by Greg Talkington
MORGANTOWN -- Although never a starter, junior Ben Lynch is West Virginia's most experienced defensive lineman heading into the 2003 football season.
The Oil City, Pa., native, who began his career at WVU as a linebacker, now finds himself smack-dab in the middle of the Mountaineer defensive line.
"It's kind of ironic," he said. "I've always been considered too small no matter where I've played.
"Now I'm 270 pounds and still considered too small."
Since West Virginia's coaching staff considers versatility a virtue, Lynch has learned all three of the down lineman positions in WVU's 33-stack defense.
"I'm trying to learn everything I can about all three positions," Lynch said. "That way I can help Ernest (Hunter) and Blue (Fred Blueford).
"I can use all of my experience to help the younger guys."
Lynch's ability to focus and anticipate are two reasons he was switched inside.
"I'm real quick off the ball, so I can get into the center quicker," Lynch said. "Coach (Bill) Kirelawich emphasizes hands play and I've developed my hands.
"My upper body strength is also much better than it was last year. I gained nearly 50 pounds on my bench press over the summer with Coach (Mike) Barwis and I can really feel it. That allows me to take on two people better than I could have last year."
Lynch believes WVU's defensive line, which lost all three starters from last season, will not be the weak link most pre-season publications make it out to be.
"It really makes us made, but it does motivate us," Lynch said. "Ernest and I talk about that all the time. But we have a great group of young guys who will develop into real good players over the season.
"I know one thing. Opposing offensive linemen aren't going to expect our quickness. If we remain fundamentally sound, are linebackers, which are outstanding, should be able to clean up."
For now, Lynch knows it's up to Hunter, Blueford and himself to carry the load.
"There's always a lot of pressure, but there's really not anything to worry about," he said. "Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it's not going to get you anywhere.
"We've got good young players and great coaches. We'll have six-to-eight people ready to play whit comes game time."
The revamped defensive line will be tested quickly in the opener, as Wisconsin is notorious for its big, pro-type offensive linemen.
The Mountaineers host the Badgers Aug. 30.
Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at email@example.com