By Cam Huffman
Playing in NFL stadiums is nothing new for the West Virginia University football team. In the Big East, in fact, it was the norm.
The Mountaineers showed up in professional stadiums three times last year — taking on Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium, the home of the Bengals, South Florida at Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Clemson in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins — and the seniors on this year’s WVU squad have visited Heinz Field (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Jacksonville Municipal Stadium (Jacksonville Jaguars) during their careers.
Still, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said it will be something special to take the field at FedEx Stadium on Saturday, when the Mountaineers take on James Madison at the home of the Washington Redskins.
“It’s nice for our guys to play in the pro stadiums,” said the second-year WVU coach. “I wouldn’t want my home stadium to be a pro stadium. We did it (three times) last year, but it seemed like our guys got juiced up for that. Next year, we play in the Ravens’ stadium (against Maryland). Family and friends get excited for that, too. Recruits and players do, too.”
WVU also has a number of true freshmen who will be seeing playing time Saturday and other redshirt-freshmen who didn’t make the trips to Cincinnati and USF last year. For them, playing in a pro stadium will be a unique experience.
“I’ve never been to the Redskins’ stadium before,” said slot receiver Jordan Thompson, who was a high school senior in Katy, Texas, at this time last year. “I played in the Houston Texans’ stadium my freshman year of high school. Because it’s a different place, I’m definitely excited.”
While Thompson will probably take time to soak in the atmosphere, running back Andrew Buie said he won’t even notice the surroundings.
“The environment doesn’t really matter to me at all,” said the sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla. “We could play out in the practice field, and it would be the same.”
Perhaps more important than experiencing a Redskins game day environment will be hitting the road for the first time in 2012. Although it won’t necessarily be a hostile crowd greeting the Mountaineers — there are sure to be more fans pairing blue with their gold than purple on Saturday — they will get the experience of traveling as a team.
“It’s important getting your first game away from home,” said Thompson. “We get a little taste of what it’s like on the road. You’re not always going to be at home. Playing in a different environment is important.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
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