Shehl game has been huge for WVUBy Dave Morrison
Register-Herald Sports Editor
ATLANTA — George Shehl made Sugar Bowl history Saturday.
He was the first holder to be featured at a press conference leading up to the game.
That’s been standard operating prodedure for Shehl, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior.
After all, how many holders have their own cheering section, made up entirely of women?
How many holders can say they have gone through their career without a muffed snap?
How many get to celebrate their 22nd birthday at a Bowl Championship Series bowl?
How many have been four-year standouts at their position? Indeed, if there were an All-American position for holders, Shehl would almost assuredly be the pick.
“The best hands in America,” somebody called out as Shehl posed for pictures, hands up, Saturday afternoon.
Not that being a holder was his life’s goal.
“I came in as a defensive back,” the R.C. Byrd product said. “Never even thought about holding. I spent my redshirt year as a defensive back and I had a pretty good spring. But it didn’t look like I was going to contribute. I mentioned to coach Rodriguez in my (post-spring) meeting that I had been a holder in high school, maybe I could do that.”
He actually got to play a little at defensive back the first game of his redshirt freshman year.
At that point, wide receiver A.J. Nastasi was entrenched as the Mountaineers’ holder.
But when Nastasi was injured, an open audition for a holder ensued.
“They were bringing guys in, had tryouts,” Shehl said. The very first snap I took, it was high, but I went up and brought it down. Coach (Herb) Hand came over, grabbed me and said, ‘You might have just earned yourself a bus ticket to Cincinnati, and throws me back into the mix. I won the job that week and kept it ever since.”
He has made 46 straight starts at the position and Monday’s Gator Bowl matchup with Georgia in the Sugar Bowl will be his fourth straight bowl appearance.
“My career didn’t turn out the way I envisioned it,” Shehl said. “I mean, you don’t come out of high school saying, ‘I have to be a holder.’ But I wouldn’t want to change it.”
Why not. He does have the aforementioned cheering section, a fact that causes him just a bit of embarrassment and quite a bit more razzing from teammates.
“Yeah, yeah, they have these signs that say ‘hold me George’ and ‘We luv George,’” Shehl said. “I actually got to know them. They said I was cute, they’d heard my name on TV, saw my picture, and they like the way my butt looked in those pants.”
He hopes he can complete his career without a muffed snap.
“That would be a great accomplishment, knock on wood,” Shehl said. “It’s kind of like when your doing something in a row, like 50 free throws. Well the first 40 are nop problem. But you get down to the end, you start thinking, ‘I don’t wanna mess this up.’ That’s how it is.”
The streak nearly stopped after 12 starts.
“I almost had one against Wisconsin (the 2003 opener),” Shehl said. “It was rainy that day. The ball came back and it was a little wet and it almost took off, but I was able to catch it. Nobody really knows that, but I know that was one that nearly got away.”
He said the time during the snap is nirvana.
“You clear your mind, the ball sort of comes back in slow motion and you just concentrate on the ball,” Shehl said. “It’s sort of peaceful.”