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A year ago Jeff Hostetler was an unknown quantity. A 6'3", 212-pound transfer from Penn State who looked more like a linebacker than a quarterback, he faced the task of succeeding West Virginia's alltime passing leader, Rhodes scholarship finalist Oliver Luck. Hostetler, who has a 4.0 grade-point average in finance, was clearly an academic match for Luck, who graduated with a 3.96 GPA. And in the season opener, a 41-27 upset of Oklahoma, Hostetler showed he also was Luck's equal on the field. He went on to lead the Mountaineers to their second straight 9-3 season and second consecutive bowl.
Operating the Mountaineers' wide-open offense behind an inexperienced line, he completed 47% of his 292 passes for 192 yards a game and 10 touchdowns, but he took a beating in the process. Against Pittsburgh he was hit 17 times and had to be dragged onto the team bus semiconscious. Later, a sprained ankle and torn ligaments in a big toe kept him out of two games. Even when he wasn't injured, he was never 100% healthy. "I just couldn't get my energy back," says Hostetler. "All I wanted to do was sleep." One test hinted at mono, but his doctors still aren't sure what was ailing him.
Now Hostetler—Hoss to his friends—is fit, and with experience the Mountaineers' offensive line has improved enough to keep him that way. At tight end West Virginia lost its alltime leading receiver, All-America Mark Raugh, to the Steelers, but it gained a blocker in 6'6", 240-pound Rob Bennett. Even without Raugh, the Mountaineers are receiver-rich. Wayne Brown and Gary Mullen, who had 34 catches between them last year, will split time at flanker opposite opportunists Rich Hollins and Willie Drewrey at split end. Hollins had a 26.2-yard average and five touchdowns on 17 receptions, and while Drewrey, a return specialist, caught only two passes, he went 49 yards with one and 68 with the other. Among the running backs Pat Randolph is a blue-chip tailback.
After Hostetler, the Mountaineers' No. 1 offensive weapon is Paul Woodside, a free spirit who last season kicked more field goals, 28, than anyone else in NCAA history. He converted all 23 of his attempts from inside the 40. Three years ago Woodside was a freshman walk-on. On the first morning of practice, Coach Don Nehlen saw—and heard—Woodside warming up. "You could hear how hard he was kicking it—pah-whoom!" recalls Nehlen. "I turned to one of the coaches and said, 'This recruiting class has improved a great deal.' "
Woodside, known as Woody, is very much in the kicker mold, which is no mold at all. "I'm a bona fide weirdo," said Woody on a day when he was sporting black-and-white checkered shoes. "In October, when you see all the birds flying in formation, and then five minutes later you see a lone bird flying off in some other direction, that's me."
"One reason he's so good," says Nehlen, "is nothing goes on in his head. I wonder if he even knows field goals count three points."
"I work on Coach's mind a bit," says Woodside. "They want to figure me out, but I won't let them." The summer before his freshman year, Woodside attended Doc Storey's famed kicking camp, where he was told he had awful form. "It went in one ear and out the other," he says. "My philosophy is, if it goes through the uprights, you're doing something right."
Last year the Mountaineers led the nation in turnover margin, losing a total of 15 fumbles and interceptions while coming up with 38. Count on their knocking a few loose in '83. The top returner on defense is Free Safety Tim Agee, who had 122 tackles and four interceptions last season. The losses that will hurt the most are All-Americas Todd Campbell, a defensive tackle, and Darryl Talley, the best Mountaineer linebacker since Sam Huff. But not to worry. West Virginia has an ample supply of defensive talent, including Linebacker Cam Zopp.
Zopp, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was a regular at fullback until he left school in the middle of last season. Rumor had it that he'd quit over a lack of playing time, but that wasn't the reason. "It was the party life, and 'Come on, Cam, a few drinks won't hurt you,' " says Zopp. "Things I didn't want to be mixed up in." He has returned because he now feels confident that he can say no when he should.
West Virginia, which doesn't play Oklahoma this fall, eases into its schedule with Ohio and Pacific before facing Maryland, Boston College and Pitt on consecutive Saturdays and Miami later. But one date, Oct. 22 at Penn State, stands alone. The Mountaineers haven't so much as tied the Lions since 1959, and last year Hostetler & Co. lost to his former team 24-0, despite gaining more yards and first downs. This time, if it comes down to a kick—and it very well could—the ball might bounce the other way.