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Chandler-Semedo rewarded for dedication

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — It was slipping away, and Josh Chandler-Semedo didn't like it.

His senior year at West Virginia had hit the midway point, and the team was 2-4. The fans were disenchanted, the quarterback was being booed and the coach was being threatened.

Baylor had pushed the Mountaineers around physically, and that just didn't fit in with Chandler-Semedo's view of himself or his team. It certainly wasn't what he had in mind when he left McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio.

If he were just a student, everything would be fine. He possessed an undergraduate degree and a masters. He liked life in Morgantown, so different than the city life he had grown up in in the Canton-Cleveland section of northeast Ohio.

"I'm from Ohio so it's similar ... but it's not really similar because I'm from the city, and this is probably the most country you can get," he noted recently. "It's definitely different, but I've definitely enjoyed it – the fanbase and the people here – it's a lovely town and a lovely state. It's just phenomenal."

But he is not just a student. He's a student-athlete, and he understands he's here because of football and what it means to him.

It isn't a game. It's an identity, a way of life. It is his brothers, his friends, a way of life within a way of life, and it was coming apart as the end approached.

The Mountaineers were going into a bye week, and he wasn't about to accept what was happening.

"There's zero margin for error," he said at a mid-year press briefing. "I can only speak for myself, but I'm not going out like that, period. Excuse my language, but that's piss-poor. I'm not going out like that, not in my senior year. So, whatever has to happen has to happen. I don't care which way we go. I'm not finishing the season 2-10, 3-9. That's not happening."

That was what he said for public consumption. One can only imagine what he said to his teammates.

He boldly predicted that things would change, that the team would win at least four of the final six games, that they would be bowl-qualified.

He never backed down from that prediction.

“I definitely believed it when I said it,” Chandler-Semedo reiterated. “I know these guys. A lot of us are fourth- and fifth-year guys. I’ve worked with these guys, I've played games with these guys, they are some of my best friends. I knew the work we’d put in, and I knew we were better than going 2-10 or 3-9 or 4-8. We deserved to be in a bowl."

Many, of course, thought Chandler-Semedo had taken one too many blows to his helmet, but in the end, he was proven right ... And he proved himself right on the field, as he had vowed he would.

"Let the play show it, honestly," he said. "I can say whatever I want Monday through Friday, but if I don't go out on Saturday, it doesn't make a difference."

The regular season ended with a 34-28 victory over Kansas. Chandler-Semedo was instrumental in the game, just as he had been all season. He led the team in tackles in the game with 8, all solo, and for the season with 104, 27 more than Sean Mahone's 77.

But his influence on winning that final regular season game isn't seen so much in the tackles — even though one of them forced a fumble — but in the two passes he intercepted late in the game.

Consider that both were made in the end zone with Kansas on the doorstep of scoring a touchdown that could have changed the outcome of what wound up being a game decided by just six points.

Two fourth-quarter interceptions etched Chandler-Semedo's name into WVU lore. It had been since 1981 when a linebacker last intercepted two passes in a game. Oddly, he was disappointed to hear that.

"I thought I had that to myself," he joked.

Asked to recount the interceptions, he gladly did so.

"The first was a pretty common route. They want to get to the boundary, overload and basically either the Mike or the far side safety has coverage. It's something we work on every day. It was an easy play," he said.

And the second?

"I definitely went and got that. I took No. 11 and I saw the QB scramble. Classic drill — see green grass, see someone open and throw it to him," he said.

While the record isn't near what Chandler-Semedo was looking for coming into the season, his personal performance went beyond what many expected of him. He spent the year out of position, filling the Mike linebacker spot that had been occupied by David Long and Tony Fields III.

At 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds, Chandler-Semedo isn't a prototype middle linebacker, suited more for the Will position he played last year or for safety.

But his intelligence and understanding gained by changing positions all gave him assets he could call upon to make the conversion successful.

"The game has never really been hard to me," he said earlier this season. "It's always come pretty easy as far as learning stuff. My dad is a high school coach, so learning football was never really a problem for me. It's really just repetitions and getting after things, but it definitely took a lot of hard work to get comfortable at those different positions."