One of the fun things about college football is to watch players grow up before your eyes.
The come to school raw teenagers with untapped potential. Some move forward, some stay the same, some wind up unable to make the grade.
Some, though, are truly special and have that extra to not just improve but to do things you didn’t think they could do or were ready to do.
So it has been with this year’s West Virginia team, which is off to a 2-1 start and favored to make it 3-1 with a game next week against lowly Kansas, which has lost its three starts to Coastal Carolina, Baylor and Oklahoma State by a combined score of 132-44.
Let’s take a look at 10 of those who have made the jump from “I hope I can” or “I think I can” to “Get the hell out of my way, I’ve got big things to accomplish”:
No. 1 — Zach Frazier, Freshman OL: You don’t expect much contribution from true freshmen in the offensive line in their first year, but Frazier is one of those once-in-a-lifetime players who come in able to play and whom you know will only progress while in school.
“He made his second start against Baylor, this time at left guard,” Coach Neal Brown said.
Frazier was forced into starting the opener at center.
“He did not practice a ton at guard,” Brown said. “He made some mistakes but was really good in the run game. The mistakes were because he did not have a lot of reps.”
No. 2 — Chase Behrndt, Senior C: Let’s stick with the offensive line, because it is rapidly improving. Now it’s true Behrndt was suspended for the first game, which was why Frazier had to start there, but he’s come back with a vengeance.
A year ago Behrndt had his problems moving from guard to center, but he has taken the kind of approach you expect from a senior and become a leader, so much so he was voted a captain for the Baylor game.
“He has improved as much as anybody on our team,” Brown said. “He’s playing with a better pad level, he’s stronger and doing a better job with communication.”
No. 3 — Michael Brown, Senior G: A huge physical specimen who did not play high school football and then went on a Mormon mission before starting his football career in junior college, Brown arrived at WVU without much experience and needing to get into shape.
He worked hard and did both and now looks as if he may have an NFL future.
Brown sent a message in the opener against Eastern Kentucky when he graded highest of all WVU offensive linemen at 87% and has kept his level of play high while maturing as a player.
“He has a lot more understanding this year,” Neal Brown said. “He’s at his lowest weight since he’s been here and he’s practicing better. He’s really getting better.”
No. 4 — Leddie Brown, Junior RB: Okay, a lot was expected of Leddie Brown as he was the starting running back coming into the season but the year he was coming off of was not a good one. It was more a lack of blocking than a lack of ability on Brown’s part, but you still didn’t know if he could carry the load.
Three games in Brown is the leading rusher with 330 yards on 63 carries, which averages out to 106.7 yards a game. He has scored four touchdowns, including the winner in overtime against Baylor, and has done much of the heavy lifting in short yardage situations.
In both wins he has been the coaches’ choice as WVU’s offensive player of the week.
No. 5 — Tony Fields, Senior LB: He transferred in with strong credentials from Arizona, but you never know how that will translate in a new system and a new league.
He’s offered a Berlitz course in how to play linebacker as he has been spectacular through three games, leading WVU in tackles with 29, one for a sack, two tackles for a loss, two quarterback hurries, one interception and one pass broken up.
After one game Neal Brown was convinced he had a budding star.
“He plays with a lot of energy. He brings a speed element to the defense that we probably haven’t had in my two years here,” Brown said. “He’s still learning what to do but he plays full speed. He loves contact, loves to play and he’s only going to continue to get better. He’s an NFL prospect. I mean, he’s going to play in the NFL.”
No. 6 — Alonzo Addae, Senior FS: From the first tackle he made in the opener, a bone-rattling hit, you knew you had the kind of safety that WVU has traditionally loved — the hard-hitting types liker Josh Norwood, Dravon Askew-Henry, Darwin Cook, Karl Joseph and his cousin, Jahmile Addae, who now is coaching him.
Addae, who is from Ontario, Canada, and transferred to WVU from New Hampshire, is second on the team with 25 tackles but 14 of them are solo tackles, indicating he hits you and you go down. He has half a sack, an interception and has broken up two passes. The interception displayed both his desire and athletic ability, a diving grab that found its way onto SportCenter’s Top 10 plays.
“Alonzo, he was always a kid who was intrinsically motivated, always sending his tape, always asking for help and obviously being as away as he was, modern technologies allowed us to help him and coach him along the way,” Jahmile Addae said. “From a young child, I can remember him calling and begging to have our games on TV and begging my uncle — his dad — to bring him up to come and watch. He just always had an infatuation with the game of football, which is is somewhat rare coming from where he is coming from.”
No. 7 — Akheem Mesidor, Freshman DL: Another defensive player from Ontario, Canada, this is a true freshman playing behind Dante Stills, so you wouldn’t expect to see him getting much action. But he’s elbowed his way into playing time and has nine tackles, two of them sacks.
Yes, he has some growing to do and some learning to do, but he on defense pretty much what Zach Frazier is on offense.
“He has probably played as much as any freshman in this program,” Neal Brown said. “He loves football … not likes it, loves it. He’s hungry to learn. I like the way he competes and plays and prepares.”
No. 8 — Dreshun Miller, Junior CB: Miller transferred in from Eastern Arizona Junior College last year, band was hoping to fill a need at the corner as WVU lost both its starting cornerbacks from last season.
He’s been all they had hoped for after coming back from a preseason knee injury last year that cost him the year, especially in coverage, having one interception and one pass broken up.
“He’s worked extremely hard,” Neal Brown said. “He didn’t get to practice much last year after getting back toward the end of the season. He’ll continue to get better. As he gets more experience he won’t make the same mistakes. He has a lot of energy and maturity.
No. 9 — Mike O’Laughlin, Sophomore TE: Neal Brown has wanted to find a way to work the tight ends into his office and O’Laughlin has battled hard to build himself up and fill that role.
He suffered a season-ending knee injury as a freshman, but moved forward last year at tight end, starting four games. catching six passes for 24 yards.
This past Saturday against Baylor he caught four passes for 26 yards, including a key fourth-down catch on a play that was set up for him to be the No. 1 receiver.
According to Neal Brown, “He made a difference in the run game [with his blocking]”, so for the effort he was given the coaches’ Blue Collar Award for the Baylor game.
No. 10 — Winston Wright Jr., Sophomore WR: WVU is looking for explosive plays and they believe Wright might be the guy to provide some as an outside receiver.
He already had a 70-yard touchdown catch among his six grabs against Oklahoma State and his 180 receiving yards lead the team while he is second in passes caught with 15.
“I feel like I had an OK game,” Wright said after the OSU loss. “There’s some things I still got to get better on.”
It is that attitude that Brown really likes.