Austin Kendall Adapting To WVU, Brown’s Offense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Having waited his time at Oklahoma behind not one but two Heisman Trophy winners in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, all Austin Kendall wanted was a chance to be a starting quarterback at a major college.
When Alabama graduate Jalen Hurts announced this past January that he planned to transfer to OU, Kendall realized a significant hurdle had been placed in his path if he wanted to be the Sooners’ top QB.
He hurriedly looked at his own transfer options. With a communications degree from the University of Oklahoma already in his pocket, he too could be a grad transfer, making him immediately eligible at a new college – at least immediately eligible after OU officials eventually caved to public pressure and pulled the restrictions on Kendall’s transfer.
“It happened pretty quickly, a quick turnaround,” noted Kendall of his decision to transfer. “I was getting ready to go back to OU and preparing to battle for the job. But then I decided to do what I wanted to do this time. I graduated and did everything right by the program at Oklahoma, but I made a decision to do something right for myself now.”
With only a short period to make a decision and get enrolled at a new college in time for the spring semester, Kendall focused on West Virginia and Auburn as potential transfer destinations.
His brother, Ryan, had been a walk-on receiver at Kentucky from 2014-18, where one of his coaches was Neal Brown.
“The biggest thing for me was my relationship with Coach Brown,” explained Austin of his decision to transfer to WVU. “During the short period when I realized I needed to get out of Oklahoma, Coach Brown had just gotten the job at West Virginia. It was kind of easy to go to Coach Brown and say, ‘I know you personally from my brother playing for you at Kentucky.’ So, it was kind of an easy process with a guy I trusted. I also visited with Coach (Gus) Malzahn at Auburn as well. West Virginia was a pretty easy decision because I knew (Brown) so well through personal experiences.”
Kendall played in a total of eight games during his three seasons at Oklahoma.
A native of Waxhaw, North Carolina, where he was a four-star recruit coming out of Cuthbertson High School, the 6-foot-1, 218-pound Kendall enrolled at OU in January of 2016. He earned the backup quarterback spot as a true freshman that fall, but playing behind Mayfield didn’t provide for a lot of actual playing time. He saw action in only two games and was 16-of-22 passing in those limited opportunities for 143 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
He redshirted the next year, as Mayfield returned for his senior season, in which he would win the Heisman Trophy, and Murray became eligible after sitting out the previous year following his transfer from Texas A&M.
“There is good and bad,” admitted Kendall of having been on the same team as Mayfield and Murray. “You see two Heisman Trophy winners every day and see what they do and their mentality. But the bad is I didn’t get to play a whole lot. That’s probably the biggest thing against me right now; I don’t have a lot of playing time. But I’m here to prove people wrong. I’m excited to get my chance.”
With Mayfield off to the NFL as the No. 1 pick of the draft heading after the 2017 season, Murray ascended to the Sooners’ starting QB role, and Kendall again held down the second-team spot in ’18. Behind yet another eventual Heisman Trophy winner, Kendall got into six games, even started one. Murray was late for practice one day, and had to sit out the first series against Baylor, so Austin got the call.
In the 2018 season as a whole, Kendall completed 12-of-17 passes for 122 yards with one TD and no interceptions.
“I learned from Baker and Kyler that you have to be your own guy,” he continued. “On the field, Kyler was a little faster than Baker. They both had the arm strength to make plays. They both had different kinds of leadership styles. Baker was a big who-rah guy, and Kyler was more quiet. But they both took their teams to the college football playoffs, so each way worked. I learned you have to be your own guy.”
With the decision to leave Norman behind him, Kendall enrolled at WVU in January, beginning his work towards two master’s degrees – sports management and athletic coaching.
“I’m going to be here two years, so I might as well get two degrees,” chuckled the fourth-year junior.
He spent this spring adapting to Neal Brown’s offense. The drills culminated with the Gold-Blue Game this past Saturday, where Kendall completed 7-of-12 passes for 154 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
“It’s a lot different,” Kendall said of the styles under OU’s Lincoln Riley and WVU’s Brown. “I spent three years at Oklahoma, and the way they played and the way they practiced were a lot different. Coach Brown has his own way of doing it. The guys, as soon as I got here, have helped me settle in as well. It’s helped me progress throughout the whole spring.
“They do some things a little differently, but they both have similarities. It’s really been a pretty easy transition.”
The transition may be relatively easy, but that doesn’t mean Brown or WVU quarterback coach Sean Reagan have been easy on Kendall. Their demands are high, and the new quarterback appreciates that.
“Since I’ve been here, he’s been really hard on me, and I expect that; I love to be coached,” said Kendall of playing for Brown. “Whenever I make a good play, he doesn’t really say much. When I make a bad play, he’s hard on me, and that’s what you want to see.”
Kendall limped into Tuesday’s interview session in a walking boot.
“I have a little plantar fasciitis going on right now. I’ve had it before,” he explained. “It’s just a nagging injury.”
Now with spring ball over, Kendall will have a few weeks to let his foot injury heal. Then in late May, he and his new WVU teammates, including fellow quarterbacks Jack Allison and Trey Lowe, will begin their player-organized throwing sessions, as well as continued strength and conditioning training.
“We’ll work out three days a week during summer workouts,” said the Sooner-turned-Mountaineer. “We’ll try to perfect things and get on the same page.
“I have to develop to the point where I make more plays and lead the offense down field so we score each drive,” he concluded. “This is the Big 12, and you have to put points on the board. I’m not saying we struggled (this spring), but we’re putting a whole new offense in, and we’ve all got work to do. We’ve all got to come together. If we do that, we’ll be pretty good from there.”