There were a lot of disappointed fans in the state of West Virginia at the end of last season when the talented Mountaineers limped to a 7-6 record.
Those fans have not been forgotten. Dana Holgorsen introduced T.E.A.M. this spring. It stands for toughness, effort, attitude, and Mountaineer Mentality. Shaq Rowell tries to show up with that Mountaineer Mentality for every practice.
"My mindset from last year still hasn't changed," he said. "We still want to be the most dominating defense in the country, but taking on the Mountaineer Mentality, it makes everyone on this team embrace being a Mountaineer."
What exactly does that mean? Well, it means representing the people of this state- the same ones that may have hoped for some more out of last year's team.
That's why he's working so hard to help this team improve going into this season. He's now a veteran, and he has to lead the younger players out on the field. That starts in spring practices.
"I know if I don't come out to practice, nobody else on the D-line is," Rowell said. "Sometimes it's hard. You don't want to be there sometimes, but that's just everybody. Everybody hates practice, but at the end of the day, practice is to make you better, so when I come out every day, I try to be as most positive as possible about practice. I just figure, if I'm out there for two hours, I can only get better. If you don't want to be out there, you get worse."
Rowell has a little extra motivation out there this year, too. This will be his last season with the Mountaineers, and he wants to be sure he takes advantage of it. That's not to say he slacked off before, but there may be just a little extra in the tank for him this time around.
"I'm having a lot of fun this spring, just being my last go," he said. "I'm giving more effort than I was last year and I'm having more fun overall. Our team is making a lot of progress, and that's what I'm most excited about."
For the defense, there was a lot of progress to be made. The unit's struggles have been discussed as much as the offense's success, and with the offense losing so much talent from last season, there will be even more pressure on the defense to show improvement. Rowell thinks they will.
"A lot of people don't think we can do much this year," he said, "but we're working hard this year to prove a lot of people wrong."
More than anything, Rowell is working hard to represent the state. Growing up in Cleveland, he said that he always knew about West Virginia and knew how good of a football program WVU had. He also knows that the school's success on the gridiron may not get the national recognition it deserves.
That won't stop Rowell from, as he said, putting his hard hat on and stepping on the field to practice.
"There's 1.8 million people in this state," he said, "and we just want them to know that every day we come out- Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday- we're going to give everything we've got in practice just like they do at work, especially those coal miners. That's just what we look for. We look to work hard just like everyone else in the state of West Virginia."
In other words, Shaq Rowell has the Mountaineer Mentality.