Commentators Should Practice Saying 'West Virginia Speed'

Frank AhrensSenior Writer IAugust 7, 2008

For years, conventional wisdom said college speed resided only at the Florida schools, in the SEC and in certain Big 12 schools: Chiefly, Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska (backfield only, for the Huskers). The Big 10, the Big East, the ACCthose were the conferences of thick-necked plodders, players with the build and 40-yard-dash time of Peter Boyle in "Young Frankenstein."

In college football, the CW on speed still applies at the Florida schools, and Florida may still be the breeding ground for the fastest players. But they are no longer staying there, thanks to NCAA limits on scholarships and Wednesday night ESPN football, both of which now lure fast kids to schools around the country.

At other schools, the CW has been overturned, even though it's hard to get people to change their conceptions, even after being presented with unrelenting evidence to the contrary. For instance: Some people still think M. Night Shyamalan can make a good movie, that yellow beer tastes good, and that the IOC has a moral backbone.

Look at WVU. Name me a faster starting backfield than quarterback Patrick White and running back Noel Devine, who replaced just-as-fast Steve Slaton. But the WVU speed doesn't end there.

Ask Oklahoma's Bob Stoops about the speed along WVU's defensive line and among its blitzing linebackers, which he saw up-close in last year's Fiesta Bowl.

The massive and massively touted Oklahoma offensive line couldn't stop WVU's speed rushers without holding them, and the 10-yard holding penalties amounted to sacks, as well. An Oklahoma wide receiver got loose for one long touchdown, but that came from a blown assignment, not a lost foot race.

And let's not forget that it wasn't only Devine who outran the entire Oklahoma defense for a touchdownfullback Owen Schmitt did the same.

The shocking truth for most of the viewing audience: Those plodding hillbillies from WVU were faster at every position than the speedy Big 12 Sooners. At one point during the broadcast, one announcer said, "We always talk about Oklahoma speed. Maybe we should start talking about West Virginia speed."

Indeed. "Speed" is the word most heard out of Coach Bill Stewart's mouth so far during August football practice underway in Morgantown.

Sure, Stewart is an attaboy kind of coach, not the sort of grim naysayer as the former WVU coach, who, during the first few days of fall practice, would say things like, "Our offense couldn't score against air."

And of course Stewart has an interest in hyping his team. But if you sift through all that and listen closely, not only to Stewart but to his assistants and to the other players, one word keeps bubbling up: speed.

Stewart can't make his players (much) faster, but he can change their positions to make them relatively faster compared to their competition, which he's done. He's moved linebacker Zac Cooper to rush end, so he can outflank big offensive linemen. He's moved fast wideout Brandon Hogan to cornerback. He's moved wide receiver Will Johnson to tight end/fullback/H-back.

The other players just have plain speed on their own, it sounds like. The linebackers (Mortty Ivy, Reed Williams, J.T. Thomas, Ovid Gouldbourne) have it. The defensive linemen (Scooter Berry, Chris Neild) have it. The d-backs are so fast, at least three will be returning punts and kickoffs, as well: Ellis Lankster, converted running back Eddie Davis and Quinton Andrews.

On the offense, it's the same. JuCo transfer Alric Arnett is so good and so fast, he's got a wide receiver spot all but locked down, forcing veteran receiver Dorrell Jalloh into the slot. Slot receiver Jock Sanders may be just as quick and fast as Devine.

Behind Devine in the backfield is Terence Kerns, a 230-pound bruiser who claimed to run a 4.31-second 40. Okay, I don't believe that, but even if it's a 4.5, he's the size of Schmitt and faster.

WVU's speed burst onto the national stage with Mountaineers sprinting effortlessly past and around Georgia Bulldogs, the champions of the supposedly-fast SEC in the 2006 Sugar Bowl.

Speed begets speed. Already in the 2009 recruiting class are multi-threat quarterback Tajh Boyd and burner wide receiver Logan Heastie.

And, as much as it may hurt some WVU fans to admit it, speed is perhaps the biggest legacy left at WVU by former coach Rich Rodriguez.