WVU senior safety Jovanni Stewart has faced plenty of familiar opponents in his career.
A Texas native, Stewart has squared off against several former high school teammates and opponents who now play for rival Big 12 programs.
The anticipation for those games, he said, is always high — and there’s a similar sense of anticipation for West Virginia’s next game.
When Stewart and the Mountaineer defense take the field Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium, they’ll go up against their former coach: West Virginia native and current NC State co-defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
“It just makes it more fun, just like playing an old teammate from high school,” Stewart said.
Gibson recruited many of WVU’s veterans on defense, including homegrown product Darius Stills, West Virginia’s starting nose guard.
“We all loved Gibby,” Stills said. “I feel like he’s gonna get a warm welcome back.”
Under Gibson, the Wolfpack has moved to a three-man front similar to what the Mountaineers have played in previous seasons. NC State has given up just six points through its first two games and hasn’t allowed a touchdown.
“They’re shutting everybody down completely,” said new WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
After a disappointing loss to Missouri last week, head coach Neal Brown has noted that he hopes to see a more inspired performance from his players against the Wolfpack.
He hopes those veteran defenders who played under Gibson will want to show him how much they’ve improved.
“I think Tony is a really good coach,” Brown said. “I think he did a really good job of recruiting, I think that’s been documented. He did a really solid job here, and he does know our personnel. I’m sure this game will mean a lot to him, being a West Virginia native and coming back.”
At least one player is eager to prove that the Mountaineer defense can excel under new leadership.
“I like what we can do on defense here with Coach Vic and our new coaching staff,” said redshirt junior linebacker Zach Sandwisch. “I think it’ll be fun; it’ll be fun to see him on the opposite side and it’ll be cool to go against him.”
As always, there’s business to take care of Saturday — but to many players, this game will have a bit more meaning.
“I’m excited to see him,” Stills said. “We all are.”