A Tale of Two WVU Footballers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Two news items came out of the Puskar Center on Monday that while seemingly totally unrelated said much about college football today.
The first item was that offensive tackle Colton McKivitz, who has bought himself a ticket to the NFL with the way he has played and conducted himself at West Virginia, was selected to the Associated Press All-American third team.
The second item took a look at the other side of the spectrum, that running back Martell Pettaway was putting his name into the NCAA’s transfer portal after a start to his career that seemed to mark him as someone who could find the same kind of success that McKivitz.
Why does one make it all the way while the other gets derailed?
It wasn’t a matter of ability, that is certain.
It wasn’t a matter of work ethic or morality, either.
If you look at it, it comes down to fate, or if you don’t believe in fate, let’s call it circumstance.
Right man in the right place, wrong man in the wrong place.
Let’s examine it.
McKivitz came in a raw talent, a player in need of development. He was given a full redshirt year.
Pettaway was a far more heralded prospect when he came to WVU and, it seemed, that the Mountaineers were so deep in running backs with Rushel Shell, Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy that they had the luxury of redshirting Pettaway.
Injuries took their toll on Shell, on Crawford and on McKoy to the point that when the Iowa State game came around Dana Holgorsen asked Pettaway if he would break his redshirt and start.
He had the ability. As a high school junior he been ranked the No. 1 prospect in his class by ESPN and, when given the chance, he wrote a warm and winning story.
The season was already 10 games old when he was forced into action. Pettaway’s first carry went for 24 yards. By the time the game ended he had carried 30 times for 181 yards and touchdown.
It was heroic story and one that had deep meaning, for after the game it came out that the No. 32 jersey he wore honored his brother, Devinne, who had played defense on his school’s 2007 state championship team.
The next April, while in gym class, Devinne collapsed and died.
This was the story he told to Mlive.com in a 2015 story.
“Me and my mom, she was picking me up from school. I just remember that she got a call from my dad. I just remember her voice and her saying, ‘stop playing, stop playing.’ My dad pulled up alongside of us on the side of the road and he just told us that he passed away on the way to the hospital.”
There were no symptoms of anything wrong, but he was suffering from cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart.
“Last thing I remember, I think I beat him in a game of Madden,” Martell said in the article. “He got mad. That’s what I remember. I beat him in Madden, something like 35-28 or something like that. I remember playing that game.”
It seemed like Martell, though, was off and running on a big time career. His second year, with Crawford gaining 1,000 yards and Kennedy McKoy getting most of the other carries, Pettaway carrying just 43 times in the season.
In 2018 Pettaway shared time with McKoy, finished just shy of 100 carries and gained 623 yards, averaging more than six yards a carry.
But then came a coaching change and a season, quite frankly, despite McKivitz’s All-American presence, an offensive line that could open no holes for the running game.
Pettaway opted early on in the season to use that redshirt he lost in 2016, playing only four games and gaining 72 yards.
He made no trouble, was a good teammate but things had changed dramatically in four years and by entering the transfer portal he showed that he wanted a fresh start and a chance to save his career.
You can’t help but wish him well, whatever path this takes him down, just as you can’t help but root for McKivitz, a kid who turned being 6-foot-7 and 312 pounds and filled with raw talent and desire into a shot at the pro ranks.
His road didn’t take the hairpin turns that Pettaway’s did, but he put all of himself into it, growing as a player and as a person, coming back for a senior year when he could have left and tried the NFL.
But he knew he need to be bigger, stronger, more experienced before he did that, accepting the coaching change and drop off in talent to return.
He became a leader.
“When the new coaching staff came in, he kept us all in line,” freshman guard James Gmiter said late in the season. “He led by example. It was just him leading us.”