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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Quite a Catch

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Don’t be too surprised if West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez decides to flex out 6-foot-4-inch, 285-pound offensive guard Ryan Stancheck and throw him a pass or two this weekend against South Florida. After all, Stancheck is now tied with Joe Hunter, Mike Villagrana and Adam Bednarik for 13th on the team in receptions with one.

Freshman Ryan Stancheck shows he can do a whole lot more than just block for Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks

Stancheck’s big catch came late in the third quarter of last Saturday’s game against Louisville at a time when the Mountaineers were hopelessly headed in reverse. The Cardinals were leading 24-7 and had West Virginia on the ropes. More accurately, Louisville had West Virginia going through the ropes.

Then came Ryan Stancheck to the rescue … well, not really.

On third and seven at the West Virginia 49 and desperately needing a first down to stay in the game, Bednarik attempted a screen pass over the middle to Steve Slaton that was tipped by Louisville’s Brandon Johnson.

Slaton couldn’t get a handle on the ball and deflected it right toward Stancheck, who jumped up, got his two big oven mitts on it and started to run.

“I saw it tipped and my instinct was to go after the ball,” Stancheck said.

Once he pulled it down, got his feet under him and realized where he was, Stancheck headed up field for the first down marker. He actually tried to make a move on Cardinal cornerback Antoine Sharp.

“I think I hit the circle button on the PlayStation controller,” Stancheck laughed. “I was going to juke him at first. If I would have kept going, I would have probably been alright.”

"Our kids got a big kick out of that one watching it yesterday because he went and caught the ball at its highest point, tried to make a spin, and the most impressive thing afterward was when he got tackled he handed the ball to the official just like he had done this his whole life," Rodriguez chuckled.

"We're using that as a teaching tool for our wideouts now," Rodriguez said.

Stancheck didn’t quite make the first down coming up two yards short, but his ball skills and nifty open field moves might force Rodriguez to consider putting in a play or two for the left guard, who says he played a little fullback in midget football and was a tight end on the freshman team before being moved down to the slop with the rest of the mudders.

“I got too big,” he says.

"He's a pretty good athlete and we knew that when we recruited him and watched him play basketball," said Rodriguez, adding that he fouled out in the first five minutes. "In those five minutes he was in the game you could see his athleticism running up and down the court."

Stancheck is now officially in the WVU record books with a five yard reception (speaking of spreading the ball around, in addition to throwing to the fullbacks and tight ends, Bednarik also counts pass completions to his left guard and himself). Since Rodriguez gets plenty of help with play calls on his Wednesday night radio show, there’s really no harm in offering him another suggestion. I say bring in an extra guard and run the Power-I, move Stancheck to the wing and throw a short pass out to him in the flat and watch him hit the circle button a few times on the PlayStation controller.

“I think this week we can show them some different stuff,” said Stancheck.

Somehow I don’t think Rodriguez will go for that, at least until he receives clearance from his cardiologist. As for Stancheck’s day job as the team’s starting left guard, he admits it’s still a work in progress.

“Dan (Mozes) and Travis (Garrett) help me a lot,” he said. “As the weeks go on I’m starting to get a little more comfortable. It’s still a little hectic.”

Stancheck’s indoctrination into big time college football came just three weeks ago when he got his first-ever start against No. 3-rated Virginia Tech. Offensive line coach Rick Trickett joked afterward that he almost had to dress Stancheck before the game.

“It was crazy,” Stancheck said. “I was really nervous but I’m always nervous until the first play. Once that’s over then I’m alright.”

The redshirt freshman admits he’s still fuzzy on some of his assignments and he doesn’t always block the right guy, but when the ball is snapped he’s going to hit somebody. There is no doubting Rick Trickett’s desire of having his players executing their assignments flawlessly, using the proper techniques and blocking the right players. But he also wants them to get there with an attitude and Stancheck has that part already mastered.

“He always says if you don’t know what you’re doing go hit somebody: As long as you’re going 100 percent and hitting somebody on every play,” Stancheck says.

"Ryan plays hard, he's just got to get a few technique things down," Rodriguez mentioned.

Sometimes the Cincinnati resident has been a little too aggressive, earning a personal foul last week against Louisville and being flagged for a couple of holding calls against Rutgers that brought back big runs.

Yet in the same breath he’s also starting to show the defiance and feistiness of a cagey veteran; Stancheck disputes at least one of the holding calls he got at Rutgers.

“They sent it in to have it reviewed,” he said. “I was inside on him but they threw the flag. Actually there were a couple they probably could have called on me that they didn’t … so it evens out I guess.”

Things are beginning to even out for Stancheck, too. The defenses aren’t quite as foreign to him and the speed of the game is beginning to slow down now a little bit.

“I graded out a little better this week,” he said. “More than the grades are the defenses … I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable.”

This weekend when South Florida jumps into something completely different than he’s used to blocking, or the man over him suddenly moves a little wider to his left or right, Stancheck won’t blow a gasket and panic. He’s got three big games under his belt now. Plus, he’s got Dan Mozes to his right and Travis Garrett to his left.

“Having those veterans around me helps me a lot,” he admitted.

And if Rodriguez is in a pinch on third down and he needs less than five yards to get a first down, he can always go back to that middle screen again. You know Ryan Stancheck will be looking for that play -- don't forget he’s one for one on that one.

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