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WVU's Stewart, Huggins visit Eastern Panhandle

May 23, 2008|By CHRIS CARTER

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Thursday marked the ninth outing for West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart as part of the Mountaineer Athletic Club Coaches Caravan.

There was one slight difference, though. He made his first appearance at Cress Creek Country Club as 'Head' football coach.

Stewart was joined by fellow Mountaineers coaches, including head men's basketball coach Bob Huggins, as they made their annual stop in the Eastern Panhandle to meet, dine and golf with members of the Mountaineer Athletic Club.

"Nine years, eight as an assistant, and I'm still happy to come here," said Stewart after finishing his golf round. "It's not a bit different as the head coach. I play (golf) with the same buddies that carry me all day. This truly is the best stop for me."

Stewart later addressed a dining room full of boisterous West Virginia supporters, speaking about the affairs of the football program.

First he talked about the 48-28 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl win against Oklahoma in his interim debut, which virtually won him the permanent position a day later.

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"Eighty-four percent of the country said we couldn't do it. We didn't dwell on it much," he said. "Hopefully we set the bar for years to come."

Later he discussed Martinsburg graduate Nate Sowers -- a redshirt junior this fall -- and how he should be the model that the rest of the Mountaineers imitate.

"When we put Nate Sowers on the field, he'll hit you and knock you out," Stewart said. "That's what we want to do every time we can within legal limits. ... Hit you right flat in the mouth and punch you in the heart."

Stewart said that many publications have the Mountaineers ranked in the Top 10 in the nation, but he admitted he doesn't know what it means just yet.

"If we take care of business, cross the 'T's and dot the 'I's, we have a chance to be good," he said. "A No. 9 ranking is probably pretty fair and people are going to be coming for us. But we want people to be coming for us."

The first challenger will be Villanova on Aug. 30 at Mountaineer Field.

"If we stay healthy and the ball bounces our way, we'll be OK," Stewart said.

Stewart left to a standing ovation, which resumed as Huggins walked to the front of the room to speak on the state of the men's basketball program.

After taking a few coachly jabs at some of his players, Huggins commended their character.

"We're going to work our guys hard and the great thing about them is that they love it," Huggins said. "Another thing I like about our guys is they bring a lot of enthusiasm to practice. We had a meeting (Wednesday) that they have to make our four freshmen bring the same type of enthusiasm."

Earlier while dinner was being served, Huggins addressed the possible departure of star forward Joe Alexander, who declared for the NBA draft but did not hire an agent.

Huggins held out hope that Alexander would return, but he has a contingency plan.

"Joe would be hard to replace, but we had a heck of a recruiting class," Huggins said. "Every year players leave and other guys have to step up. It will be no different if (Alexander) goes."

The recruiting class includes newly signed 6-foot-8 Devin Ebanks, ranked among the top small forwards in the nation.

"We just signed another guy and, yeah, he's pretty good," Huggins said. "We're going to be good. Our charge is the same as everyone else at WVU and that is to win a national championship."

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