Can Grier Handle The Hype?
By Bob Hertzel
As we’d decided long ago that we were going to be unable to solve our world’s problems through discussions of politics or religion over beers, even if we did seem to understand each other better on the third one than the fourth, our conversation naturally slides to sports.
In this neck of the woods, that means West Virginia football, which at this time of the year normally leads to a lively discussion.
“Hey,” my buddy said, “did you see the ‘Sports on Earth’ article ranking the top 35 quarterbacks for this coming season?”
“Sports on Earth” being one of the most literate and intelligent sites on line, employing a host of truly talented writers, is usually can’t miss stuff for the serious sports fan and I told him that naturally I had and wondered his opinion of their opinion.
“Sports on Earth” labeled West Virginia’s own Will Grier the 16th best quarterback in the nation, a rather lofty ranking for someone who has started only six games and missed the last season sitting out his transfer from Florida.
“There’s been an awful lot of hype on this kid,” I said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever really seen anything quite like this around here.”
“Au contraire, mon ami,” he answered. “Have you not heard of Pat White?”
That got me to thinking, there is a strong resemblance to the Will Grier frenzy as he readies for his second collegiate season to Pat White’s second year, even though there are any number of differences, too.
White, unlike Grier, was not a transfer, nor had he entered the college ranks hyped up as one of the nation’s top prospects, which was his pedigree as he entered Florida.
But Grier burst on the scene in a big way as a freshman, winning all six of his starts for the Gators before being banished due to the use of banned substance.
White had been brought into WVU by Rich Rodriguez, who was in the process of building a powerhouse, but it was Adam Bednarik who won the starting job at the outset of the season and held it through the first five games with White showing signs of flash in a relief role.
Then, as WVU was being knocked around by Louisville in the second half of their 2005 meeting, Bednarik was inured and White came forth to lead an amazing comeback that led to one of the great victories in WVU history, erasing a 24-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to win in triple overtime, 48-46.
While Steve Slaton, another freshman, was the star of the day with six touchdowns, White provided the spark that turned the game and the season toward WVU, for with him at quarterback the Mountaineers won the Louisville game and the next five.
Whereas WVU had averaged just 21 points a game in the three games leading into Louisville, and had but seven points going into the fourth quarter, it is fair to say that something was lacking and White provided it.
From that point on WVU scored 46, 45, 38, 45, 28 on the road against a good South Florida team, and then 38 in a stunning 38-35 Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia on what was its home turf in Atlanta.
If you weren’t around then, you can only imagine the anticipation of WVU fans as the next season approached and the hype not only for White but Slaton, to say nothing of a cast of characters that included Owen Schmitt and Dan Mozes for toughness and a defense that held six opponents to two or fewer TDs.
While White was doing things at the quarterback spot with his legs that no one had ever seen done around here, not even from Major Harris, he developed into a slick enough passer to be such a complete package that he won four bowl games.
Now, along comes Grier. Like White, who engineered Rodriguez’s blitzkrieg ground game, Grier seems to be the right man for Holgorsen’s return to a pass-first offense … although he, like White who was matched with Slaton, has a team capable of big time things in the run game led by senior Justin Crawford, who ran for 1,177 yards last year and seemed to be just getting into the system.
What does WVU have in Grier? This is the “Sports on Earth” synopsis of him as it put him in the No. 16 spot:
“16. Will Grier, West Virginia. Few things seem to improve the reputation of a quarterback more than transferring, especially when sitting out a year is required. There’s no doubt that the hype around Grier has grown, but the results have a good chance of matching it. Grier had a stellar first half of his redshirt freshman season at Florida in 2015, made to look even better by the horrors the Gators have experienced on offense before and after him. A record-setting passer in high school, Grier completed 105 of 160 passes for 1,202 yards, 10 TDs and three INTs in six games before a PED suspension prompted his transfer to West Virginia. He spent last year on the sideline, and now he’ll become Dana Holgorsen’s new prized quarterback, a high-upside passer playing under a head coach who will let him loose.”
White, by the way, that first year was 85 for 114 passing, good for 828 yards and 8 TDs while running for 952 yards and seven scores.
All indications are that Grier can handle the hype and expectations just as White did, which could mean those barroom chats might get more spirited as the season draws on.