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WVU 'having fun'under brisk conditions

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

MORGANTOWN -- The air was crisp and the hitting crisper Friday afternoon as West Virginia University's football squad donned pads for the first time during spring drills.

Veteran Mountaineer coach Don Nehlen said it was "pretty good for the first day," with some spirited play and plenty of trash talking during mini-scrimmages.

"They were out there having fun," Nehlen said. "I don't know if we accomplished much because nobody knows what they're doing out there yet."

If he had his druthers, drills wouldn't have started until next week or even later.

"The way spring break is and the way Easter falls, we had to start early," Nehlen said. "But this is an awfully young football team, especially on defense, and I would have liked to had them in the weight room another week or two."

Despite the youth on defense, Nehlen pointed to the kicking game as his chief concern.

"We have two good punters (Mark Fazzolari and Zach Anglin), so I'm not worried about that," Nehlen said. "By the end of spring, I hope we've found out who our extra point, field goal and kickoff men are."

He's even more worried about the graduation of Donny Lindsay and Rick Oleyar, the team's long snappers for the past three seasons.

"Finding a long snapper might be the most important thing we do this spring," Nehlen said.

Offensive linemen seemed to have their way with the defensive line and linebackers in blocking drills. West Virginia will sport a huge offensive line this fall, one that's not only big physically, but big on experience, too.

Four starters return, with Rick Gilliam moving from right guard to center to clear the way for Michigan transfer Jason Brooks (6-4, 290), a former Parade All-American at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland.

At 6-foot-6, 325-pounds, Gilliam will be one of the bigger centers in college football.

Right tackle Tanner Russell will miss most of if not all of the spring following shoulder surgery in December. The 6-8, 310-pound Russell just began light weight workouts the past two weeks.

Former Poca all-stater Brad Knell (6-5, 290) will get plenty of work in Russell's stead.

Matt Wilson (6-5, 295) returns at left tackle with both Wes Ours (6-1, 285) and Terry Dixon (6-4, 320) returning at left guard. Dixon started the first eight games of 1999 with the athletic Ours the starter in the final three.

"We have depth in our offensive line, but spring is good for developing depth into the second and third guys at each position," Russell said. "I'd rather be out there, but I know this will be a great learning experience for Brad Knell."

The Mountaineers will continue workouts today, Sunday and Monday before taking Tuesday off. Spring practice concludes with the annual Gold-Blue scrimmage on April 15.

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