After Steep Learning Curve, McKivitz Ready For Sophomore Success
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – One might assume, considering he was rewarded with a new contract this year, that coach Dana Holgorsen is the most important member of the West Virginia football contingent this season, but that would only be true if he could block onrushing defensive ends.
In truth, as vital as keeping new quarterback Will Grier is this season, it well may be that the keys to the season are held up front by an offensive line that is deep in potential but must prove it can operate without its leader from last season, Rimington Award finalist center Tyler Orlosky.
This throws much responsibility upon the team’s two tackles, one of whom played last season when he wasn’t supposed to and the other who didn’t play — save for nine snaps — who was supposed to play.
Young Colton McKivitz, all 6-6 and 290-plus pounds of him, will be stationed at right tackle after doing some bouncing from left to right last season in what should have been a year in which he eased into the lineup.
That plan went amiss when Yodny Cajuste suffered a knee injury and was lost, just now getting back into the swing of things where he will be protecting Grier’s blind side.
McKivitz rode the kind of roller coaster most young offensive lineman are forced to ride when forced into duty as redshirt freshmen. He wasn’t quite ready physically and mentally he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“My confidence is different this year and my body size is different, too,” he said. “Last year I wasn’t as thick as I am now. The weight room definitely helped with that. Now, too, I know what to expect.
“When you are a freshman you are kind of guessing what’s going to happen. Now you have a feel for it, what practice is like, what’s expected of you, the level you have to play at.”
He was thrust into the opener against Missouri and faced off against Charles Harris, who would go on to become the 22nd pick of the first round of last year’s NFL draft.
While everyone assumed he’d be taught a lesson, McKivitz played as big as he is and stymied Harris for most of the game.
“Playing against Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown my redshirt year on the scout team kind of got me ready for what the Big 12 has. They were two pretty good defensive ends,” McKivitz said. “Then, right out of the gate I got the first-rounder Harris from Missouri. It is a challenge.”
Harris had only three tackles and McKivitz felt pretty good about himself.
“I felt like I belonged right after that,” he admitted.
But there’s always a comedown. In McKivitz’s case it came in Game 2 against Youngstown State, a smaller school, where he had just an awful time of it.
That gave him his biggest lesson of the year.
“Humility,” McKivitz answered when it was brought up without much hesitation. “Youngstown State definitely taught me that. That second game I played like a redshirt freshman.”
The next day, of course, the film session for him should have starred Boris Karloff, it being that much of a horror show.
“You’re not looking forward to that film on Sunday,” he assured. “It brought me down. I had to take a step back … and BYU I didn’t start and I got to thinking, OK, this my role, wherever they need is where I’ll play.”
Attitude was important for him at this juncture. If Missouri gave him thoughts that things would come easily, Youngstown State showed him that wouldn’t.
“Missouri was a hype game. Big 12 vs. SEC. You had all offseason to think about it,” McKivitz said. “Then you come off a win in that game and I played pretty good I thought and here’s Youngstown, you are kind of pumped up because it’s 1-AA but you also have to know that you have to bring 100 percent every game.
“That drove that lesson home for me.”
That lesson comes when you see your man slip by you and get to the quarterback.
“It’s tough when you have to go back there and help pick up the quarterback. You’re the guy on TV that just got beat. It’s definitely not a good feeling, but when he does something good back there you get that good feeling.”
Of course, while you feel good about the way you protected him, the replay camera is on the quarterback and the receiver and you’re work goes unseen by that unblinking television eye.
McKivitz was benched after the Youngstown game to get his head on straight, which he did, putting together a solid enough season that he came into camp as a starter.
While McKivitz is picking up where he left off, Cajuste is trying to get his football legs back.
“Knowing there’s a pretty good left tackle over there now that Yodny’s back adds confidence to the line,” McKivitz said. “He’s working hard. He’ll be good to go. It’s good to have another guy with experience over there.
“Having Yodny back is crucial, having a guy with game experience and knowledge. It’s important for us to keep working around one another and keep that nucleus going,” senior guard Kyle Bosch added.
Cajuste is hitting it hard to get back, appreciative that he’s ready to go.
“I’m just blessed to be back out here. That was something uncontrollable. That’s all I can say about that,” he said. “I just prayed every day and stayed faithful.”