WHEELING - Shaq Petteway was back in his element Saturday.
After missing last year with a season-ending left knee injury, the former Steubenville High School all-Ohioan took the next step in his recovery during West Virginia's first open practice of the season at Wheeling Island Stadium.
''I still have a long way to go, but I'm ready to get back to playing football,'' he said.
Wearing a knee brace, the 6-foot, 233-pound redshirt junior was an active participant in numerous defensive drills during the Mountaineers' nearly two-and-a-half-hour workout before nearly 1,500 Blue and Gold faithful.
''I feel I'm right where I'm supposed to be (in the recovery process),'' he said. ''I'm running, cutting.''
Basically, he's one step closer to being the player he was two seasons ago when he finished with 42 tackles, including 26 solo stops, 1.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and three pass breakups.
''I have to prove myself all over again, just like I did when I first came here.'' he said. ''I need to prove I can make plays.''
Petteway played in 12 games as a freshman in 2011. Then, a year later, moved to Sam linebacker and saw action in 13 contests.
Right now, there's no reason to look at any depth charts, etc. He's simply trying to reestablish himself as a force on WVU's D.
''I'm really anxious to get back out there and play football,'' he said. ''I'm really anxious to get back out there and contribute.''
While it was tough sitting out last year, the time on the sideline gave Petteway a greater appreciation for the game.
''I just learned to appreciate the little things,'' he said.
Too, Petteway was able to gain greater knowledge of the Mountaineers' defense and is now a year wiser.
''When you have a season taken away you realize how good you have it,'' he said.
WVU Head Coach Dana Holgorsen said it was too early to gauge Petteway's progress, but said the Mountaineers are blessed with tremendous depth at linebacker. Brandon Golson, Isaiah Bruce, Nick Kwiatkoski, Jared Barber, Wes Tonkery and Jewone Snow are other names in the mix.
''Every spring, programs want to try something new,'' Holgorsen said Saturday regarding his defense. ''There's a couple of things that we will be doing new defensively, but I doubt they will be that serious.''
Petteway was excited about playing at Wheeling Island Stadium, site of a few high school battles against Wheeling Park. He said he had some friends and former coaches in the stands cheering him on.
''It's definitely nice to be back in front of the fans,'' he said. ''I like to put on a show. It's nice practicing in a game-type situation.''
West Virginia opens the season Aug. 30 against Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
''We just have to go out and prove ourselves,'' Petteway said.