Mountaineers pushing to regain lofty status

You'd think that, with so many starters back, summer drills would be old hat for West Virginia's players. Not so, says Chris Neild.

Neild reports that strength coach Mike Joseph has cooked up all sorts of new ways to challenge the team, especially on Friday afternoons. That's when the team gathers as a whole and splits into groups for tough-guy competitions.

"You could say we'll push really heavy things a real long distance," said Neild, an All-Big East defensive tackle. "It's a lot of things to get everybody competing and to try to raise everybody's level of competition. It's really different than my previous summers here and it was kind of a shock at first. But now everybody's used to it."

If summer conditioning has gotten a little harder, the Mountaineers' upperclassmen welcome it. They want to do whatever it takes to push the program back to the top after a pair of good-but-not-great 9-4 campaigns.

"The seniors are not happy with that record," Neild said. "We're looking for double-digit win seasons every year we're here. So we're working pretty hard to establish that kind of feeling around here. We're a top-tier program, and we have to act like that."

The previous two years have caused many observers to sleep on West Virginia this season, despite the return of 18 starters. Very few preseason polls have the Mountaineers ranked, and the ones that do usually put them near the bottom of the Top 25.

"That's almost motivation for us," Neild said. "Not necessarily to get into the Top 25, but just to show people we're up there and we can play with these teams. And if they don't think so, I guess we're going to have to show them."

Having so many starters back should help. Neild said the defense, which returns nine starters and veterans at all positions, feels prepared to start the season and understands all of its responsibilities. They'll get help from some newbies, too, including recently arrived star junior college defensive end Bruce Irvin.

"He's a freakish athlete, and he gets to the ball really quickly," Neild said. "His quickness is really outstanding.

"Our 3-3-5 scheme is a little bit different, and he's probably never played in it. But I guess he's been doing his homework, because to be honest with you he's picking it up really well. Getting him acclimated early should help us this season."