by Greg Talkington
MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia's George Shehl knew his chances of ever seeing game action at cornerback weren't good.
But the former Robert C. Byrd standout was determined to get on the field one way or another.
"It was just an idea that kind of hit me one day," Shehl said. "I told coach (Rich) Rodriguez that I was a holder for placements in high school.
"I knew A.J. (Nastasi) and Fazz (Mark Fazolari) were the holders and they were both seniors. So I thought that could be a way I could see playing time."
Shehl spent most of the summer of 2002 learning how to be a holder with current WVU punter Todd James. During fall camp, he moved up to the No. 2 spot and saw action in the opener against Tennessee-Chattanooga. In the process, he became the first graduate of a Clarksburg high school to play in a varsity football game for WVU in 33 years.
But he would soon become more than the answer to a trivia question.
Nastasi was injured during the second game of the season at Wisconsin and Shehl became a member of the traveling squad the next week as WVU traveled to Cincinnati, holding for placements in that game.
It's been his job ever since.
"When A.J. went down, I'd been working with Todd," he said. "The opportunity came up and I kind of just stepped into the role. Ever since then I've been working as hard as I can at it."
The fact that he was the first player from a city school to play in more than three decades surprised him. The last one was Tom Williams, a running back out of old Victory High School, in 1969. Ironically, Williams' son, Matt, was a teammate of Shehl's at RCB.
"I was a little shocked that nobody from Clarksburg has played in that long of time," Shehl said. "It's just down the road and there's a lot of people there that are big fans of WVU.
"I'm a little bit honored and proud to represent Clarksburg."
In another bit or irony, the player who came closest to claiming that designation, Zach Anglin, helped Shehl learn the ins and outs of the position.
Anglin, a Bridgeport High School graduate, played his first two prep seasons at Liberty before his family moved to Bridgeport. Anglin punted, kicked and held during his career at WVU, which was shortened by a serious injury suffered during the Rutgers game in 2000.
"When he knew he wouldn't be able to kick anymore, he took me aside and taught me a lot of the finer things of the position," Shehl said. "Zach was really helpful in me understanding what it was about."
Surprisingly, the hardest part of the position isn't catching the center snap, turning it while bringing it to the ground or even calling the blocking schemes.
"It's all difficult, but the most difficult thing is consistently hitting the spot," Shehl said. "People don't realize that it's not just catching it and sticking it on the ground.
"When you first kneel down, you take two fingers and mark the spot for the kicker. If you miss that spot by an inch-and-a-half or two inches, it can throw the whole kick off. That's why I take so many reps every day. It's got to be consistent."
While Shehl expects to get more reps at cornerback, his best bet for playing time other than holding may lie with special teams.
"I've played on a few of the scout team special teams and I'd like to try out for them," he said. "Anything to get on the field. I love to play the game."
Shehl was a standout defensive back at Robert C. Byrd, drawing attention from several Division II schools while also receiving walk-on invitations from Marshall and Ohio University. It wasn't until Rodriguez took over that he decided to go to WVU.
"I knew I would have to walk on, but there didn't seem to be much interest on (WVU's) part," he said. "Then, two weeks after Rich took over and got all of his staff in place, I got a call to be an invited walkon and jumped on it.
"I've always wanted to try to play Division I football. That was my goal. I figured if it didn't work out, I could always drop down to D-II without having to sit out."
It's unlikely Shehl will be dropping down anytime soon.
"We trust George with everything we do on our placements," special teams coach Bill Stewart said. "We think George is the best holder in the Big East.
"He makes all the calls and runs the whole production. I wish everybody took their job as serious as George does."
Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org