Return to Sports
by Joedy McCreary
(September 9) MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia University's football team might have lost more than just Saturday's 34-17 game with No. 1 Ohio State.
The Mountaineers may have also lost the heart and soul of their defense.
Gary Stills, a pass-rushing linebacker who had 12 sacks in an injury-shortened 1997 season, fractured his troubled left kneecap in Saturday's game, WVU coach Don Nehlen said.
And that wasn't all: Defensive lineman Charlton Forbes left the game early with gall bladder problems and safety Rick Sherrod is done for the season with tears in a knee ligament and cartilage damage.
The injuries add three more holes to a defensive unit that surrendered a Mountaineer Field record 549 yards of total offense to the Buckeyes.
Forbes is one of the cornerstones of the defensive line and Sherrod pushed Jerry Porter for the starting spot at free safety.
"The Ohio State game turned out to be more of a disaster than I thought," Nehlen said. "We lost three players off our defense. That was the one thing we couldn't have happen."
Two other injuries to offensive players were less severe.
Tailback Amos Zereoue, who gained 77 yards on 20 carries Saturday, didn't practice Monday with a puffy hand, Nehlen said, but that injury is not believed serious.
And offensive tackle Brock Holland sprained his ankle in the game and can't practice.
But the biggest blow is the injury to Stills.
Nehlen won't know the extent until later today, saying Stills could miss as little as six weeks, or as much as the remainder of the season.
Nehlen didn't know about the injury until Sunday, when post-game X-rays showed a crack in Stills' kneecap.
Stills is no stranger to season-threatening injuries.
He played through a sprained knee, a broken thumb and a fractured left kneecap to post 12 sacks last season.
And he started similarly against the Buckeyes, tackling seven OSU ball-carriers and sacking Joe Germaine twice.
"This poor guy (Stills) has had no luck," Nehlen said.
"He is one of the premier players in America. He played one game healthy last year, and he could go through the same thing this year."
If Stills, a senior, misses the 1998 season, he could conceivably gain an extra year of eligibility in 1999, Nehlen speculated.
But Stills would then have to graduate this spring to get that bonus year.
Then again, if Stills can recover in six weeks -- coupled with WVU's two open dates, the first of which is this Saturday -- he could be back for the Nov. 7 Syracuse game.
"If there's a guy in America that can come back, it's Gary Stills," Nehlen said.
"He's the reason Johnson and Johnson's
stock went up last year. He sure pulled off some miracles last
Freshman Mark Thurston, who saw spot action Saturday, will start
against Maryland next Saturday, with former tight end Antawn
Lake moving over to back Thurston up.
Junior Greg Robinette will take over for Forbes, a versatile
senior who charted four tackles in the OSU game. The extent
to Forbes' injury isn't known yet, Nehlen said, but it may have
been caused by contact to his side. Forbes didn't play in the
second half and was seen on the sideline without his pads or
Meanwhile, Sherrod injured his knee while covering the
second-half kickoff. Surgery is scheduled to repair the damage,
True freshman defensive linemen Osa Nosa and Jerome Taylor will
probably see action once the season progresses, Nehlen said
while sticking to his preseason prediction that at least five
or six new players won't be redshirted.
Bridgeport High product Zach Anglin was the only rookie to play
against Ohio State, holding for Jay Taylor's kicks.
Nehlen said the rash of injuries will test the team's character.
"We'll see what kind of team this team really is," Nehlen said.
"It's faced with a whole lot of adversity. Someone is going
to have to come through."
-- Ohio State's speed on defense and balance on offense impressed
Nehlen the most after he reviewed the game films of Saturday's
"All those kids run well," Nehlen said. "And we didn't have
that balance on offense, and that was bad."
-- Many observers weren't impressed with Amos Zereoue's 77-yard
performance, including a minus-3-yard output in the second half.
"That's the best game Amos has played since he's been here -
- without the ball," Nehlen said. "Now, he didn't have the ball
as much. We've got to get the ball in his hands."
-- With so many injuries, Nehlen hasn't even thought of doing
his homework yet on Maryland, which visits Morgantown for a
6 p.m. kickoff on Sept. 19.
Said Nehlen: "The only thing I can tell you about Maryland is
that I don't think they've changed their colors."