The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

April 15, 2010

WVU plans helmet sticker honoring fallen miners

West Virginia University’s football program will honor the 29 coal miners who were tragically killed in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster April 5 in Montcoal.

The Mountaineers will display a white helmet decal with a black number 29 in the middle. The team will wear the decal in the Gold-Blue game Friday, April 30, and then throughout the 2010 season.

WVU coach Bill Stewart made the announcement Wednesday.

“We are going to be displaying the number 29 on our helmets,” Stewart said. “We are going to start wearing them at the Gold-Blue spring game. Those helmets will then be refurbished over the summer and we will wear the decal next season. It is just in honor of the tragic incident down in Raleigh County.

“We are going to honor our fallen brothers and wear the No. 29 the entire year, and we are going to dedicate the 2010 season to the miners in Raleigh County.”

Stewart knows of what he speaks.

His uncle, Buss Williams, was killed in a mining accident in 1961.

“It hit us hard,” Stewart said. “I got the seniors to sign a jersey today for a boy that is going to have his seventh birthday this Sunday. He doesn’t have a dad to go home to tonight. I am really proud of our football team. They did the right thing.”

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Safety Robert Sands didn’t have an interception when he started as a true freshman.

Last year, he led the team with five, as well as finishing fifth on the team in tackles with 65.

He was not happy with the nine return yards he mustered on those five picks.

It’s something he wants to improve on.

“Coming out of last season, I’m just looking to come out of my breaks faster, running with the ball after interceptions and just improving myself,” the 6-5, 221-pound junior said.

He also said the defense, expected to be improved this season, isn’t wear it needs to be, in his mind.

“I’m not happy with it, but it’s coming along,” the Miami native said. “We still have a ways to go. We have to work on other things, like getting the ball out, causing more turnovers and getting all 11 hats to the ball. We have to be able to swarm better to the ball. (Tuesday) we did a good job of getting three or four hats to the ball. We have to continue doing that each practice.”

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Last season, West Virginia’s offensive line had little relief, playing nearly every down.

Still, the line helped Noel Devine rush for 1,465 yards and 13 scores.

Playing with speedsters like Devine, Sanders and Tavon Austin is difficult, but at the same time rewarding, left tackle Don Barclay said.

“Sometimes I’m coming around a play that’s supposed to go to my side, and the next thing I know, the ball is on the other side,” the 6-foot-4, 304-pound redshirt junior from Cranberry, Pa., said. “At the same time, it’s cool to get them (Devine, Sanders and Austin) out into free space because they’ll make you right off your block. If you’re blocking one side you’re not supposed to, they’ll cut up to the other side, so that makes you look good. They’re great players, so it’s always fun to play with them.”

— E-mail: demorrison@register-herald.com

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