WVU secondary wants to prove point
For old time’s sake — and just maybe a run at the national championship — former Perry teammates Eric Wicks and Vaughn Rivers line up together in the same West Virginia secondary for their final season.
The two seniors get started at 3:30 p.m. Saturday when the No. 3 Mountaineers play Western Michigan at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“I think it’s going to be a big season,” Wicks said. “A lot of guys are looking forward to it.”
Rivers said it doesn’t matter that Mid-American Conference favorite Western Michigan is unranked and mostly unknown.
He’s more concerned with another unknown — whether the Mountaineers’ secondary has retooled coming off a disappointing season in which it allowed 243.3 passing yards per game.
“We’re definitely, definitely taking Western Michigan seriously,” Rivers said. “As a secondary ranked 109th in the nation last season, we’re taking everyone seriously. We want to go out and prove a point in every game.”
Despite making 52 career tackles and two interceptions since 2004, Rivers knew his job was on the line when coach Rich Rodriguez brought in junior college All-American Ellis Lankster at cornerback during the offseason.
“It forces you to get better, because you know someone else wants the same spot,” Rivers said. “You’re always going up against the other team’s best receivers, so competition is just part of playing cornerback.”
However, Lankster was suspended from the team, along with linebacker J.T. Thomas, for at least the first two games. They won’t be in the mix until at least Sept. 10, the date for their preliminary hearing on a charge of transferring and receiving stolen property.
“We’re just keeping it in the family,” Rivers said. “But those are two guys we need, and it kinds of sets us back a little bit. As soon as we get them back, we’ll be back to full strength.”
Rodriguez said he’ll also take advantage of Rivers’ experience as a punt returner. He brought back 18 punts for a 10.8-yard average including a 50-yard return for a touchdown at Mississippi State last season.
A three-year starter, Wicks can line up at free, bandit or spur safety. He’s already had a hand in 148 career tackles including 10 sacks, and five interceptions.
Wicks said the Mountaineers have unfinished business coming off a season in which a No. 10 final ranking in the AP poll left an empty feeling.
“I think expectations last year were just too high,” Wicks said. “We were aiming so high, but we weren’t working like we were aiming.
“I think this year, we’re aiming high and we’re going for it,” he said. “Guys are working hard now, and hopefully we’ll work hard all the way through and get to where we want to be.”