MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Even after four years playing for West Virginia, safety Darwin Cook admittedly knew little about West Virginia.
That began to change after the Pinstripe Bowl loss to Syracuse, when head coach Dana Holgorsen sought to inject some traditional significance — and a hearty dose of state pride — into the offseason program. With WVU’s roster constructed primarily from out-of-state talent, it was a direct way of connecting players to the fan base they represent.
“We’d go through the Mountaineer Mantrip last year and really didn’t know anything about it. But now we know the importance. … Coach Holgorsen has really pushed Mountaineer Pride, and it makes me feel special just to be here.”— Safety Darwin Cook, an Ohio native
A weekly parade of speakers, ranging from residents to former coaches and players, educated the team on the citizens who comprise West Virginia, giving real-life impact to the blue-collar mentality that frequently sounds like nothing more than a cliche.
“We’d go through the Mountaineer Mantrip last year and really didn’t know anything about it,” said Cook, an Ohio native. “We didn’t even know the coal out there came from a real coal mine. We just thought it was fake coal.
“But now we know the importance. Next year, when we do the Mantrip, it’s going to feel better to be a part of it. Coach Holgorsen has really pushed Mountaineer Pride, and it makes me feel special just to be here.”
Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, an Oklahoman who just completed his first season at WVU, found himself becoming just as informed as the players and called the speaker series one of “the best things I’ve experienced in 25 years of coaching.” Patterson found especially memorable a discussion led by new safeties coach Tony Gibson, a Boone County native returning to WVU after five years away.
“To hear Coach Gibson, whose father was a coal miner who passed say from the black lung, to see him stand up in front of our team and talk about the history of coal mining in this state, it was inspirational and educational,” Patterson said.
The series resonated with quarterback Paul Millard, who played his high school football in Flower Mound, Texas. A junior angling to replace Geno Smith next season, Millard grew to appreciate the labor force personify the state.
“To hear Coach Gibson, whose father was a coal miner who passed say from the black lung, to see him stand up in front of our team and talk about the history of coal mining in this state, it was inspirational and educational.” — Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson
“It blows my mind what those coal miners go through on a daily basis, the grind that they do,” he said. “We think sometimes that we’ve got it hard playing football here, but those guys are sacrificing every day.”
That’s the takeaway Holgorsen and his coaches wanted: Thinking players who feel more invested in their surroundings will take more pride in their preparation.
“For our young men, it’s a way of recognizing we’re representing something bigger than ourselves,” Patterson said. “Sometimes it becomes me, me, me, so we’ve tried to create an atmosphere of respect and that has players thinking ‘I’m honored to be here.’”