After years on scout team, Vance ready to step up, make plays as linebacker
Published: Thursday, April 28, 2011
Updated: Thursday, April 28, 2011 23:04
Standing at just 5-foot-9, Casey Vance isn't the prototypical linebacker.
But West Virginia's redshirt senior isn't letting that barrier hold him back this spring.
As the Mountaineers prepare to play in tonight's Gold-Blue Spring Game, Vance is the favorite to take over as one of the starting linebackers, along with senior Najee Goode and sophomore Doug Rigg.
"I'm not your typical 6-foot-2 linebacker," Vance said. "But there's ways to overcome that. You just try to play a little harder and a little more physical."
While he might be in line to be a starter now, it hasn't been an easy road for him to get to this point.
Vance, a Seneca Rocks, W.Va., native, spent his first three seasons at WVU on the scout team and didn't see any action in real games. He saw his first game action last season as a junior, and did what he could to make the most of his opportunity.
He finished the year with eight tackles and forced a fumble in the Backyard Brawl against Pittsburgh.
"I just kept progressing year by year, getting more reps, learning more and doing better," Vance said. "I was thinking eventually I would break through and be able to contribute in a big way."
Like every linebacker on this year's WVU defense has said over the course of the spring, Vance said a big reason for his continued improvement during his career was thanks, in part, to former linebacker J.T. Thomas.
"J.T. was a lot of help for me, especially last spring and this past year," Vance said. "(Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel) would tell us stuff on the blackboard, but playing (the position) is different than being coached by it. He would just kind of show you little things that coach couldn't tell you."
Now that he is one of the older players in the linebacker room, Vance hasn't just had to adjust to a possible role as a starter in his senior year; he's also had to begin to be that leader for the younger guys who are still trying to learn the ropes.
"I try to help them out as much as I can and help them along," he said. "They can get a little confused, a little down, and you just take them aside and say, ‘Try to do this, and don't make the same mistake twice.'"
While he is beginning to assume more of a leadership role on the team, Vance said he understands there are other players on the WVU defense who will take more of that vocal leadership role Thomas had last season. After so many years of having great leaders on it, he doesn't think there should be too many players trying to step into those shoes at the same time.
As of right now, he thinks the guys stepping into that role are junior cornerback Keith Tandy and another senior linebacker, Goode.
"You don't need a whole lot of chiefs out there," Vance said. "(You don't want) too many chiefs and not enough Indians, but those guys will get on you if they see you not working."
With spring practice winding down, Vance realizes he's on the verge of getting to suit up and be a starter for West Virginia, just liked he dreamed about when he was a little kid.
But he also knows if he wants that dream to come true, there's a lot of work left to do before it actually happens.
"Watching film is the biggest key," Vance said. "Watching film, learning what you're doing and just working on the small fundamentals, so whenever we come back for the fall, we don't have to start over.
"We can build on this spring and try to keep on going."