Chris Neild might be one of the most underappreciated players in the Big East. At least outside of Morgantown.
The West Virginia senior might have had only 35 tackles and no sacks last season, but numbers can't begin to define how valuable he is. Neild is the Big East's best nose tackle and a key to the Mountaineers' 3-3-5 defensive scheme.
Neild has to take on blockers in the middle in order for that scheme to work. And the 6-foot-2, 301-pounder does that to perfection.
"I've just got to do my job and do what I do to free up the linebackers," he said. "I've got to be at the right place at the right moment. That could be occupying two guys or even three guys."
Now entering his third year of starting, Neild understands that he's not going to get a lot of glory. Instead, he's going to do a lot of dirty work in the trenches.
"If teams want to focus on the running game, I know it's going to be a long day for me," he said. "But I've got the feeling down and know what I'm supposed to be doing."
If Neild is relatively unknown outside of West Virginia, he is cherished by his team. Head coach Bill Stewart praised Neild's leadership this spring and said he needed to find guys like Neild at other positions with his attitude and work ethic, like in the secondary.
Neild helped keep the defensive line strong last year despite injuries and other issues that forced Scooter Berry out and with young players like Julian Miller learning the ropes. This season, the Mountaineers are deep and experienced up front with all three starters back.
"What we have is potential," Neild said. "It means nothing until we put it out on the field. But when we get those numbers out there, I think we'll be a real force to be dealt with."
And no doubt Neild will be right in the middle of that force.