Chemistry Linchpin For 2018 WVU Football
MORGANTOWN, W.Va — To Dana Holgorsen, Xerox isn’t the only word spelled with Xs and O.
He always has seen football that way.
X was the defense, O the offense and he had dedicated himself to it until he became known as one of the best offensive minds in the country.
But he has seen the light, so to speak, for he realizes that as important in football is another word that incorporates X and O… xenon, a chemical gas used in specialized electric lamps.
See, football is Xs and Os, yes, but Holgorsen has come to believe in something more:
“Chemistry is everything,” the West Virginia University coach said Tuesday as he readied his team for Saturday’s noon meeting with TCU at Milan Puskar Stadium.
How important is team chemistry?
“There are good teams that aren’t good because the chemistry isn’t good. You don’t just snap a finger and they have good morale or good chemistry or any of that, you have to develop that over time” he said.
Or do you? You talk to anyone connected with this football team and you hear nothing but talk about the chemistry, about the friendships amongst players and the relationships such as quarterback Will Grier with his receivers.
There is a father-son relationship with offensive line coach Joe Wickline and offensive tackle Kelby Wickline.
There is strong leadership … all the things you expect to see developed over time.
It was the kind of thing that grew under Rich Rodriguez with his Pat White and Steve Slaton teams … but they were three- and four- and five-year teams.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson sees this year’s chemistry as something different, almost an abberation that has been created.
“What makes this team so different and unique are the guys we play with on Saturdays,” Gibson said. “When you look on the defensive side, we have one kid that’s a senior, who’s been here the whole time – (redshirt senior safety) Dravon (Askew-Henry). That’s it.
“The rest of our guys, this is either their first year and they’re seniors, with (redshirt senior defensive lineman Kenny) Bigelow (Jr.) and (redshirt senior defensive lineman) Jabril (Robinson). We have a lot of junior college kids that are seniors now, like Zeke (senior defensive lineman Ezekiel Rose).
“ I know I’m missing some. For those guys to be as close as they are, it’s unbelievable to me. I don’t know how they get to know each other that well. It seems like they’ve been playing together for four or five years, the whole group.”
Holgorsen talks about his 15 seniors.
“Those guys are really close, and they all like each other, and it doesn’t matter where they’re from or what side of the ball they’re on or any of that. They genuinely like each other, and it’s important to them,” he said.
“That rubs off on younger guys and other guys. You have to have good senior leadership and veteran experience. If you don’t, then you’re in trouble.”
Holgorsen believes a lack of chemistry doomed last year’s team even before Will Grier’s injury against Texas.
“I think last year, we had some of that chemistry issue with older guys that didn’t allow us to pull together the way that we needed to,” he said. “This year, we have a group that chemistry-wise is pretty good and it means a lot to them.”
Gibson centers in on Grier as the energy behind the chemistry.
“I think that starts with a guy like Will who go to know everybody the year he sat out,” Gibson said. “He was with us a bunch, because he was our scout team guy. He got really close with the defense, at that point.
“David Sills did the same thing. When he was a freshman, he was with us a bunch. I think that gels them all, but you have to give those guys a lot of credit with David, Will, Gary Jennings (Jr.) and Dravon. They do a great job of leading this team.”
Ah, Dravon. He’s often overlooked, but not by those on the defense.
“He has been here for a while,” said graduate transfer Jabril Robinson, who knows something about winning chemistry from playing on a Clemson national championship team. “I definitely see Dra being a leader, the true leader because he has poured out more sweat, tears and blood on this team than any of us have. He has the most snaps.
“I’m sure, being here that long, he feels ownership of the team, as he should,” he continued. “He’s the type to be very vocal. If he sees you doing something wrong, he’s going to talk to you. He’s more a one-on-one kind of guy.”
So what does Robinson see with this group that was the same at Clemson?
“You can find chemistry anywhere you go, as long as you have a group of people with the same aspects and goals,” he said. “But ever since I got here, the chemistry has been developing more and more, especially after each test we get every week. We find ourselves leaning on others, as far as our teammates.
“When you’re able to get that comfort in knowing that man has your back, the chemistry builds. I’m pretty sure you see what happens then.”