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Wide open offense a dream for Nastasi

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

MORGANTOWN -- When veteran West Virginia football coach Don Nehlen announced his retirement as head football coach after the Syracuse game last November, wide receiver A.J. Nastasi wondered what would become of his career.

Mired in a battle for the fifth receiver spot in WVU's offense, Nastasi had just begun to see substantial playing time.

For the next three weeks, rumors abounded as to who would be the next coach of the Mountaineers.

Then came the good news. A few days after WVU's final regular season game, Clemson offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez was named the next WVU coach.

"I couldn't have been smiling more when they said coach Rodriguez got hired," Nastasi said. "I really didn't have any idea what I would do. I was worried.

"As a redshirt junior, I had no choice but to stay. When they said coach Rodriguez, I got super excited."

Rodriguez brought his no-huddle, spread offense to WVU last winter, an offense that features four wide receivers the majority of the time.

"It's a wide receiver's dream," the 6-foot, 192-pound Nastasi said. "It doubles your chance for playing time."

Nastasi is known for his toughness, something that Rodriguez expects from his wide receivers.

Blocking is as much a part of the wideout's job as catching passes.

"It's not like we didn't have to block in coach Nehlen's offense because we did," Nastasi, who caught five passes for 87 yards in 2000, said. "But it was a different kind of blocking.

"Now, they want us to go smash the guy whereas last year, it was kind of get in front of them and keep them occupied. It's a little bit harder to go take a guy out because the DBs have a lot of space to operate in."

Nastasi spent part of the summer in Morgantown, working out with some of the quarterbacks and wide receivers. It was time well spent.

"Even though it wasn't structured, it still gave us an opportunity to get more of a feel for each other," Nastasi said. "Quarterbacks throw a little differently and wide receivers make their cuts a little differently.

"I think this gives us a little edge going into fall camp."

Nastasi, who averaged over 40 points a game as a high school senior in basketball, believes the new offense will be successful.

"This isn't the West Coast or run-and-shoot," said the former Bedford (Pa.) High School all-stater. "If a defense plays the pass, we can run. If it plays the run, we can pass.

"What we do depends on what the defense tries to take away, and we've got so many good skill players it will be tough on them."

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