Buy-In Critical for Advancement of WVU Safety JoVanni Stewart
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia bandit JoVanni Stewart admits that his “buy-in” of all things West Virginia football wasn’t what it needed to be.
Despite avoiding a redshirt, contributing immediately on special teams as a true freshman, then earning one start while playing a backup role as a sophomore and solidifying his presence on the Mountaineers’ kick coverage units, he realized he wasn’t pushing the envelope as much as he could be.
“I was coming in, and I’d do a workout, and I’d work hard, but when it was over I’d think, ‘OK, that’s done,” said the Katy, Texas, native. “I wasn’t watching enough film or doing the other things that I needed to do. I think when I first got here, I wasn’t as bought-in, so it was hard for me to get on the field. This upcoming year, I’ve been really bought-in; I trust the coaches. I trust they are going to put me into a position to make plays.”
Realization of issues, and steps to address them, come in several forms, especially in the fast-moving world of college athletics. New players hungry for time come into the program unafraid to challenge. A playing career goes quickly, especially when a redshirt year isn’t in the mix. Messages from coaches and teammates must be internalized. Even though the hard-hitting Stewart had 11 tackles a year ago, playing a big factor on special teams, he knew there was more he could do.
Thus armed, he’s taken a new approach in 2018, starting in spring practice. More time in the safeties’ room watching film, more listening to mentors such as senior bandit Toyous Avery, and more time simply appreciating football and what it brings.
The joy is evident on Stewart’s face as he discusses the game, he WVU career to date, and his hopes for his final two seasons. His special teams prowess will continue to make him a major factor on those squads, but he’s also looking to get on the field more on regular defensive snaps, where he saw 135 plays out of his 351 total a year ago.
“Kickoff team, that’s like the first defensive play,” Stewart said in equating the coverage units to defensive plays from scrimmage. “That’s what we are taught, and that’s the way I view it. Punt is a little different, but it’s still about avoiding blocks and making a tackle.”
That’s an area where Stewart’s relatively smallish frame can actually help. Listed at five feet, eight inches and 191 pounds, Stewart isn’t likely to bowl over linebackers trying to block him, even though he uncoils his frame with good explosion when making contact.
“That’s something that has always helped me, even on defense,” said Stewart of his ability to slip through small spaces or avoid blockers trying to run him down.
He’ll play behind Avery at bandit to start the season, but has experience at free safety, where he got the one start of his career. That versatility should also help him in West Virginia’s defensive packages that are employed in passing situation.
“It’s not really an adjustment,” he said of moving to different positions, something that many players on the West Virginia defense have done over the past season or so. “It’s been working for us no matter who is on the field. I think there’s [a role for me] . That is up to Coach Gibson, but I definitely think I will have some playing time.
“I’m just doing my thing, and whenever I have a question, I just go to Toyous. We work with each other, and he helps me out a lot. I think we look a lot better, a lot more jelled together. The communication is better, definitely from last season. Everyone is just more of a unit, not selfish.”