Isaiah Bruce taking advantage of starting job, surprising teammates and coaches
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 07:09
There wasn’t an overwhelming sense of anticipation surrounding redshirt freshman linebacker Isaiah Bruce’s Mountaineer debut heading into West Virginia’s season opener against Marshall Sept. 1.
But this didn’t deter Bruce from leading the entire team in tackles and making headlines with a 43-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown in his first collegiate appearance.
"I envisioned just making a play," Bruce said after the Marshall game. "So I guess everything went according to plan. Lots of intensity from the start."
Bruce’s 16 total tackles in his collegiate debut, which included a stop for a loss and the aforementioned defensive touchdown, were good enough for the Big 12 Conference Player of the Week honors in
college football’s opening week.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker from Jacksonville, Fla., was a four-year starter at Providence High and was also a Florida state champion in the 300-meter hurdles.
"He has great size and athleticism for a linebacker, especially in today’s game," said West Virginia co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. "He’s able to run 20 or 30 yards and make plays in space."
In addition to Bruce’s obvious athleticism, second-year West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said that it’s the redshirt freshman’s intelligence that makes him a capable defensive player.
"He’s really a smart kid," Holgorsen said. "And his conditioning is good. Not everyone looked the same in the fourth quarter as they did in the first quarter, but he looked like he was doing the same stuff consistently for four quarters."
Ironically, one of the things that originally drew Bruce to West Virginia’s football program was that the Mountaineers were employing the 3-3-5 defensive scheme under former defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. It was a system that Bruce thought he could initially excel.
But Bruce, who was expecting to see at least some playing time right away as a true freshman, was redshirted in his first year with the team, much to his disappointment. Part of the problem was his size –Bruce came in as a
freshman at least 20 pounds lighter than he is now.
Bruce’s determination never wavered, though. He used last season’s redshirt for motivation and the offseason to get stronger, faster and smarter as a player.
This year, West Virginia has a new scheme and two new co-defensive coordinators, and so far the results of the season opener indicate no one has adjusted to the new style more quickly or effectively than Bruce.
"It’s his work ethic," Patterson said. "The thing I appreciate about Isaiah is every single day he brings the same attitude, the same effort that it takes to be a great player. He’s not moody, he just studies it. He wants to get better, and it’s all about his attitude."
Patterson, who is also the Mountaineers’ linebackers’ coach, has spent a lot of one-on-one time with Bruce since taking the job as an assistant under Holgorsen this offseason. Bruce’s steady demeanor will allow him to get consistently better every single week.
"What I told him after the game, as long as you keep being coachable – doing the things I’m
asking you to do – you’ll continue to improve as a player. And he definitely has the right attitude and mind-set to do that," Patterson said.