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WVU Seniors Playing for Pride

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MORGANTOWN -

At some point, pride enters the mindset of those on a football team that is struggling.

With preseason goals slipped from their grasp, players and coaches must refocus on smaller ideas and grab hold of whatever remains to accomplish. For West Virginia, there are four such opportunities ahead, each worth just as much as the other.

Each is simply another football win.

For the Mountaineers, a group that just a short time ago was on a list of teams expected to compete for not only a conference title but perhaps even the ultimate goal in the sport.

Individual awards watch lists were favoring WVU and the attention on Morgantown was evident. So quickly, those possibilities vanished and the team that once stood proud on Mountaineer Field now has little more than pride left to play for.

Sure, one more victory would put this team in some bowl game and give the coaching staff an extra month or so of work to prepare the young troops not only for a 13th opponent, but also for a fresh schedule in the next season.

Next season. There is a senior class for West Virginia that does not understand those two words anymore.

"I feel bad for the seniors, how we couldn't get them as far as we really wanted them to get and as far as they really deserve, but you know, the goal now is just to finish strong," says freshman linebacker Isaiah Bruce.

What Bruce said following the TCU loss is what most of those seniors had to say every year since they were freshmen.

As the loss column filled, they realized that Reed Williams and Jarrett Brown wouldn't finish their careers with a conference title. They watched as J.T. Thomas and Chris Neild failed to earn that final BCS bowl bid. And a year ago, Julian Miller and Don Barclay were denied the chance to sign off from the Big East with an outright championship.

Geno Smith and Tavon Austin and Jorge Wright know what it feels like to witness a teammate come up short in their last go around. Now they are experiencing it.

"Coming from that BCS last year and knowing right now that we're probably really aren't playing for anything big," Austin says, "this is going to show us who really loves the game, who really loves our school and who's going to come out and still give 100 percent. In a couple of weeks, it really will show who wants it the most."

Certainly Austin and his fellow seniors want it. They have no other opportunity ahead of them to right the ship and come back even stronger the following year. It was now or never and in that moment following a third-straight loss, the pendulum had swung in never's favor.

"When you sit back and you have four years, you just sit back and think about all the stuff how people need to play with more heart and take it more serious, but at the beginning of the year, we came in and we had no fear," Austin says. "Now, it seems like we're pressing too much, we're scared to make mistakes, but at the end of the day, we've just got to fix it and hopefully we keep pushing."

While some admit that those lofty expectations and goals set at the top of the year as the team left the field in Miami have faded, but Smith hardly acknowledges them. To him, the goals he has heading into a game at Oklahoma State are the same that he pursued when the team opened its season against Marshall.

"To win, one by one," Smith claims as his goal. "And that was the goal from the beginning, was to win each week, to win each day and to win each game. We've got, what four or five games left, and my goal is to win them all. I'm not going to sit here and say that it's impossible, because it is very possible."

Many on this team echo those thoughts. That if the personnel and coaching can get on the same page and execute the game plan and get back to playing football with some confidence and excitement, the Mountaineers can get back in the win column for the first time in over a month.

It is a difficult task, far more difficult than the players in the locker room would have anticipated prior to the season, to come up with one more victory.

"It's definitely a lot of the seniors' jobs – me, Geno, a couple of the linemen, we've got to come in and keep telling them that anything is possible," says Austin. "A couple teams could lose in the next four weeks and we probably could bounce right back."

Austin's optimism is both admirable and necessary as a leader on a struggling team. Smith seems to share the optimism, but he also continues to tell himself that despite what his football team is going through, it is just that – a football game.

"I keep it in perspective," says Smith. "It's a football game and I love this game with everything in me and I go out there and give it 110 percent every time, but when I leave that field and I have time to really think over things, I keep telling myself it's just a football game."

The seniors on this team are only promised four more.   

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