Five To Watch For WVU Football
MORGANTOWN, W.Va — Some have track records, made up of their play in previous West Virginia seasons.
In their case, what you see is what you get.
You know Josh Sills and Colton McKivitz can block on the offensive line. You know Kennedy McKoy can run and catch out of the backfield. You know his running back partners Martell Pettaway and Leddie Brown can carry the ball.
You know Josh Norwood can cover and hit hard on defense. You know Kenny Robinson is a blooming superstar at safety and the Stills brothers are going to soon be know as the Bruise Brothers by opposing quarterbacks and running backs.
But that is not enough to win the Big 12 championship. It isn’t even enough to shake off the predictions that have West Virginia finishing in the bottom half of the Big 12 standings in Neal Brown’s first year as coach.
What’s going to be needed is for certain players to come of age … players who are crucial to the success of the Mountaineers but who have no real track record upon which to predict success.
What better time than present to delve into them, where they are and what they must do to lift WVU back among the Big 12’s better teams?
1. Austin Kendall and/or Jack Allison: Let’s be honest. Right now, Kendall is in the lead for the battle of the quarterbacks. He’s an Oklahoma transfer who learned at the knee of coach Lincoln Riley and Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
Osmosis alone would allow him to be well-schooled.
But Allison, a Miami transfer himself, did a good bit of learning under Dana Holgorsen and Jake Spavital while playing behind Will Grier, so he has sound training, too.
One must take control of the team in the summer and into the season, but winning the starting job isn’t enough.
You have to win football games.
That’s what quarterbacks do in the Big 12.
Don’t believe it? Put it this way. Grier threw for 539 yards in his last game as a Mountaineer and lost. That’s how good you have to be and it may not be good enough, so you have to develop all aspects of your game.
This is a season where the Big 12 isn’t rife with top QBs, so someone stepping up and reaching potential could make a huge difference.
2. Chase Behrndt: A quarterback’s protection may begin with his left tackle but an offensive line revolves around the center.
Behrndt moved from playing defensive line as a freshman, then from playing guard and tackle last year, to center this year. This latest move was necessitated by Matt Jones’ transfer to Youngstown State, wanting to spend his senior year at home.
The center is the captain of the offensive line, so it’s been a cram course for Behrndt.
He’s a talented player, a tough player and he’s going to have to prove he’s a smart player and leader in that position. He believes he can handle it.
“I got recruited as a center but never once had played it in all my life,” Behrndt said this spring. “I’ve been adjusting to it now. I’m fine.”
He has to be.
3. Sam James: West Virginia is short on experienced receivers. David Sills, Gary Jennings and Marcus Simms are gone, and they take with them a combined 387 career catches for 5,848 yards and 58 touchdowns.
The team’s returning wide receivers — all of them — have caught only 60 career passes for 753 yards and three touchdowns.
Someone has to step up and become a deep threat and the most dangerous, and perhaps, it’s James, a speedster from Georgia who last year caught two passes for two yards as a freshman.
It looks like T.J. Simmons will fill the Gary Jennings role and that Bryce Wheaton can play the David Sills role, but Jones is the most likely to stretch the field with his speed as Simms could do.
One thing is certain. He believes in himself.
“I hope I will be the best receiver to ever come out of West Virginia,” he said in the spring.
He spent the spring impressing the new coaching staff but it’s a long way from spring football to the Big 12.
4. Michael Brown: Michael Brown is a can’t-miss prospect … as in you can’t miss him at 6-foot-3 and 355 pounds.
Brown is an offensive guard with very little experience but filled with great potential.
He had no idea of how to so much as get into a stance or block until he went to junior college, brought along with his older brother, who was supposed to be the better athlete.
First time he blocked anyone, he picked him up and threw him. In his first game he drew a penalty on his first play because he didn’t know to stop blocking when the whistle blew.
He was that raw, but he’s come a long way, according to WVU defensive lineman Reese Donahue.
“It just blows my mind that he went from not knowing football — from even watching it — to the player that he is today,” Donahue said. “We’re talking about mentality, aggression, footwork. Even his body. He’s lost a lot of healthy weight.
“It’s really cool to watch his transformation. He’s developing into a machine.”
He’s penciled in at guard and could make WVU’s offensive line formidable.
5. VanDarius Cowan: All you have to know about VanDarius Cowan is he transferred to WVU from Alabama after being dismissed from the Crimson Tide team following an arrest that grew out of a bar fight.
That tells you a lot about him, first that he had some maturing to do but also that he has the perfect persona for a linebacker.
With David Long, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last season, gone a year early to the NFL, WVU is looking for a disruptive force on defense at linebacker and Cowan seems perfect to fit that role.
At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, he fits the physical mold, and since he carried four stars on his recruiting resume, you know he understands how to use that body.
If Neal Brown’s holistic approach to his players works with Cowan, it could be WVU will have the key player for its defense to go with such aggressive players as the Stills brothers, Norwood, JoVanni Stewart and Dylan Tonkery.