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West Virginia's Neild ready to tackle big 2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Chris Neild bought "NCAA Football '10 the other day" and has been busy playing the video game at night. Naturally, the West Virginia nose tackle controls his animated counterpart in the game.

"My gut looks a little bigger in the game than in person," he said, "but I can't blame them."

Neild says the game helps him stave off his anxiousness to get out and hit people after this long offseason. A lot of Mountaineers fans are anxious to see the junior back on the field in real life.

He is entering his second full year as a starter, and many are predicting a breakout year. Coaches praised his effort and leadership all spring. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel told West Virginia's official Web site in April that Neild "is the best player that nobody really knows about except us coaches."

That could change this season.

"Last year, I was just trying to get into the mix of things and trying to hold my own," Neild said. "This year, I'm definitely trying to make a bigger impact than I have. I'm feeling good, and I've been working out really hard. I think I can surprise a lot of people."

The 6-foot-2, 298-pounder started all 13 games last year, registering 47 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He admits that he had some jitters while getting adjusted to a full-time role and that he didn't start feeling comfortable until later in the season.

Stamina was also an issue, as he would feel tired late in games. That's something he worked hard on this offseason, with more running, speed training and strength coach Mike Joseph's position-specific drills.

"Those have really helped," Neild said. "I don't think (getting tired) is going to happen as much this year. I've been lifting weights a lot more this year and doing a lot more more extra work than I'd been doing. I feel fresh."

As a nose tackle in West Virginia's 3-3-5 defensive scheme, Neild probably won't put up big numbers. His job is to occupy the offensive line as much as possible and allow the linebackers and others to make plays.

This year's defensive line has a chance to be one of the better ones in recent years for the Mountaineers. Alongside Neild is second-team All-Big East defensive tackle Scooter Berry. Experienced backups like Larry Ford and Julian Miller will compete for the defensive line spot, along with highly-touted junior college transfer Tevita Finau.

Neild said their job will be made easier by the seasoned players behind them, especially senior linebacker Reed Williams.

"I see nothing but green pastures with this defense," he said. "We have all these guys coming back, and this group has been together so long. At the beginning of the season, everyone will know what other people are doing and will know that we've got their backs and they've got ours."

If Neild lives up to his potential, West Virginia won't have to worry about the front of its defense.