WVU’s Rose Has Past With Kansas QB
Having been around the block enough to outlive my warranty, when a friend asked me who my favorite person to interview was, I found myself caught up in deep thought, for the list is far too long and entertaining to select just one.
It’s like asking someone to name their favorite candy bar, as if you can really choose between the Reese’s, the Three Musketeers, Snickers or a simple Hershey’s bar with almonds.
The incident, however, was helpful in putting in place just how fortunate those of us in this sportswriting business are to be placed in situations where you can talk one-on-one with the likes of Pete Rose or Joe Morgan or Sparky Anderson or Earl Weaver or Whitey Herzog or Reggie Jackson.
And what is best about it is that it isn’t a stagnant list, for it seems to grow daily. True, for the most part the people you interview are polite and nice, but hardly entertaining, but every day, or so it seems, someone comes out of the shadows to delight you, as West Virginia’ defensive end Ezekiel Rose did on Tuesday.
Sort of stumbled into the interview for we saw it simply as an effort to build a note for a notes column, Rose having last Saturday somewhat knocked back kickoff returner Marcus Simms, who earlier had returned a kickoff 80 yards, to grab a kickoff.
But what was so out of whack was that this 265-pound defender showed off some speed and moves as he returned the kickoff 23 yards — which, considering the history of WVU kickoff returns over the past few years, would put him near the top of the list.
That inspired the conversation. Could it be that they are considering sticking him back in Simms’ spot next game, he was asked, tongue firmly embedded in one’s cheek.
Ezekiel Rose, who it seems many call Zeke (and no, there will be no Jerry West references as to that nickname here), grinned as he thought about it.
“No , they ain’t switching us,” Rose replied. “Marcus is a little faster. His legs are smaller than mine, so he’s got more speed. Fact is, I’m still learning from Marcus. He’s got some stuff I still don’t have yet.”
It was like a tennis match, Rose hitting his own tongue-in-cheek return.
A year ago, Rose was playing at East Mississippi Junior College, which we get to in a moment, and it was brought up that they did on occasion use him as a receiver or running back.
“I used to do all that,” Rose said, but it had nothing to do with this moment. “Actually they told me not to back up but I didn’t hear Marcus call for it, so I’m thinking ‘I’m not going to let this ball fall.’”
It was a wise decision, even if it wasn’t the right one, but as Rose would note, “Hey, I’m a versatile guy. Coaches tell me that a lot. I played receiver in high school and in junior college I played D-line, but I played a little receiver there, too.
“They saw a little bit of that film and they decided to put me back there because I was a little quick for my size.”
Now you may know something about East Mississippi Community College, for it has been the subject of a Netflix project called “Last Chance U,” a school where talented, but often troubled, athletes go to straighten up after having problems at a big-time schools or while trying to better their chances of getting to a big-time school.
It often wins the national championship of junior colleges and it has ties to WVU in that a year ago former quarterback Clint Trickett was the quarterbacks coach there as he went off on his own, following his father, Rick, into the coaching profession.
“Last Chance U” has been an intriguing look inside a part of the game that isn’t normally featured, a successful part of the game where coach Buddy Stephens roughly reshapes the lives of young players.
Now it’s true that Rose was not one of the featured characters, characters being lashed out at by Stephens for their behavior or caught up in a rather big time brawl, but it was something he needed to prepare himself for the big time.
Today, he is out of range of the cameras and admits, “I feel more free. When they filming it, I was like ‘You’re not going to put that in there, are you? Oh, no,’” he said.
And he didn’t escape completely.
“One game coach got off on me, the Itawamba game. I think I came off my injury too fast that game. I could have done better. I probably should have sat out,” he said. “I was just sitting in the back, trying to get out of there (as the coach ranted)”
Ah, the Itawamba game. That becomes important this week because Kansas is the opponent and the Jayhawks starting quarterback is Peyton Bender, who last year started that game for Itawamba.
Surely, Rose remembers him?
“No, not really,” he said. “It was a tight game.”
When Rose was reminded about Bender, it began coming back to him.
“It was like 44-42. He was a smart guy. He knew what he was doing,” Rose said.
I guess he knew what he was doing. He completed 39-of-59 passes for — get this — 566 yards and three touchdowns … and Rose had to be reminded who he was.
The cast of “Last Chance U” was filled with characters and good football players.
One was Kam Carter, a 310-pound defensive lineman.
“I’m telling you, if you ever see him call him ‘Slim Bugaloo’, he’ll say ‘Who said that? Tell him Zeke did. That man is so funny,” Rose said.
And then there was Dakota Allen, who’s playing linebacker at Texas Tech these days.
“I talk to him a lot. He’s a smart guy, he can read offenses. They would line up and he’d be yelling ‘He’s coming right here,” Rose said.
And that’s where they’d run..
Today, Rose is beginning to make an impact on the WVU defensive line, so we’ll all be hearing from him again.
Maybe even after he runs a kickoff back for a touchdown.