When Tim Brown collapsed on the turf of the Mountaineers‚Äô indoor practice field in August 2003, four days before the season opener against Wisconsin, he knew he was done for the year. The 6'5", 305-pound senior right tackle had been practicing a play when he ruptured his left Achilles tendon. Following surgery Brown spent the next nine months rehabbing the leg. ‚ÄúIt was one of the worst times of my life,‚Äù says Brown, a three-year starter before the injury. ‚ÄúI wasn‚Äôt allowed to stand [for six weeks], so I couldn‚Äôt be with the team on the sideline. It was the most removed I‚Äôve ever been.‚Äù
Brown, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, is expected to make a complete recovery and will be a cornerstone of one of the best offensive lines in the country. As a rejiggered front came together last fall, the Mountaineers reeled off seven straight wins to end the regular season, and the rushing attack ranked 13th in the country. In addition to Brown, all five of last year‚Äôs starters return, led by senior All‚ÄìBig East guard Jeff Berk. Left guard Dan Mozes and center Jeremy Hines, both sophomores, are all-conference candidates. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve been coaching 32 years, and this is the hardest-working group I‚Äôve seen,‚Äù says line coach Rick Trickett. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre very strong and good on their feet.‚Äù
That will be a plus as the Mountaineers work in a new starting tailback: Senior Kay-Jay Harris (524 yards as a backup last year) takes over for the graduated Quincy Wilson. Other positives are speedy double-threat quarterback Rasheed Marshall, who threw for 1,729 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for another 303 yards and four scores, and junior wideout Chris Henry, who averaged 24.5 yards per catch and scored 10 touchdowns in a breakout season. ‚ÄúWith Rasheed, you don‚Äôt have to be perfect up front,‚Äù says Trickett. ‚ÄúWhen something breaks down, he escapes.‚Äù
With plenty of options on offense, the Mountaineers would have high hopes even if Miami--which dealt West Virginia its only two Big East losses in the last two years--were still in the conference. Now, as the most powerful team left in a Big East diluted by defections to the ACC, West Virginia takes its turn as a BCS player. --M.B.
2003 RECORD 8‚Äì5 (6‚Äì1, T1 in Big East)
FINAL AP RANK NR
RETURNING STARTERS 16
KEY RETURNEES (2003 stats)
QB Rasheed Marshall (Sr.)
Has passed or run for 46 TDs in his career
WR Chris Henry (Jr.)
Big East rookie of the year caught 10 TDs
G Jeff Berk (Sr.)
Started eight games at RG and five at LT
LB Adam Lehnortt (Sr.)
139 tackles, tops among returnees; five sacks
RB Kay-Jay Harris (Sr.)
Averaged 5.8 yards on 91 carries
Percent of Mountaineers completions that went for TDs last season, the second-highest rate in the nation after Pitt‚Äôs 15.1%.
As a redshirt freshman backing up nosetackle Ben Lynch last year, Craig Wilson weighed 270 pounds; in 11 games; he made 18 tackles and had one sack. Now carrying 285 pounds on his 6'1" frame--he won the Iron Mountaineer Award for his winter conditioning work--Wilson will be the starter, with Lynch moving to defensive end.
Sept. 4 EAST CAROLINA
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†11 at Central Florida
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†25 JAMES MADISON
Oct. ¬†¬†2 at Virginia Tech
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†13 at Connecticut
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†21 SYRACUSE 30 at Rutgers
Nov. 6 TEMPLE
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†13 BOSTON COLLEGE
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†25 at Pittsburgh
Harris will have plenty of help up front as he takes over the tradition-rich West Virginia tailback spot.