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Garvin suspended for Gator Bowl

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If West Virginia is going to snap a three-game losing streak to Maryland Thursday in the annual Gator Bowl, it will have to do so without second-leading receiver Travis Garvin and possibly without leading receiver Chris Henry.

Mountaineer coach Rich Rodriguez suspended Garvin Monday, saying the senior wideout had committed a team rules violation.

Henry, meanwhile, has been afflicted with back spasms and will be a game-time decision.

"This is a coaches decision," Rodriguez said of Garvin's suspension following Tuesday's practice at the University of North Florida.

"He didn't do anything illegal, and he didn't miss curfew. There were other disrupting factors involved."

Garvin, who will remain in Jacksonville with the team, caught 16 passes for 307 yards and two scores, one a 93-yarder from Rasheed Marshall that broke open the Virginia Tech game. He also added 127 yards rushing on 14 carries and two touchdowns.

Henry leads the team with 38 catches for 960 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"Chris‚ back is locked up, but he still got in some reps today," Rodriguez said. "We'll just have to see if he can help us some during the next couple of days.

"The trainers are optimistic with some treatment he can play some. Right now, he's missing some of the mental work, and we'll have to limit the package some when he's in there."

Henry will be replaced in the starting lineup by senior Aaron Neal, who spent much of the season in Rodriguez's doghouse.

Garvin's suspension will open up more playing time for Dee Alston, John Pennington, Milo Austin and Rayshawn Bolden.

Neal, a 6-4, 220-pound former junior college All-American, believes he‚s up to the challenge.

"I'm going to do everything I possibly can to help us win," Neal said. "This is a national game, a chance to showcase yourself and the program.

"This is a great opportunity for me to show that I can be productive."

Neal played a great deal during WVU's first two games of the season. He had four catches for 45 yards against Wisconsin and two catches and a 17-yard touchdown against East Carolina.

But he fell out of favor with Rodriguez and receivers coach Steve Bird and played sparingly until the final game of the season, when he caught a pass against Temple.

"There was a falling out, a misunderstanding between me and the coaches," Neal said. "I've always had the talent to play.

"Now's my chance to repay them for giving me another chance to prove myself."

Neal said he didn't know what to think about Garvin's situation.

"Travis is a good guy, and I wish he was here," Neal said. "But we've got to go on and do the best we can without him."

Safety Brian King, one of the team's captains, was matter-of-fact about the situation.

"I'm not a selfish guy, but I know I have to take care of business on and off the field and that's what I do," King said. "I expect everybody else to to the same for themselves.

"Obviously, he didn't do that."

n GATOR NOTES: West Virginia has scrimmaged sparingly since coming to Jacksonville on Christmas night, hitting just Saturday and Sunday.

n Defensive tackle Ernest Hunter participated in drills and took reps with the defense for the first time since the end of the regular season

n Rodriguez said players have "been on time for meeting and have met every curfew."

n WVU will hold a light walkthrough this afternoon at Alltel Stadium.

Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at gtalkington@exponent-telegram.com