James Gmiter Learning From Veteran WVU Linemate
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This is about a senior and freshman who play football side by side at West Virginia.
Certainly there are similar situations in college football, but this one that involves the Mountaineers’ senior left tackle, Colton McKivitz, and redshirt freshman left guard James Gmiter has its own flavor that makes it worth telling.
McKivitz is WVU’s best offensive lineman, perhaps an All-Big 12 first team pick, a grizzled veteran of 45 games played, 42 of them as a starter. Gmiter is a neophyte offensive lineman, converted this year from nose tackle on defense to offensive guard with now just five starts under his belt.
McKivitz is a country boy out of Jacobsburg, Ohio, a tiny dot on the map outside of Wheeling. If you can’t find him on the football field, chances are you’ll find him in the woods hunting.
Take this past weekend, when WVU didn’t play. He wanted to be in the woods, but with this week’s game on Thursday rather than the normal Saturday, they had an 8 a.m. practice.
“So I was here in Morgantown watching football,” McKivitz said of his afternoon activity. “But I got pictures from Dad who was out there hunting. He got to rub that in a little bit.”
Gmiter is more the city slicker out of Bethel Park, a Pittsburgh suburb that houses the South Hills Village Mall and is occupied by about 33,000. You may remember someone else from there, a WVU linebacker named Nick Kwiatkoski, who today is playing for the Chicago Bears.
Anyway, fate threw McKivitz and Gmiter together, McKivitz the role model and Gmiter among many of those learning from him.
A year ago, while redshirting the season as a defensive lineman, Gmiter overheard McKivitz answer a question of a reporter.
“Colton was asked a question about the four-game redshirt rule, and he said the biggest thing for a lineman is to lift in his first year and get bigger,” Gmiter said. “That was my focus. I wanted to get better physically, get in shape and lose fat more then get ready to play. My worry wasn’t getting on the field. It was more about improving for this year and for years to come.”
McKivitz was the same way. He redshirted a year and then got thrown into the fire early in his redshirt-freshman year as he was forced to start the opener against Missouri due to an injury of another lineman.
He did so well that the coaches offered high praise and had him there the next week against Youngstown State, but his performance slipped so badly that he was taken out of the lineup.
It was a lesson learned, the kind he now passes on to younger players.
Mostly, throughout his career, he has led by example.
“He’s a smart football kid, takes great notes. He’s everything you could ask for from an offensive lineman,” offensive coordinator and line coach Matt Moore says. “It’s great for the young kids when they see it. That’s when we had success at Troy. My first year I had Tony Garcia, a third-round draft pick, and he worked like that and the rest of those guys could see him work like that.
“We wound up with four or five All-Conference players and that’s what I’m trying to build here.”
This year, as a senior, McKivitz has become more vocal and more assertive.
“I became a more vocal guy this year because that was kind of asked of me by Coach Brown and Coach Moore,” he said. “I always came in with the idea of leading by example. I think the younger guys are getting an advantage from that. They are playing physical. That’s one thing I harp on them about.”
McKivitz has his own leadership style.
“When it comes to practicing, on the field is where I really get vocal. In the locker room, it’s more like I’ll just talk to a guy about what he’s doing,” he said. “When Chase Behrndt had his thing in camp, I vocalized to him. Those one-on-one things are really what’s important. They have to know that everyone has their back.”
He was the perfect person to give advice to Gmiter, for he had moved around on the offensive line, just as Gmiter had changed from defense to offense.
“Switching to left tackle (from right tackle) was definitely a big challenge. I’d like to get my footwork better,” he said. “I think the part is the physicality part of it. The reason I wanted to come back to WVU (even though he could have gone in last year’s NFL draft) was to get stronger, get another year in the weight room so I could be a more dominant player.”
Gmiter understands very much that he is learning a new position and that McKivitz is a major asset to him.
“It was very nice to see that he was going to stay and help us get better this year,” he said.
The lessons started even before he moved to offense. He was just out of high school and that’s a bigger step than anyone realizes.
“In high school you are that guy. You’re going Division 1 and you’re going against kids who are just going to school. Here you are playing against every All-American, these kids are meant to be here,” he said.
And being at the college level isn’t enough. You have to be nasty, as McKivitz showed him when he was playing scout team.
“He has a real nasty side to him. He’s definitely one of the nastier guys on the team,” Gmiter said. “I saw it when I was on the scout team. He’d come down and hit me and I had no idea who it was.”
Each week Gmiter has shown progress and has just come through a really tough stretch facing Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma.
“Against Oklahoma we were going up against (Neville) Gallimore, and I was in my head all week thinking, ‘This kid’s going to go to the NFL. I’m just a redshirt freshman. I don’t think I’m ready for this,’” he said. “And then at the same time, you’ve got to think, ‘I’m starting. I’m playing. It’s proven I can do it.’ You just have to know you can do it.”
This week it’s just as tough against Baylor, the last unbeaten team in the Big 12 and with one of the nation’s most aggressive defensive lines.
“Going into Waco playing the last undefeated team in the league will be pretty exciting for the guys and myself. You dream of opportunities to play undefeated team, but the whole message has been it is all about us,” McKivitz said.
He knows Gmiter will be listening.