WHEELING - During the monthlong WVU Coaches Caravan, the school's coaches and athletic officials travel to nearly every nook and cranny in the state in an effort to drum up support for the next season.
A problem with this, as men's basketball coach Bob Huggins sees it, is ''the people we end up talking to, it's like the preacher preaching to the people that are already in church.''
It's true. The same people willing to spend $50 a plate to basically listen to these coaches roast each other are likely the same ones who spent $10 to sit out in the rain and cold and watch the last football practice of the spring.
''I understand that,'' Huggins said. ''But we've got to do a better job. In the Big 12, they do.''
Football coach Dana Holgorsen, as is his nature, took it a step further.
''Buy tickets,'' he pleaded during Wednesday's stop in Wheeling. ''Don't think that your ticket don't count. We need to have 62,000 people at every single game, and we need to make sure we're supporting the (Mountaineer Athletic Club) and we're putting our money where our mouth is because this is something that everything that I've been told for the last year and a half is that this is where we want to be. We're here. The time is now. We're all fired up about where we are, and we're going to do everything we possibly can to get where we want to be.
''It's going to be challenging and we're up for those challenges. But we need everybody's support. That's the bottom line.''
Holgorsen, of course, created something of a firestorm last season when mentioning his disappointment in having 20,000 fewer people show up for the Bowling Green game than the LSU game.
''I'm new here,'' he said at the time. ''I call it like I see it. I'm going to say what I think.''
That was met with very mixed emotions but the message was clear. And if it wasn't, Huggins told a story that should help.
''When we used to play that school over there (Pitt), everybody would come watch that,'' Huggins said. ''When I first went to Cincinnati, we played Louisville and Coach (Denny) Crum was there, we sold the place out. The media said to me, 'isn't it great you sold the place out?' I said, 'they didn't come to watch us, they came to watch Louisville.
''When we sell out because they came to watch us, then we've arrived. We played Chicago State. The guy suspended five starters. We were going to win by a hundred. And we sold the place out. I went into the media and I said, 'now they came to watch us.' And that's what we've got to do.''
Huggins went on to explain that the school's brand new $25 million basketball practice facility isn't just a way to show that money can buy nice things. Inside that building, he said, they work.
They're pushing tires, lifting weights, and, of course, running on treadmills.
''Our guys, Dana's guys, everybody's players, they work,'' he said. ''It's sometimes a bit demoralizing to walk out to a place that's half empty.''
It's not like that in the Big 12, the coach said.
''They come to watch,'' Huggins said. ''I think the schools in the Big 12 have the best home-court advantage of any in America.''
If it sounds like complaints, it's not. West Virginia might well be embarking on its most anticipated football season in school history. It will be headed into some intense environments. All Holgorsen is asking is that you make sure it's the same way when others get to Mountaineer Field.
And there's nothing wrong with that.
Catching up with Connor
Madonna's Connor Arlia made headlines in the days leading up to the Orange Bowl in January, though it wasn't for the reasons he wished.
Arlia, the first freshman walk-on to take the field for the Mountaineers last season after a standout career with the Blue Dons, suffered a broken leg, a bruised lung and broken ribs in a jet ski accident that happened during a team beach party on New Year's Eve.
''When it first happened, no I didn't think I was going to be able to (play in the spring), but I'm blessed to be able to be out there,'' he said.
''We've got a great training staff down there and they helped me out every day, working on healing up quick.''
He missed winter condition and 7-on-7 drills, but he was back in uniform for spring practices, making contributions in the annual Gold-Blue Game. He caught three passes for 24 yards with a long of 12.
''That was real important for me,'' he said. ''I want to make an impression. I want to help our team win games. I just love being out there.''
Arlia saw action in two games and was the Offensive Scout Champion for the Pitt game. He was in the rotation at slot receiver and likely would have seen time in the Orange Bowl, particularly given the way that game played out.
He figures more chances will come, and he couldn't be happier about it.
''To play in my state is absolutely amazing,'' he said. ''I feel that I'm truly blessed and it means the world.''
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com