It’s telling that Exree Loe’s favorite part of the $55 million worth of renovations to West Virginia’s Puskar Center, the home of Mountaineer football, is something as seemingly mundane as displays in passageways.
“The new hallways they put in,” he said when asked what he likes the best about the massive upgrades, which have reshaped virtually every square inch of the complex. “It’s a new look, and seeing the past guys, it motivates you.”
Loe isn’t discounting many of the other shiny and impressive improvements, especially the rest and recovery area – “You can get definitely get a good nap in there,” he says of the sleep pods, for example – but his notice of past Mountaineer greats says a lot about his career path at WVU. A high school cornerback and wide receiver, he was quickly moved to linebacker, where he had to go through all of the adjustments one would expect in transitioning from playing in space against speedy wide receivers to combating big bodies in the scrum around the line of scrimmage.
“Physicality-wise it was a big difference,” the Johnstown, Pennsylvania native recalled. “At corner you don’t get the action you see (at linebacker) – linemen and tight ends coming into the box. It was a hard transition at first. It’s a lot less space than what I was used to. I wasn’t used to covering backs out of the backfield and how they run their routes.”
Like those Mountaineer greats of the past, though, Loe dedicated himself to the daily grind of improvement, and had no thoughts of making a move when his early seasons didn’t pan out the way he hoped.
“It’s all about your mental (approach). I could have gotten down on myself the first couple of years when nothing was happening,” he said, discounting any thoughts of a transfer. “But once I have gotten to this point now, it’s a maturity thing. Life’s not easy for anyone. It’s not going to treat you fair. You have to keep your head down and keep working. I m not a quitter, and I’m not going to give up just because something isn’t going my way.”
It’s also indicative of Loe’s approach that he wasn’t satisfied with his first years on the field for WVU in 2018 and 2019, even though he played as much as many first- and second-year team members. Even though he wasn’t a regular starter, he still played in 25 games, piling up more than 500 snaps with a combination of backup play on defense and regular roles on special teams. He quickly became an ace in the latter area, standing out with his ability to get downfield quickly, avoid blocks and make tackles on opposing returners.
“It’s taking the techniques from coach (Neal) Brown and the staff and focusing on using it when I need to,” Loe said of what makes him such a good performer on coverage teams. “I don’t believe (it’s any individual ability of mine). If you use those techniques, they will put you in position, and if I use them I will be good.
“If I don’t do my assignment on special teams, then it could be a blocked punt or a touchdown for the other team. I just try to focus on the techniques and do what I have to do.”
That approach is carrying over into his play at will linebacker in preparation for the 2021 campaign. After a 2020 season in which he got more than 260 plays as a backup to Josh Chandler-Semedo, he’s ready to take on the starting role this year as Chandler-Semedo moves to the mike spot. In that supporting role, he was sixth on the team in tackles last year, besting a number of starters, but he’s again looking for ways in which to improve.
“The things I am focusing on are always being consistent and making sure I am doing the right thing,” he said of his fall camp work. “My big thing last year was that I wasn’t a consistent player. I would have good days at practice and bad days. This year my focus is on being at my best.”
Given his progress from 2017 redshirt as a wide-eyed freshman moving to a brand new position to special teams star and solid, proven performer, it would not be wise to bet against him having an even greater impact in 2021. Over his three seasons, he’s totaled 94 tackles, including 8.5 for loss, and has also demonstrated big play ability with two forced fumbles and three recoveries.
As Loe moves into that starting role, he also sees supporting help behind Chandler-Semedo and himself, which he believes will help overall linebacking play. Transfers Lance Dixon and Deshawn Stevens are in the backup spots at will and mike, and like many newcomers are still feeling their way, but Loe sees talent in the pair.
“The communication is still in progress,” he said of one factor that remains on the to do list of fall camp. “The guys that speak up, guys like Josh and Dante (Stills), we just need to get Lance and Deshawn to start talking a little more and getting them comfortable, and we will communicate a little better.”
“The definitely bring depth – that’s something we needed last year. Deshawn is a physical guy, and Lance is a speed guy, and they bring a lot to the table that can help us this year.”
Just, Loe left unsaid, as he has through his career.