MORGANTOWN - Anyone who has spent more than a few days around West Virginia's football program over the past three-plus years has learned never to take one thing for granted: Pat Lazear's appearance.
If this guy is ever forced into the witness protection program, it'll be a breeze. He changes his appearance as often as he changes his shirt.
One day he might have flowing locks down over his collar, the next he's taken a pair of clippers to it all. He can be cleanshaven - although that's a rarity - or sporting anything from a 5 o'clock shadow to a full growth of beard.
His best look might have been the combination of pretty much all over the above - hair shorn to the scalp on each side of his head and down the middle a flowing Mohawk of sorts, sometimes tied back, sometimes not.
These days, though, West Virginia's senior linebacker's look fits perfectly. Call it a cross between the Mountaineer mascot and the Unabomber, but his shaggy hair and scraggly beard fairly scream out "hermit.''
Which is exactly what Lazear has seemed like while missing most of the last six weeks of Mountaineer practices and games with an injured leg.
"You know I have to do something,'' Lazear said when asked about the current look.
True. This is a guy who almost never looks like the last picture taken of him.
But the picture Lazear would most like to see of himself these days is simply one in uniform, preferably in mid-tackle. Back in August, that seemed like it would be a given. After bouncing around between inside and outside linebacker - not to mention in and out of the lineup - during his first three seasons, Lazear went into 2010 with a firm grip on the starting middle linebacker job.
But after getting hurt two weeks before the start of the season and missing the first three games, now just working his way back into playing time is a challenge. Anthony Leonard, moved to Lazear's spot in the middle, has played well. So, too, has Najee Goode, who replaced Leonard at strong side linebacker.
"Usually when a starter gets hurt they walk right back in and take their spot. But I'm in kind of a tough situation because I don't want to take away from Anthony's reps in practice,'' Lazear said. "He's killing on the field. He's doing a great job. So is Najee. It's tough, trying to find my way to get back in there. But they're all supportive of it. They're trying to get me reps.''
Lazear dressed and saw his first playing time of the season in WVU's most recent game, the 20-14 loss at LSU Sept. 25. How much he will play Saturday against UNLV is a matter of some debate, as is the case for a handful of other injured Mountaineers. With the Big East opener against South Florida just five days after the UNLV game, WVU's coaches are expected to try to get as many key players off the field as soon as they can on Saturday against the four-touchdown-underdog Rebels.
But Lazear is in even a tougher spot than most of those other injured players in that he needs the work after having missed so much time. Then again, he knows there could be a setback if he rushes things too much.