New WVU RBs Coach Hits Ground Running
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Marquel Blackwell is a relationship guy.
It’s been his trademark at coaching stops with South Florida, Western Kentucky, Florida and Toledo, and it was among the first of checks on his list after accepting the role as running backs mentor at West Virginia. It was also the lasting impression he wanted to leave with the Rockets, whom he helped guide to a 20-7 mark over two seasons, including an 11-3 finish a year ago with a Mid-American Conference championship.
“The hardest part of me leaving to come was the relationships I had built with the guys at Toledo,” Blackwell said. “That’s a big deal in this business as far as making sure those guys understand you are all-in with them. I am looking forward to building the same kind of relationship with the group here.”
That groundwork, much like WVU’s offense, remains in its early installation phase. The Mountaineers will have held just five practices through Tuesday, with no contact of yet. But Blackwell has put Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway and Alec Sinkfield, among others, through the initial paces and came away impressed with the talent and varied skillsets of each.
While West Virginia might well be sans a 1,000 yard rusher this season – it has had one in three consecutive years with Wendell Smallwood (1,519 in ’15) and Justin Crawford (1,177 and 1,060 in 16/17) – it could mix and match players to get the quickness, speed and power combination needed. McKoy’s attributes lean toward the former, with a good initial step and ability to hit the hole and get vertical for gains as shown in the Wildcat versus Oklahoma. The rising junior hit for 601 yards a season ago with seven scores.
A chunk of that came versus the Sooners, McKoy racking up 137 yards and three TDs. He also recorded his longest run of the season, though that was just 37 yards on a team which failed to record a carry longer than 42 yards all year with that coming in the first game when Crawford broke a 42-yarder versus Virginia Tech.
“We have a lot of talent back there, a lot of competition,” said Blackwell, who began his coaching career in 2006 at Freedom High in his home state of Florida. “It’s a little early to pinpoint exactly what it is. We are trying to fine-tune some things fundamentally and get in sync with everything with the offensive line and what we are doing offensively. Kennedy has a lot of reps and has played a lot of games, as well as Pettaway.”
At 5-foot-9, 208 pounds, Pettaway provides a change-up as a sturdy power back who was criminally underused last season. The then-sophomore rushed just 43 times for 149 yards and had two or fewer carries in a contest six times. Sinkfield made a splash in fall camp, but was redshirted. Entering his second year, the quick-twitch back was a two-time all-state selection in the Sunshine State while helping American Heritage High in Delray Beach to a 21-5 mark his last two years, rushing for 2,231 yards and averaging 8.6 yards per carry with 26 touchdowns.
“Sinkfield is coming along,” Blackwell said. “For a young guy he is doing really well. The different skillsets, hopefully they complement each other. I am proud of the way they are competing and will challenge them on that. Where I come from – and when you look around the country – you have to play with two and three backs. It’s good to have each one complement each other. We will see how that goes.”
Blackwell oversaw the nation’s 29th-best rushing attack a season ago, when Toldeo averaged 204 yards per game. All-MAC first team back Terry Swanson rushed for 1,363 yards and 14 touchdowns, ranking 23rd nationally in yardage. In 2016, Blackwell coached Kareem Hunt, who was 15th in the country at 1,475 rushing yards. Hunt is Toledo’s all-time career rushing leader with 4,945 yards and was a third round selection of the Kansas City Chiefs before earning Pro Bowl honors as a rookie.
Those numbers will be difficult to approach for the Mountaineers, who figure to trust what could be the Big 12’s best quarterback in Will Grier to lead. But the track record is there for WVU’s newest assistant, who has combed back over last year’s film to try and get an early read on what the above trio can do, and how he can mesh in the talents of Tevin Bush, who will also slide to slot wideout.
“You have to look at last year’s film to try and learn some of what the guys posses out on the field,” Blackwell said. “Like I told those guys, whatever has happened in the past doesn’t concern me. All I am concerned about is what you do right now and it’s been great. Those guys are serving me well. I’m a big relationship guy and I’m looking forward to building a relationship with those guys and seeing them have success.
“(WVU is) a football program I am familiar with coming from south Florida. I follow coach (Dana) Holgorsen and Jake (Spavital) and I had familiarity with coach (Joe) Wickline from some other guys that I know. It was an easy decision for me. Get around some guys and learn a little bit more.”