The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

March 23, 2014

WVU takes its show to Wheeling

Thousands of fans show up for spring drills on the Island

With five spring practices under its belt, the West Virginia University football team took its show on the road Saturday, practicing before thousands of Mountaineer fans at Wheeling Island Stadium in Wheeling.

The stop at the home of the WVSSAC’s football Super Six was part of an effort to take the team to the fans, and head coach Dana Holgorsen was pleased with the turnout in the state’s Northern Panhandle.

“It’s always fun to come to Wheeling,” said Holgorsen, who will also take his team to Charleston’s Laidley Field on April 5 for another public practice. “We’ve had nothing but good times here.”

Holgorsen said the idea came about because he wanted the WVU fan base, disappointed with a 4-8 finish last season, to see the progress the team was making and get excited again about Mountaineer football.

“To be able to get out in front of the fans is good,” he said. “It means a lot to Mountaineer Nation that we are able to get out here and show that we are working hard to try and put a better product on the field next year.”

He also said the trip was good for his players, helping them understand the importance of WVU football around the state and breaking the redundancy of spring drills.

“To be able to change things up a little bit is good for our guys,” he said. “It’s got a little bit of a road game feel to it, too. Being able to go and and practice on the road in a different environment, ignore the surrounding and just go out and play ball is really good.”

Much of the focus from the stands was on Tom Bradley, WVU’s new senior associate head coach. The former Penn State defensive coordinator, one of the most respected coaches in the game, joined the staff last month, and this was the first time Mountaineer fans were able to see him on the field wearing gold and blue.

“He’s a tremendous person,” said Holgorsen. “He’s a great guy to talk to, and he’s got tons of stories, which are fun to hear. His knowledge of the game and his knowledge of the defense, how to motivate kids, is phenomenal. He’s got a great amount of experience. He’s as good as they come.”

Those not watching Bradley were focused on Skyler Howard, WVU’s new junior college transfer, who’s expected to compete with Clint Trickett and Paul Millard for the starting quarterback spot.

“Skyler does some things well,” said Holgorsen. “He also struggles with some things. Naturally, he does a great job of extending the play, which was a problem we had last year at the quarterback spot.”

The average Mountaineer fan may not have been watching the action in the trenches much Saturday, but the battle to fill the open offensive tackle spots has been one of the most fierce, and most important, all spring.

“Right now, Adam Pankey looks good,” said Holgorsen of the fight for those two spots. “He’s more confident. Last year, he was hurt, so he couldn’t do too much. He’s getting more confident each and every time he gets out there.

“Marquise Lucas looks good. We moved him from guard to tackle. He’s a strong kid, but he doesn’t come off the ball as hard as Mark Glowinski or Quinton Spain (WVU’s offensive guards), so he’s a natural fit at tackle.”

WVU will take the next two days off and return to the practice field in Morgantown for practices on Tuesday and Thursday. On Saturday, the Mountaineers will hold another open practice, this one at Mountaineer Field, at 1 p.m.

The Gold-Blue Spring Game will be Saturday, April 12, at 1 p.m. Tickets are available for $10 each and can be purchased online at www.wvugame.com or by calling 1-800-WVU-GAME. Proceeds will benefit the WVU Children’s Hospital.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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