F-Word Banned For WVU Football
MORGANTOWN — West Virginia football coach Neal Brown took a drastic step this week and put the f-word off limits in his program.
No, not that word.
The word that has been banned is “freshman.” No one is a freshman any longer in his program.
“I’ve got to stop using the f-word,” Brown said early in his Monday press conference, moved up from Tuesday due to Thursday night’s 8 p.m. meeting with Baylor, the last unbeaten team in the Big 12.
And why is “freshman” being purged from his vocabulary?
“It’s a built-in excuse for those kids, for our staff and maybe myself. We’re a no-excuse operation. We’re playing a lot of young people. But here’s the deal: We’ve played seven games now. These guys have all gotten experience.”
After seven games they are 3-4 and while no one would ever place the blame for that on the freshmen — be they redshirt freshmen or true freshmen — a lot has been asked of them.
Brown’s depth chart lists six freshmen as potential offensive starters — receivers Bryce Wheaton, Winston Wright and Sam James, center Briason Mays, left guard James Gmiter and tight end Mike O’Laughlin.
And there’s one defensive starter, safety Tykee Smith, while other defensive back sNicktroy Fortune and Kerry Martin Jr. will play extensively.
The fact of the matter is that in seven games this season true freshmen have played 1,152 snaps for the Mountaineers while all of last year that same group played just 670 snaps.
Normally, freshmen are either obscure players who make up the scout team, get some special teams experience or are truly special players who shoulder their way into the lineup.
Not this year. A variety of circumstances — the exit of Dana Holgorsen and a strong graduating class, transfers and injuries greeted a new coaching staff which found itself building for the future.
So Brown has been liberally using freshmen, in part out of necessity, in part out of trying to evaluate them and in part because they were the best option he had.
Here is a breakdown of how the freshmen have been used:
STARTS: WR Sam James 7 game; OG James Gmiter 5 games; C Briason Mays 4 games, S Tykee Smith 3 games, S Nickroy Fortune and TE Mke O’Laughlin 2 games, WR Bryce Wheaton, WR Ali Jennings and NG Jordan Jefferson 1 game.
“Offensively, I think the future is bright for us,” Brown said. “We’ve started as many as six – I’m not using the f-word anymore – we’ve got a lot of people playing for the first time. There’s a lot of hope.”
One such place is at center with Mays, although he has been undergoing a difficult initiation.
In fact, during Tuesday’s media session someone pointed out to offensive coordinator/line coach Mike Moore that Mays was “in the soup” last week against Oklahoma. He might as well have suggested they change his name to Campbell because that’s life in the Big 12.
“Yep,” said Moore to the comment about being the soup, “and he’s still there. The guy he’s up against this week is 6-1, 330 pounds. He’s been hard to control for everybody who’s played him.
“He’s a little different than than the guy at Oklahoma who was a little more twitchy, a little faster.”
But Moore said that after a tough week against Iowa State, Mays held his own against Oklahoma.
“When you are in the Big 12, you have to be able to handle nose guards,” Moore said. “He did a good job against Oklahoma. He did a good job in pass protection. Each week it’s a new challenge. We try to help him as much as we can, but it’s going to be another week where he has to grow up a little bit. The challenges are going to do nothing but make him better than down the road.”
And the same can be said about other freshmen.
What’s more, there’s others coming like running back Tony Mathis or bandit Jared Bartlett.
“If I had to pick one guy that really stood out last week, it was Mathis,” Brown said. “He’s a little behind. He had a little knee injury that was out for three weeks. The OU week was his first week practicing full speed.
“Last week he was back in Monday night football for the first time in four or five weeks and I thought he did a nice job. He will travel and whether or not he will play has not yet been determined but he will play and get some carries this year.”
And Bartlett, who plays a position that is short on bodies due to injury.
“He will play this game and it will be his first significant action,” Brown said. “We have some flexibility there with Abbott, Campbell and Tonkery.”
So look for some experimentation at the linebacker spot.
If it doesn’t work, look for Brown to say “Oh, fudge.”
But not freshman.