When Tim Brown collapsed on the turf of the Mountaineers? indoor practice field in August 2003, four days before the season opener against Wisconsin, he knew he was done for the year. The 6'5", 305-pound senior right tackle had been practicing a play when he ruptured his left Achilles tendon. Following surgery Brown spent the next nine months rehabbing the leg. ?It was one of the worst times of my life,? says Brown, a three-year starter before the injury. ?I wasn?t allowed to stand [for six weeks], so I couldn?t be with the team on the sideline. It was the most removed I?ve ever been.?
Brown, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, is expected to make a complete recovery and will be a cornerstone of one of the best offensive lines in the country. As a rejiggered front came together last fall, the Mountaineers reeled off seven straight wins to end the regular season, and the rushing attack ranked 13th in the country. In addition to Brown, all five of last year?s starters return, led by senior All? Big East guard Jeff Berk. Left guard Dan Mozes and center Jeremy Hines, both sophomores, are all-conference candidates. ?I?ve been coaching 32 years, and this is the hardest-working group I?ve seen,? says line coach Rick Trickett. ?They?re very strong and good on their feet.?
That will be a plus as the Mountaineers work in a new starting tailback: Senior Kay-Jay Harris (524 yards as a backup last year) takes over for the graduated Quincy Wilson. Other positives are speedy double-threat quarterback Rasheed Marshall, who threw for 1,729 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for another 303 yards and four scores, and junior wideout Chris Henry, who averaged 24.5 yards per catch and scored 10 touchdowns in a breakout season. ?With Rasheed, you don?t have to be perfect up front,? says Trickett. ?When something breaks down, he escapes.?
With plenty of options on offense, the Mountaineers would have high hopes even if Miami--which dealt West Virginia its only two Big East losses in the last two years--were still in the conference. Now, as the most powerful team left in a Big East diluted by defections to the ACC, West Virginia takes its turn as a BCS player. --M.B.