West Virginia: Neild's work draws raves

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- In the media guide, it reads that West Virginia senior Chris Neild plays nose tackle.

That is his designation among the 11 defenders.

Asked for a job description, Neild offered -- complete with a bit of a warning for those thinking about becoming nose tackles -- what he does.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat it, I take a beating, but it goes both ways," Neild said. "I get double-teamed, I get triple-teamed. ... You can't be a nice guy to play that position, there is contact every play."

Contact he revels in, enjoys, lives for.

This 6-foot-2, 305-pound barrel-of-a-man wouldn't have it any other way.

And that is how Neild -- although the statistics serve as deception -- has become the most dynamic force in one of college football's most powerful defenses.

Through nine games, West Virginia's defense is first in the country in opponent third-down conversion (22.4 percent), third in both opponent first downs per game (13) and scoring defense (13.2 points per game) and fourth in total defense (253.3 yards per game).

There are nine Mountaineers who have more tackles than the 28 posted by Neild, but seemingly everyone in the program -- and some outside of it -- quickly mention that without his space-eating, bullish ways that demand a double-team, none of this could be possible.

"We have been saying it for a year, or year-and-a-half just how good he is," West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "We don't see him in the statistics a lot because he has 600 or 700 pounds of double-team wrapped around him the majority of the game, and he still has the ability to make a lot of plays. People just always have to account for him."

It is one thing for those within the West Virginia program to notice the superiority of Neild's laborious slogging, but quite another for the opposition to say the things they have.

Take, for example, now-surging South Florida led by first-year coach Skip Holtz. The Bulls are on a three-game win streak. But, just before they started their run, South Florida lost Oct. 14 in Morgantown, 20-6. The Bulls gained 202 yards in that game; 65 rushing.

Holtz remembered the impact Neild had.

"Because he is so strong in the middle -- and he may not be the Big East tackle leader -- but what he does in the scheme that they play him in, you cannot move him out of there," Holtz said. "He's an invaluable weapon. He is one of the reasons they are where they are from a statistical standpoint as well as among the conference leaders. ... As a nose guard, he is always going to get double-teamed, but as big and strong as he is, you have to double-team him."

Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, a former West Virginia assistant, was on the Mountaineers' staff in Neild's redshirt season and has paid attention to the cultivation of his talents.

"You look at the progress he has made, I am really proud of him," Jones said. "He is one of the premier players in our conference."

Could one of the premier defensive players in this Big East Conference get a shot to play Sundays? Could Neild, perhaps, have his name called in the NFL draft?

"No question," Jones said. "As you look at a three-down front, and what they ask a nose guard to do, and you look at his size and strength and all that, there is no question I feel he is going to have a great opportunity to play on Sundays."

For now, though, that opportunity -- and just the opportunity to get that opportunity -- rests deep in the back of Neild's thoughts.

Most of the time.

"I know that all this can be over in one play, I could tear an ACL, so that all comes at a later time," Neild said. "Something that I need to focus on now is this season, and the next game."

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com .


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