WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

Avon’s calling

You’ll remember Avon Cobourne as the leading rusher in the history of West Virginia and the Big East and you may very well think of him as the player who allowed Rich Rodriguez to recruit the likes of Steve Slaton and Noel Devine because he was so special on and off the field.

His story is a great one, from the torn-up knee in high school that eliminated virtually all of the college interest in him all the way to his ascension to the rushing record and every defining moment of talent and determination in between. His professional career has followed similarly — too small, too slow, yet too good to cast aside — and tonight it may finally turn for him once and for all.

“Nothing’s ever come easy to me, and I didn’t expect this to. But now I’ve ended up where I should be.”

Cobourne left West Virginia as that university’s all-time rushing leader, gaining more than 5,100 yards while scoring 42 touchdowns. He came to the Als last season after stints in the NFL with Detroit and Miami. But Robert Edwards was firmly entrenched in Montreal’s backfield, so Cobourne made his mark on special teams. With a 95-yarder, he had the CFL’s longest field-goal return.

But Cobourne was stunned when he reported to training camp this year, was handed a red jersey – given to defensive players – and told he would practise at linebacker. Not only were there physical limitations, but he hadn’t played the position.

“I picked it up well. But then (reality) set in and I realized I’m not a linebacker. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had to think what was more important – the cheque or my pride? I need the money, so I did it for my family,” he said.

An injury to starer Jarrett Peyton will allow Cobourne to start at running back for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes tonight and does anyone think this won’t work out for Avon?

“I appreciate the fact they’ve kept me around. They’ll see my work ethic, drive and passion for the game. I’ll bring a spark,” Cobourne said. “This is the right opportunity. The team we’re playing won’t lay down. If I play well, I’ll prove something to myself.”

So the news is supposed to be that West Virginia folk hero Kevin Pittsnogle was drafted by the Austin Toros with the 12th pick of the NBA’s Developmental League draft last night.

I suppose that’s news, and good news for KP, who when we last left him was playing in France. The D-League is to the NBA what farm systems are to Major League Baseball and there’s a history of NBA teams calling up D-League talent, though former Mountaineers D’or Fischer and Tyrone Sally never sipped from their cups of coffee. Still, it’s one step forward and it at least keeps alive the idea that Pittsnogle’s unmistakable offensive skill has a home somewhere. Now, his future rests in the hands of trustworthy Quin Snyder.

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They’re bringing quarterbacks

So much will be said and written about Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm before Thursday’s game against West Virginia at Mountaineer Field. Prepare yourself because it begins tomorrow. Brohm had a conference call with the West Virginia media today and was outstanding. Seriously, you’d have a hard time booing the guy if you had listened in on the conversation.

It is another Clash of the Quarterbacks in the Big East, where there seems to be at least one marquee matchup every week now. Brohm tipped his cap to his counterpart.

“Pat White’s a great player. Obviously, he’s not a drop-back passer. He runs the spread offense and he can really run the ball, but he can throw the ball, too. The thing about him is you can tell he’s a great leader. The team rallies around him and you know he’s going to make exciting plays. That’s always going to make the team play harder and you know at any point they’re going to break a big one.”

This Clash goes deeper, though, for it might be the Battle of the Backups because both are legitimate NFL prospects and on the fictional list of best backups in the country. We all know Jarrett Brown, but I’d like to introduce you to Hunter Cantwell. Despite his lack of experience on the field, Cantwell has already generated a lot of buzz for the 2009 NFL Draft.

Line of thinking

Here’s your water cooler topic for the remainder of the week: What is the point spread next Thursday night when No. 7 West Virginia plays host to Louisville?

I happen to think it’s a pretty interesting debate. It could be close. It could be a shootout. It could be a blowout. And, really, it could go in any direction. Numerous variables come into play, but the hunch is Vegas goes big. WVU has a great offense, Louisville an iffy defense that has struggled with spread offenses. The Mountaineers are also dangerous at home and the nighttime crowd mixed with the ESPN audience figures to make momentum an even bigger factor. Then again, the Cardinals have Brian Brohm at quarterback and a still-scary offense despite the 5-4 record. WVU’s defense is dramatically better, but this is its toughest test to date.

