MORGANTOWN - It didn't take Dana Holgorsen long to learn just how important the West Virginia University football program is to the residents of the Mountain State.
Holgorsen shared their disappointment in last year's 7-6 season - a year that began with the Mountaineers rated in the top 10.
Following that season, Holgorsen went out and brought in two coaches with ties to West Virginia, including Parkersburg native Ron Crook,who played at Parkersburg South High School and West Liberty University. He also brought back to Morgantown former WVU assistant Tony Gibson, a 1994 graduate at Glenville State College.
West Virginia University football fans will have some native West Virginians to cheer for this fall as the Mountaineers have made a concerted effort to recruit the Mountain State.
Holgorsen also has also made it a priority to get more in-state players on the roster and to have them explain the importance the program holds for many residents of the mountain state.
"There are actually more of us (West Virginians) on the team than people know," former George Washington High School standout Cody Clay said. "And, it appears that our numbers will increase when the new walk-ons report."
Clay, who played in all 13 games a year ago and started in six of them, understands the love affair fans have with the Mountaineers, since he grew up wanting to be a member of the team.
"I remember coming to games with my family when I was little and dreaming of the day when I'd be one of those players running out of the tunnel in front of 60,000 screaming fans," Clay said. "Now, I'm trying to make sure that all of our guys realize the importance they play for the people of this state."
Clay wasn't the only native West Virginian to see significant playing time in 2012. Senior-to-be Tyler Anderson, a Morgantown native, played in 10 games a year ago, starting in one before an injury sidelined him for the final three contests, while Madonna product Connor Arlia saw action in nine games, finishing with seven catches for 43 yards.
Parkersburg South graduate Michael Molinari spent his second season as the team's No. 1 holder for extra points and field goals and added the top spot on the depth chart at punter and kickoff specialist following spring drills.
"We (players from West Virginia) understand how important this football program is to the entire state," Arlia said. "We tell the guys in the locker room all of the time that they represent more than WVU when they put on that uniform."
Which explains why Holgorsen and his staff are placing such an emphasis on making sure the 2013 edition of the old gold and blue plays with an urgency when WVU enters its second season in the Big 12.
"When you are playing for the state's flagship university, there are more eyes watching you," said Crook during a recent trip back to his hometown. "It doesn't matter if you are from Florida, Texas, or Ohio. When you put on that uniform, you represent the entire state of West Virginia.
"You are carrying the hopes, and dreams of every fan in the state and we want our players to understand that fact and go out and play with the intensity needed to return this program to the high standards our fans expect."
At present, WVU will open preseason drills in August with 15 Mountain State products on its active roster-a number that could grow in future years, according to Clay.
"I think the level (of talent) in the state is improving," Clay said. "Whether that means that there will be more in-state players here over the next years, I don't know. What I do know is that there are kids in state that, like me, want to play here."