Mentality The Watchword For WVU Defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — “Mountaineer Mentality” is a two-word phrase you hear, and see, bandied about a great deal in the West Virginia football complex. Used to describe the ideal approach to the game both inside and out, it’s the quick descriptor that reminds and reinforces the teachings of the coaching staff, and the implementation of those by players on the field.
It covers a great deal of ground, but it can also be used to highlight one aspect of the game. In this case, it’s the way in which a couple of players overcome what might appear to be a physical disadvantage on the field.
A common thread in evaluating the West Virginia defense over the past few years has been one of measurables. Mountaineer defenders, from the front line through linebackers and out to cornerback, are often just not quite as big as their opponents. That being the easiest way to evaluate relative strength, it’s something that WVU players such as defensive lineman Reese Donahue have heard more than once.
Listed, perhaps a bit generously, as six-foot-4 and 276 pounds, Donahue is nonetheless unconcerned about those surface measurements. To him, it’s the approach to the game, as well as other characteristics, that make the difference.
“It’s all about mentality,” said the Ona, W.Va., native. “Personally, when I line up, I don’t see myself as undersized because I know I can handle people. A lot of things that I do in the weight room — I know my strength and speed are comparable or supersede some of the offensive linemen.”
Donahue sees the same characteristics in many of his teammates, like linebackers David Long (judged too short at 5-11 by many college programs) and recently-moved JoVanni Stewart (5-8, 190 lbs.)
“What really separates people, like JoVanni Stewart, is his mentality. You watch him in practice, I don’t care how big the person is, he runs downhill on people. It’s amazing,” Donahue analyzed. “I sit in the film room, and I’ll rewind the play just to watch him run downhill on people. It’s awesome. It’s all about mentality.”
Case made. As there’s not a readily available metric for judging football strength (bench press reps or squats are the mere building blocks for that), making judgments based solely on size is fraught with peril. And the mentality? Falling back on the Mark Twain quote “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog” is about as close as one can get to summing it up.
Donahue also sees other aspects contributing to West Virginia’s defensive success so far.
“Part of it is the energy we bring. It doesn’t matter who is in there. We play a lot of guys on the DLine. We have such a camaraderie in the room. Last year it was all about one person. This year it doesn’t matter who gets the sack or makes the tackle or gets the fumble.”
For his part, Stewart has noted that he’s the smallest sam linebacker in college, at least on the P5 level, and is comfortable with that. He is prepared to be targeted by opposing running games, and like Donahue, relies on the mental approach to fuel his play.
“We knew it was going to be a physical game,” he said of the Kansas State win. “We held up really good. I think everything was pretty solid. I felt like everyone had the mindset that everyone has to do what we were supposed to do.”