By Cam Huffman
With the West Virginia University football team finishing finals before turning its attention to preparation for the 2012 New Era Pinstripe Bowl against Syracuse, many Mountaineer fans have turned their attention toward the NFL, where they’ve seen a number of familiar faces.
Twelve former WVU stars are currently active members of NFL rosters, while a few others are trying to find an opportunity to get another chance and keep the dream alive. Here’s a look at the former Mountaineers trying their hand at football’s highest level.
Don Barclay — The rookie offensive lineman signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent and made his first start last week, drawing high praise from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Najee Goode — The rookie is an active member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneeers roster, but he’s played in only one game and hasn’t recorded any statistics.
Bruce Irvin — A huge surprise as the No. 15 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Irvin drew a lot of criticism from the experts, which claimed the Seattle Seahawks made a big mistake taking Irvin so early in the draft.
Irvin has more than proved them wrong, recording 13 tackles and eight sacks in 13 games, as well as forcing a fumble.
Will Johnson — The fullback has played a big role for the Steelers this season. He’s played in 13 games and started five. He has two carries for seven yards and 11 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Adam Jones — No longer the “Pacman” that was known for his troubles off the field more than his skills on it, Jones is working on changing his image and reviving his career.
Jones has played in 13 games this season and has 32 tackles, a sack and seven pass deflections for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ellis Lankster — The 5-foot-9 defensive back has played in 13 games this season for the New York Jets, making one start. He has 36 tackles, six pass deflections and a pair of interceptions.
Pat McAfee — A fan favorite in Indianapolis, McAfee is in his fourth season with the Colts. He’s played in 13 games this year, averaging 48.8 yards and 56 punts. He also handles the kickoff duties for the Colts.
Corey McIntyre — In his ninth NFL season with his fourth different team, McIntyre has played in 13 games this season for the Bills, starting three. He’s used primarily as a blocking back, but he has caught one pass for nine yards.
Ryan Mundy — Now in his fourth season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mundy has been more involved than ever this season. He’s played in 13 games and started three. He has 34 tackles and two pass deflections to his credit this season.
Chris Neild — After playing in all 16 games for the Redskins as a rookie in 2011, Neild’s second year in the NFL was cut short do to an anterior cruciate ligament injury in August. He was not claimed off waivers and was placed on the team’s injured reserve list.
Robert Sands — Sands played sparingly for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011 but did not record any statistics. He was placed on injured reserve after a chest injury in August.
Darius Reynaud — The Tennessee Titans wide receiver has five catches for 35 yards and 13 carries for 32 yards this season.
Owen Schmitt — “The Runaway Beer Truck” played in 13 games with the Raiders this season, starting four, but he was waived this week, leaving him without a job.
In five NFL seasons with the Seahawks, Eagles and Raiders, Schmitt, primarily a blocker, carried the ball 11 times for 28 yards and caught 34 passes for 218 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Steve Slaton — Slaton is still looking for another shot. He played his first four seasons with the Houston Texans, but never had another season like his rookie campaign, when he rushed for 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns.
Last year, he played in just three games with the Miami Dolphins, and despite a few tryouts with NFL squads this season, he hasn’t been picked up by a team.
Keith Tandy — A rookie defensive back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tandy has played in six games and recorded three tackles.
J.T. Thomas — Thomas missed his rookie season in 2011 because of a hip injury, but he’s played in 13 games this season, recording three tackles and forcing a fumble.
The list of Mountaineer players is sure to expand in coming seasons, and senior quarterback Geno Smith will certainly be a part of the crew.
ESPN draft expert Todd McShay had WVU quarterback Geno Smith as the first quarterback selected in his first mock NFL Draft for 2013. McShay had Smith going as the No. 8 overall pick to the Arizona Cardinals.
Tavon Austin almost certainly has a future in the NFL, as well. The senior wide receiver was named to the Pro Football Weekly All-America Team this week, an honor based not on current skills, but instead handed out as a result of feedback from NFL evaluators about how a player’s skills will translate into the professional game.
Austin was the first team return specialist on the list.
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