Guess? WVU as a 14 1/2 point favorite. Your thoughts?

It could be argued that West Virginia has one of the most adept coaching staffs in all of college basketball. It begins at the top, of course, with Bob Huggins and his resume needs neither explanation nor embellishment.

To his side is a former player all-conference player in Erik Martin and two former head coaches. First is Larry Harrison, a former Huggins assistant at Cincinnati who led Hartford from 2000-06 and spent last season as a scout for the Washington Wizards. Then there’s Billy Hahn, who has 30 years in the business, including 12 at Maryland, where he was responsible for much of the recruiting success as well as some other exciting moments. After his time with the Terrapins, Hahn was in charge of a resurgent LaSalle from 2001-04.

That ended badly, though, and Hahn spent three years out of the game until he was hired by Huggins in May, a decision for which he is eternally grateful.

“I just have so much respect for the game. Honestly, if I’d had to, I don’t know what else I’d do. I owe everything to Bob Huggins and the WVU administration. I’m so grateful to all of the people involved who helped make this happen. It took some courage on their part to take a stand, and they did.

“I’ve always been a very passionate guy. There’s a lot of gas left in my tank. And I’m here for one reason — to help Bob Huggins and West Virginia win a national title. Some people say it can’t happen here. Tell me a reason why we can’t … The passion of fans in this state for their sports, for WVU football and basketball … It’s as passionate as any place I’ve been.”

It’s a shame WVU closes football practice

Obviously, there are reasons for Coach Rich Rodriguez to close his practices and keep all inquiring minds far, far away from what it is that happens those three hours a day at Mountaineer Field.

I can see the stadium from my home and sometimes I wonder how close I could get before I hear the sniper cock his rifle. I am instead left with these visions of what goes on that must be protected. It’s probably boring, if not for the occasional and inevitable fight among teammates or eruption from a coach, and I doubt it’s something I’d really want to have the privilege of attending and, of course, covering.

Still, that no one is allowed in natually lets the imagination wander and many believe there is something mystical going on there. I’d like to think “Flight of the Bumblebee” is blaring over the speakers as the Mountaineers practice an array of trick plays and wacky formations Rodriguez wants no one to see so when he eventually pulls one out, it catches everyone by surprise.

Well, the perception isn’t too far from the reality. Rodriguez opened the blinds Tuesday when he revealed a little about what happens in practice, and, to be honest, it sounds like fun.

“We actually had a part of practice a couple weeks ago because poor Owen (Schmitt), it seems like when he scores a touchdown, nobody gives him a high-five. He looks lost out there. So we let him score a touchdown and everyone came over and gave him a high-five. We let Johnny Dingle get a sack and had the players go over and celebrate with him. We heard he high-fived an official at the Syracuse game because there were no teammates around him. I didn’t see it, but he’s caught a lot of grief since then.”

So after just about every preseason publibcation on the planet — really, I didn’t know there were that many — ranked West Virginia’s women’s basketball team, the one poll that matters came out Wednesday and included the Mountaineers at No. 22.

The Mountaineers received 139 votes to earn their first ranking in a major Top 25 poll since finishing the 1991-92 season at No. 14 in the AP poll.

“We’re happy to be ranked and get some national recognition,” Head Coach Mike Carey said. “It represents all the hard work that we’ve put in over the past few years. However, being ranked won’t win us any games. We have to work that much harder now knowing that we’ll be taking everyone’s best shot.”

A few other notes from the diesel-powered P.R. machine behind those Mountaineers:

> WVU was ranked in six major preseason publications (No. 12  WBB Magazine; No. 14 Athlon; No. 15 CSTV.com; No. 23 ESPN.com; No. 24 Lindy’s; No. 25 CBSSports.com). Personally, I think we need to know how many minor publications ranked the Mountaineers, too.

> WVU was predicted to finish third in the Big East coaches’ poll last week and trailed only preseason No. 2 UConn and No. 3 Rutgers.

