kickoff. There will be 60,000 people there. The most I've ever played in front of is probably 5,000."
Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen:
"Honestly, I will have one big stomachache. You know why? We haven't had a scrimmage like you do in high school or the NFL, and you have no clue how your team is going to react, and this one counts, this one is for real. If any college coach in the country tells you otherwise, they aren't being honest with you."
Sophomore receiver Brad Starks:
"I just think about intensity and that I spent the whole offseason working for this."
Senior safety Boogie Allen:
"I'm just tired of hitting my teammates in practice. By now, I'm ready to hit someone on another team."