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Small Guys, Big Decision For WVU

January 15, 2010
By JIM ELLIOTT

They said West Virginia lost its top recruiter.

Doesn't matter. Judging by the news out of Morgantown on Thursday, somebody is doing something right.

Coach Bill Stewart proudly announced 2009 team co-Offensive Most Valuable Players Noel Devine and Jock Sanders would return for their senior seasons. Good thing for WVU fans. Better for the two players.

You'll be hard-pressed to see better college football players next season. In the NFL, it'd be tough to see either player at all. That's because Jock Sanders could stand on top of Noel Devine and barely equal Wes Lyons.

Neither Sanders, nor Devine, clears 5-foot-9 without standing on the same media guide that will likely list them that way in the fall.

The various NFL Draft Web sites out there - and there are many - didn't seem to be drooling over the duo, and that's likely the same news they got when they met with NFL talent evaluators.

Those guys look for players who not only have high ceilings, but hit their heads on them. They wait for players at baggage claim. Sanders and Devine are carry-on.

Still, none of this is to suggest they don't have future careers in the NFL; they probably do. But it can wait. One site rates Devine as the 10th-best running back, a projected third-or-fourth rounder. Another lists Sanders as the 36th-best receiver; one didn't list him among the top 50. In those same receiver projections, Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards was rated 29th. Edwards threw for 10,392 yards in college. He caught nothing.

It's an inexact science.

Whatever.

Sanders and Devine are coming back. And that is a good thing for WVU, which is almost sure to begin the season in the Top 25.

As it was, the Mountaineers were in danger of not only breaking in a first-year quarterback in Geno Smith, but listing fullback Ryan Clarke as their leading rusher and Brad Starks their leading receiver among returnees.

Another shorty, Tavon Austin (5-9), would likely have taken over Devine's spot had both players left. He carried the ball all of six times last season, while catching 15 passes playing mostly at slot receiver. When Devine was hurt, it was Sanders - and not Austin - who did the filling in at tailback.

Even if someone from the recruiting class proves to be as devine as the guy from a few years ago, the current coaching staff has shown a reluctancy to put too much on newcomers too early. Only five players from last year's class even saw the field, while there were 17 fifth-year seniors.

Had Sanders and Devine decided the other way, and even with an offensive line that returns 4 of 5 starters, it might have been asking too much for an offense that didn't exactly set the world on fire with Sanders, Devine, veterans Alric Arnett and Jarrett Brown at the skill positions a season ago.

As it is, they return with Sanders, fifth on WVU's all-time leading receptions list and Devine, fifth on the school's all-time rushing list.

That's the football aspect, a big welcome back from 60,000-plus at Mountaineer Field.

The personal side, for each guy, is even better.

Both have met bumps in the road on the way to football stardom.

For Devine, it was a well-documented tough upbringing in which he lost both of his parents before the age of 12.

Sanders was suspended indefinitely last winter after a drunken-driving arrest. That proved to be a 6-month exile before he was welcomed back by teammates and coaches just before camp began in August.

''I have seen these two really mature and grow, not only on the football field, but in their quest of life,'' Stewart said in a statement released by the university Thursday. ''Obtaining their degrees and preparing for life after football is of utmost importance to them and to our program.''

Both Sanders and Devine said that was priority No. 1, hoping to be the first in their respective families to obtain college degrees.

In a college football world that allows people like new USC coach Lane Kiffin not only to be in it, but to make millions of dollars in it, this is some seriously refreshing news.

''It's all about unfinished business on the field and in the classroom,'' Devine said.

''I want to bring back a championship to Morgantown. I really enjoy playing in front of the greatest fans in America, but my ultimate goal is to earn my degree.''

Ditto, Sanders.

''It's all about family here at West Virginia,'' Sanders said.

''There's a group of us that came in together, played together, grew up together, bonded together and want to leave together. West Virginia football has been in national prominence since I've been here. We want to win a championship next season and take our program to another level.''

The last time Stewart heard words that sweet, they were coming from a man wearing a blazer with a Tostitos patch on it in Arizona.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:elliott@theintelligencer.net

 
 

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