>WVU returns 364 career combined starts from seven players, the most combined returning starts of any Division I school this season.

> WVU returns all five starters from last year’s team that went 21-11 and into the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where the Mountaineers lost to Final Four-bound LSU, 49-43.

> WVU has seven seniors on this year’s team, the largest senior class in school history. Included are four all-conference players (Yinka Sanni, LaQuita Owens, Chakhia Cole and Meg Bulger) and one All-American (Bulger).

After two years of disappointing finishes in the heated contest that is the AthlonSports.com Sideline Spirit contest, West Virginia’s fans are trying to make sure the history of 2005 and 2006 does not repeat itself this year. They’re throwing their support behind Nesha Sanghvi, who has a sizable lead in Round Three, but can never have enough help.

A little background about our heroine:

Zodiac: Virgo

Hobbies: Cheering, Sewing, Music and hanging out with friends

Community & Campus Involvement:
Alpha Kappa Psi Business Fraternity

Favorite Music: Reggae, Rap, Country, Rock

Favorite Food: Pizza

Favorite Vacation Spot: Italy

Favorite Book: Harry Potter

Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?:
Becoming a successful career woman and starting to make my impact on the business world.

Most Memorable Moment As A Member Of Your Squad:
When our marching band runs out onto the field and stars our pre-game by playing the WVU fight song. I always get the chills, no matter how hot or cold it is. Running out of the tunnel always gives me an adrenaline rush that is like no other.

Tough month for Pacman

First, the former West Virginia cornerback lost the TNA tag team championship belts Oct. 14. Six days later, the manager of the strip club who was paralyzed in the February shooting at his establishment sued Pacman for his alleged involvement. On Oct. 25, USA Today featured the upstart Tennessee Titans and framed it with the premise they do not miss/need the still-suspended Pacman.

“All I can say is we’re happy with the play of both our corners at this point,” Titans secondary coach Chuck Cecil said of Harper and second-year pro Cortland Finnegan. “They need to keep trying to improve and get better every week and maintain and get better.”

Wednesday, Jones learned he was facing another lawsuit for claims he spat upon a woman at a night club in 2005 — and we thought this case was over.

Krystal Webb is seeking the amount on claims of assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to a civil suit filed in Circuit Court of Davidson County.

Webb also sued Club Mystic, the nightclub on Sixth Avenue where the alleged incident took place on Oct. 26, 2006.

Jones was charged with assault after Webb went to police, but the charge was later dropped in court when a judge ruled there were too many inconsistencies in the testimony.

Georgia hasn’t enjoyed its games against Florida recently, which is unfortunate because everyone should enjoy the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” no? The Gators had won eight of nine and 15 of 17 since 1990.

And so it was that when the Bulldogs took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, they went completely insane. Georgia Coach Mark Richt admitted it was staged — thank goodness his team won or that would have been really silly, as opposed to just silly — and he has since apologized for his actions.

“Two weeks ago when our preparation began for the Florida game, I told the team that we have got to have more energy and enthusiasm in this ball game or we are going to get whipped pretty good,” Richt wrote in his letter to Slive. “I said, as a matter of fact, when we score our first touchdown, I expect you guys to celebrate to the point where the official will throw a flag for excessive celebration. I admit this was inappropriate.”  

If you’re scoring at home, that’s two apologies in two weeks.

That said, it’s a petty, though pretty clever ploy. You know the players were looking forward to the celebration and then wanted to make sure it held up. Richt is getting some support from his peers and one of his better friends in the coaching fraternity, WVU’s Rich Rodriguez, said Monday such things aren’t uncommon.

It sounds crazy, but these are kids and it’s like they need woken up at times. It is such a business and such a drive on them that it seems like some of the kids aren’t having any fun at all despite the TV and the 80,000 fans. Last year, we were halfway through the season and it didn’t seem like some of them were having any fun at all, so I made them all stand up and chest-bump each other and high-five each other before going out. Then they did that during the game, so that was neat.