For Pooler, Bigger Wasn’t Necessarily Better
MORGANTOWN, W.Va–College football is filled with stories of players who went from skinny high school recruits to full-grown men by the end of their careers.
At West Virginia, Anthony Becht came from Monsignor Bonner High as a 6-foot-5, 189-pound receiver and left as a 275-pound tight end who was a first-round NFL draft choice in 1999.
Mike Fox arrived at WVU in 1985 as a 6-foot-7, 195-pound defensive lineman. He supplemented his regular meals with a late night pizza before eventually packing 300 pounds on his frame on his way to a nine-year NFL career.
While rare, sometimes college football players need to go the other way as well.
Thus it was with junior defensive end Jeffery Pooler.
After redshirting as a true freshman, the Dayton, Ohio, native worked to add weight so he could better hold up in the interior of West Virginia’s defensive line the past few years. Playing defensive tackle, and even some nose tackle in pass rush situations, the 6-foot-2 Pooler eventually got to 295 pounds.
But then Neal Brown was hired as WVU’s head coach, bringing Vic Koenning in as the Mountaineers’ new defensive coordinator. Koenning switched West Virginia’s defense from a 3-3 odd stack to a 4-2-5 hybrid, and Pooler was asked to move from an interior defensive lineman to defensive end.
Suddenly speed and quickness were more important than pure bulk, so Pooler began to lose weight so he could improve his speed.
Now he’s down to 250 pounds, and the effort seems to have been worth it, as the fourth-year junior is very much in the mix to earn significant playing time at defensive end, if not the starting job itself.
“I am definitely quicker now at this weight, but I’m just as strong,” explained Pooler. “I was bigger before, but it wasn’t necessarily good weight. I was too heavy. Now I feel good.
“I’ve always felt I’m a pretty good pass rusher, and now at d-end with my speed, I’m in a position where I can utilize that ability.”
Pooler isn’t the only defensive end fighting for reps, though.
“We push each other. Taihj Alston, Rueben Jones, they’re great players, we’re all pushing each other,” he said of others at that DE position. “Rather than being complacent and sitting back, you have to keep working. If not, the next day you could be a back up.”
An honorable mention All-Ohio Division IV selection as a senior at Dunbar High, when he recorded 82 tackles, eight sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recovers, Pooler’s college career started slowly. He didn’t play as a true freshman in 2016, and then saw action in just five games as a redshirt freshman the next season. His playing time increased last season, as he saw action in 11 of WVU’s 12 games, playing a total of 152 defensive snaps. He finished the 2018 campaign with two tackles, one of which was a sack.
This coming season he has a chance for significantly more playing time. No longer the young, developing prospect, he feels a sense of urgency as his career has moved into the latter stages.
“I’m getting older, and time is ticking,” said the insightful fourth-year junior. “I’ve seen d-linemen in the past, and I’ve seen how they’ve worked and what got them productive and on the field. I’m taking things from different people I’ve watched and trying to apply them to my game.”
The sports management major has always been regarded as a cerebral player. He’s a member of the Big 12 Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll, and he also now has the experience to understand what’s expected of him and this defense.
For instance, even for a smart guy, over thinking things in the heat of the battle can lead to paralysis by analysis.
“I feel like we think too much some times,” he said of the defense as a whole. “Once we slow ourselves down and use the techniques we’re taught by our coaches, then everything opens up. Then we can see more and you can go fly around.”