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Underwood shares facts with Wolfpack

     Stone Underwood of Brookhaven had some advice for the incoming class of freshman football players at Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Speaking to the group Monday, Underwood encouraged them to go to class, be on time, work hard, do what you are told to do and behave, on and off campus.

     Wisdom from a teammate often has a better, lasting impact than a coach, school president, dean of students, head of campus security and the chief of police. Underwood shared his views before catching a flight to West Virginia University.

     The Mountaineers kick off preseason practice today and Underwood is battling for a starting job at center. He helped the Co-Lin Wolfpack win a state championship in 2012, the school’s first state title since 1985.

     Underwood came home from Morgantown, W.V., for a brief visit with his parents. He signed a scholarship last spring with the Mountaineers.

     How does he feel about preseason practice?

     “I’m really excited about it,” answered Underwood. “I’m ready to get started with camp. I’ve been up there for about 2 1/2 months. I just came home for a couple of days.”

     To say the least, Underwood likes the atmosphere in Morgantown. “I love it so far. The team is great and the coaching staff is great. They have pushed us pretty hard but it is well worth it.”

     Underwood said he has gained about 20 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-4, 295-pound frame. “Their strength coach (Mike Joseph) has been there for about five years. He knows what he is doing.”

     Naturally, offseason college workouts are on a voluntary basis but they are pretty intense. Underwood said he spends about two hours in the weight room a day. Running and agility drills are outside the field house, at Milan Puskar stadium.

     The campus, with an enrollment of 29,770 students, rests in a scenic valley, surrounded by farmland. “I got to go around and see some places. Everything is just beautiful.”

     His prospects for a starting position look good, too. He is competing with a senior and a redshirt freshman. Both played the guard position last year.

     Second-year members of the Big 12, the Mountaineers posted a 7-5 record last season and were invited to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in New York’s Yankee Stadium, where they lost to Syracuse.

      Head coach Dana Holgerson and his WVU coaching staff are in a rebuilding mode in many areas, especially on offense, after losing 42-touchdown, 4,000-yard passing quarterback Geno Smith.

     In what Underwood describes as “a big air raid offense,” three quarterbacks are working for the starting job: Clint Trickett, Ford Childress and Paul Mallard.

     “Our offensive line has some big guys and some really talented guys,” said Underwood. “We are more experienced on the outside but we are all working together.”

     Underwood will wear No. 59. He plans to major in sports management.

     The Mountaineers debut against William & Mary. Don’t blame for looking past the opener to their next date, a Big 12 showdown in Norman, Okla., with Sooners.

     Underwood starred on his Ole Brook team as an offensive tackle, helping the Panthers reach the Class 5A state championship game in 2010. He signed a scholarship with Southeastern Louisiana University and saw some starting duty with Lions as a true freshman. After the coach was fired, he elected a transfer to Co-Lin.

    

     Besides finding a new home, he found a new position to his liking. New Co-Lin offensive line coach Robert McFarland needed a center. Underwood liked the idea of handling the football on every play.

     Co-Lin head coach Glenn Davis said he was pleased to see Underwood again, even wishing he had another year on the Wesson campus.

     “I’m proud of Stone and I’m happy for him,” said Davis. “He looked great. He talked to our team Monday. He told the players what was expected of them, on and off the field.

     “We’ve been preaching about behavior, responsibility and dedication,” Davis continued. “Here’s a guy who has been in the same shoes that you (players)walked in. He tells them, ‘You have to do it right or you’re gone.’

     “If you don’t do right, they will run you off. If you don’t pass a class in summer school, you have to pay for it.”

     Underwood said he appreciated the opportunity to play for Co-Lin. “I owe pretty much everything to Co-Lin.  Coach McFarland helped me a lot. He has been a huge part of my development as a player.”

     McFarland said Underwood absorbed a lot of information between the first day of preseason practice and the first game. “From all the different positions on the offensive line, the biggest task is the center. There’s a lot of (thought) process at center. You have to make sure the snap goes between your legs every time.

     “For a kid to play center, he’s your coach on the field,” McFarland continued. “Whenever the quarterback gives a play, the center directs the other linemen and how they are going to handle that play. He has to recognize the different defensive schemes in a hurry. He has to communicate it to his teammates.”

     A freakish injury in practice almost halted Underwood’s development at center. A fractured bone in his right hand, sustained just a few days before the season opener, would be a challenge.

     McFarland recalled the situation. “(Doctors)

had to cast it up, just to protect it. It was his snap hand, so we had to teach him how to snap left-handed.

     “For a kid just learning center, he worked two days to learn to snap left-handed. That tells you a lot about Stone. He’s a tough kid.”

     McFarland said solid, college centers are as valuable as gold. “If  you don’t have a center on your team, you are going to look everywhere to find one.”

     West Virginia found a good one at Co-Lin.

    Contact sports editor Tom Goetz by Email: tom.goetz@dailyleader.com