By Cam Huffman
When Masontown native Rick Trickett left the West Virginia University football program following the 2006 season, joining another Mountain State native, Jimbo Fisher (then the offensive coordinator, now the head coach), at Florida State, he took with him the confidence level the Mountaineers had with the offensive line.
Under Trickett’s guidance, the WVU line shined. Guys like Jeremy Hines, Jeff Berk, Garrin Justice, Dan Mozes, Jeremy Sheffey and Ryan Stanchek became unlikely fan favorites, thriving under Trickett’s in-your-face approach and opening up the holes that helped make Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt Mountaineer legends.
WVU’s record-setting offense was a run first approach, and the men up front were the ones plowing the ground.
Not much changed in 2007 under Greg Frey, who still had plenty of talent in the mix and players that understood their rolls during his one year in Morgantown, but when Bill Stewart took over as head coach in 2008 and brought former Mountaineer Dave Johnson in from the University of Georgia to lead the line, the results weren’t the same.
During his final season as a Mountaineer, White suddenly had more pressure in his face. Noel Devine couldn’t find room to run, and the pounding he took led to injury issues.
Mountaineer fans grew restless, and the calls to let Johnson go were the only thing that kept the pressure off of Stewart, before he was eventually let go, along with Johnson, following the 2010 season.
That’s the situation Bill Bedenbaugh inherited when Dana Holgorsen was hired to take full control of the Mountaineer offense and hired Bedenbaugh, an old friend, away from Arizona to lead the offensive front prior to the 2011 season.
The Iowa Wesleyan graduate came in with a positive attitude and a fresh approach, and now, still only in his second season, the offensive line seems to have transformed from a question mark into an exclamation point.
The growth in the trenches was obvious last season — as the Mountaineers made a huge leap from the beginning of the year to the end — and it was a big reason why the WVU offense had the firepower to post 70 points against Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Three starters — Jeff Braun (G), Joe Madsen (C) and Pat Eger (T) — are back from that group, and a fourth, Parkersburg’s Josh Jenkins, was a starter before missing the 2011 campaign with a knee injury.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be back out there, so I’m going to take it all in,” said Jenkins.
“We are doing really well,” added Braun. “The starting group has a bond that I haven’t seen for a while, especially the interior three of me, Josh and Joe. I think we are doing really well right now.”
The only new face currently running with the first group is redshirt-sophomore Quinton Spain, but at 6-foot-5, 334-pounds, few are brave enough to point to the tackle as a weakness.
“You knew what you were getting with Madsen, Braun and Jenkins,” said Holgorsen. “Those guys have played a lot of football around here and solidified the inside. Pat Eger had his problems last year, but he’s a returning starter and he’s playing better.”
Perhaps equally important, the Mountaineers are starting to build some depth.
“Curtis Feigt (a junior tackle) looks like a different guy,” said Holgorsen. “We’d feel much more comfortable putting him in. Spain looks like a different guy. We’d feel much more comfortable putting him it.”
There are even couple of freshmen — Adam Pankey and Tyler Orlosky — pushing for playing time, a rarity on the offensive line.
“Right now, we have two freshmen working with the twos, which I haven’t seen since I have been here,” said Braun. “Those two are doing really well. It is tough to do on the offensive line, to come in here and crack the two deep, and for them to be doing that is a testament to them. Both of them are athletic. Pankey (6-5, 332-pounds) is huge, and Tyler (6-4, 285-pounds) is a very good athlete.”
All of those capable bodies have allowed Bedenbaugh to practice in his preferred manner.
“(Last year), we didn’t have enough quality guys to practice with and to get quality plays off,” he explained. “You don’t wear down in the game, you wear down in practice.
“Right now, the first group will go four plays with the first team, and then the second four plays will be Eger at right guard, Feigt at right tackle and Joey at center. The third group of plays will be Feigt at right tackle, Pat at right guard and Braun at center.”
Bedenbaugh and Holgorsen, neither quick to dish out praise where it isn’t deserved, both have talked with excitement about this year’s WVU line, and that’s good news for Mountaineer fans, who have been waiting six years to utter the phrase, “Who’s Trickett?”