MORGANTOWN – Monday was West Virginia’s fifth preseason football practice, but the Mountaineers have had a specific mentality since the first day of spring football five months ago. Players and coaches showed up that day wearing a wristband that reads “W.T.F.”
Win. Trust. Finish.
Last but not least is the focus on closing out in 2014 what WVU did not in 2013. The Mountaineers lost two games in overtime and won one in extra time after giving away a 10-point lead on the final two defensive possessions. Of the eight losses, four came after a fourth-quarter lead and one came after a third-quarter lead.
“We’ve got a couple goals we talk about here with the players and one of them is to get better at finishing,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “That was frustrating last year. It wasn’t any more frustrating for anyone than it was for myself and the team when you sit in the locker room after losing an overtime game or losing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“So yes, we’ve focused on that since January. We’ve run specific drills. Not only have we focused on it and talked about it, but we’ve done specific drills where we work on finishing things, finishing periods, finishing practices, finishing reps. It’s something coaches say a good bit around here.”
So much so that Holgorsen was asked if he was tired of talking about close losses.
“It’s better than getting your (posterior) kicked,” he said.
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WVU IS GETTING close to the NCAA limit of 85 scholarships. Holgorsen said Dayron Wilson, a safety who sat out last season as a redshirt after transferring from Lackawanna (Pa.) College, was put on scholarship after what he did to finish practice Saturday.
“He’s been doing great,” Holgorsen said. “The defense closed Saturday’s practice by getting after the offense pretty good. Dayron made two or three plays at the end. He had an unbelievable interception and a tackle for loss.”
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Wilson, from Woodbridge, Va., has been practicing with the first team and ahead of Pitt transfer Cullen Christian in the absence of junior K.J. Dillon. Dillon is recovering from a sprained ankle, but should be back soon.
Adding Wilson to the count casts further doubt on the Mountaineers welcoming all four signed recruits who are not yet with the team. Offensive lineman Dontae Angus, receiver Jacob McCrary, junior college defensive back Jaylon Myers and junior college offensive lineman Justin Scott have yet to be approved. Holgorsen had nothing new to add to their situation Monday.
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WHETHER FOR FUN or for practice, freshman quarterback William Crest returned punts again during Monday’s practice, the second open to the media in the first five days. In the first practice, Crest and receivers Mario Alford, Jordan Thompson and Vernon Davis fielded punts.
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THE MOUNTAINEERS didn’t find the right mix of offensive linemen until several weeks passed last season, but there should be no such trouble this season.
Left guard Quinton Spain, who began last season as the left tackle, made the preseason watch lists for the Lombardi Award (best offensive or defensive lineman) and the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman). Right guard Mark Glowinski started every game last season and center Tyler Orlosky saw playing time behind graduated Pat Eger.
WVU is trying to replace its starting tackles, but seems to have done so with Adam Pankey, who played as a reserve late last season after returning from an anterior cruciate ligament tear, on the left and Marquis Lucas, who played as a reserve guard before, on the right.
Stone Underwood, a junior college transfer who redshirted last season, is the third guard, but was not in pads Monday and had ice on his right shoulder. Sophomore Tony Matteo is the backup center.
“We’re really looking for a third tackle,” Holgorsen said.
Junior college transfer Sylvester Townes, who was with the team for spring football, and redshirt freshman Marcel Lazard, are in the mix with fifth-year senior Mike Calicchio, who can also play guard.
“Marcel and Sylvester are young guys who just need reps,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve got our two starters who need to continue to get better and hopefully they hold up. Neither of those guys can be counted on to play a full game. I think they’re ready — I know they’re ready — but we need a third tackle in case they’re not.”
Last season, Russell Haughton-James was used as a backup guard, backup tackle, third tackle on the line of scrimmage and a blocking tight end. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound junior is not with the team and isn’t on the roster.
“He’s going through some things he needs to get worked out,” Holgorsen said. “He’s here, but he’s not in camp. He’s not ready to go yet. I’m evaluating his progress. He’s enrolled for school for the fall and I anticipate him being ready to go once school starts.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu . Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.