MORGANTOWN - Casey Vance knows something his older brothers will never know.
The youngest of four college football-playing brothers, Vance opted to try his luck walking on to the West Virginia University football team. His brothers had opted for a different route, taking grant-in-aid offers to smaller Division II schools at West Virginia Wesleyan College and Fairmont State University.
"They had the opportunity to walk on here, but they took the money," Vance said as he prepares for his final home game in a Mountaineer uniform this Friday against hated Pitt. "They wish they had taken the opportunity to walk on. My older brothers will never know if they could have done this."
The Inter-Mountain Photo by John Wickline
Former Petersburg High School standout Casey Vance will play his final home game for the Mountaineers Friday against Pitt.
Vance arrived on the Morgantown campus nearly five years ago, and to say he was an unheralded walk-on would be a huge understatement.
The undersized linebacker from Seneca Rocks was practically an unheard-of walk-on. He spent his first two seasons as a member of the scout team, which is a nice way of saying he was one of the guys the varsity players got to beat on during the week as they prepared for their game.
Vance did manage to earn accolades for his preparatory work three times in those two seasons, as he was named Scout Team Champion prior to the Rutgers game in both 2007 and 2008 and prior to the Auburn game in 2008.
"As a freshman, you're always hearing how much bigger, faster, and stronger everybody is," Vance said. "But everybody's undersized when you collide with a 350-pound lineman."
He also excelled off the field, being named to the Academic Honor Roll and the Dean's List, a tradition he still carries on to this day. He has been named to the Honor Roll eight times, the Dean's List seven and the President's List once during his time at WVU.
As a sophomore, he did not see any game action. But his fortunes all changed, thanks to a neck injury which held linebacker J.T. Thomas out of spring practice in 2010.
Vance started turning heads and earned his way not only on to the Mountaineers special teams, but found himself on the field when it came time for the defense to play.
"A little bit of extra time in the film room helped me to anticipate what was going to happen," he said, "so I could be in the right spot at the right time.
Coach (Jeff) Casteel has been a lot of help," the 5-9, 220-pound Vance said. "He gave me a chance. He said, 'I don't care if you're a walk-on or a scholarship guy. If you can play, you'll play.'"
His highlight came a year ago against arch-rival Pitt at Heinz Field. Vance caused a fumble, which a teammate pounced upon to thwart a scoring threat and help WVU go on to a 35-10 victory. Vance was named a Big East Academic All-Star following the season. He also received a scholarship for his final season.
"Casey has soaked everything in," linebacker Najee Goode said. "He's strong, and he plays smart. He's a straight-A student, but he's willing to keep learning even though he pretty much knows everything. Casey knows what he's doing out there."
Though the Mountaineers have had a revolving door at the linebacker position this fall while the team tries to settle on the right combination, Vance knows he made the right decision to pursue his dream of playing football at the highest collegiate level.
"I just wanted to prove I could play here," he said. "Growing up in West Virginia, you're a huge West Virginia fan. It was an interesting jump (from Petersburg High School), but it was fun."