Holgorsen Happy Summer Is Over, Football Has Begun For WVU
Dana Holgorsen sat in his pimped out golf cart Sunday afternoon, anxious to get the first day of contact underway for his Mountaineer football team.
Technically Holgorsen’s squad started practice on Friday, but without pads and without contact, West Virginia head coach counted those more as an extension of the summer conditioning program. Real football started Sunday, even though his players weren’t yet in full pads and thus the contact was limited.
“Well, summer’s over. I just finished my last round of golf,” Holgorsen joked to the media gathered around his golf cart prior to the start of practice. “The good news is our summer workouts are over.
“The first two days we had were basically the same thing we did in June,” noted Holgorsen, who is starting his eighth season as WVU’s head coach. “They seem to be in good shape. (Practice on Friday and Saturday) was a three-hour practice as opposed to a 30-minute practice, which is all we can have in June.
“They showed a lot of retention. From a testing point of view, coaches like that there’s a lot of retention – even the young kids, new guys that we’re trying to evaluate and all that. Shoot, those guys know where they’re going, and that’s going to make it easier to find out if they’re going to help us and play right away or not. In the old days, you taught these guys what to do right now. Now, we’re not really teaching them a whole lot of what to do. It’s more about their technique and seeing if they can handle the competition.”
Preseason football practice is much different for college teams today than it used to be. Two-a-days are basically a thing of the past. Teams can still have two work sessions a day during the preseason, but one of those has to be limited to walkthroughs or meetings. Also teams can’t have more than three days of live contact a week during the preseason, and at least one day a week there cannot be any practice at all.
But for all this take, the NCAA also had some give.
“They took away some of the total practices that we have, but they gave us some morning walk-throughs, and they gave us summer as well,” explained Holgorsen, whose coaching career goes back to 1993 when he was a first-year assistant at Division II Valdosta State. “A lot of the stuff that we were teaching came in working wover the summer and some of the morning walk-throughs and stuff like that. One of the compromises was the amount of time that you had getting ready for your first game is going to get reduced, the amount of practice days you’re going to have gets reduced, but you get a whole lot of other stuff that we didn’t used to have.
“I’m excited to see the physicality and the technique with pads and stuff like that. We haven’t been able to see that since spring. From where we’re at mentally, I feel pretty good about that.”
Another change in college football is the rule that goes into effect this year that allows players to participate in up to four games in a season but retain the opportunity to redshirt.
“Absolutely,” Holgorsen gushed when asked if he likes the new redshirt rule. “We may get through three or four weeks of practice and get into that first game and say that we still don’t know if he can play. There’s a big difference between practicing out here and when the lights come on out there. Sometimes you can figure it out, sometimes you guess wrong and sometimes it takes guys two months or so to mature and be able to help us.
“I think that redshirt rule is one, awesome for the kids, but it helps us as coaches to the point where it’s not just a do-or-die situation where we either make a decision now or later. There’s a bunch of different scenarios that are going to play into it.
“One of the biggest things that I like as a head coach is to keep the attention of the scout teams,” he continued. “I can say, ‘Look, you’re on the scout team right now, but we are constantly evaluating you.’ If kids do what (senior wide receiver) David Sills did, which is go to scout team and play really well (in 2015), then we’re going to pull you up to the varsity team. I probably should have done that to (redshirt junior linebacker) David Long after we couldn’t block him for about eight weeks when he was getting redshirted. We all know the (junior running back Martell) Pettaway story as well; somebody gets hurt, and we need a body. Now, there isn’t a two-hour conversation with a kid and his parents about, ‘Hey look, we’re going to burn your redshirt, but we really, really, really need you.’ It’s just good all the way around for players and coaches.”
Holgorsen’s coaching staff has undergone plenty of change in his previous seasons at WVU, but this year the Mountaineers have had more stability. Marquel Blackwell is the only new member to the staff, as he replaces Tony Dews in overseeing the running backs. Dews left to become an assistant in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, thus opening a spot to bring Blackwell over from Toledo.
Holgorsen likes the continuity.
“Continuity is becoming a rare thing in college football,” he said. “We’ve had to deal with replacing a whole side, or six position coaches or whatever it is. We understand and appreciate continuity, and we understand that we have a very mature group. There’s a lot of excitement within us. There have been times where I didn’t really want vacation to end. This year we were all excited when vacation ended. We were all ready to get to work.”