WVU Position Glance: Tight End & Fullback
By Greg Hunter
There was a time in Dana Holgorsen’s early days at West Virginia where fullbacks and tight ends were practically an invisible feature. Cody Clay moved back and forth between both positions in an offense that threw the ball more than it rushed it.
But since Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin departed WVU following the 2012 season, Holgorsen has been emphasizing the ground game more and more. And that means more reliance on fullbacks and tight ends.
With Smith and company throwing the ball all over the lot in 2011 and 2012, West Virginia ran the ball only 45 percent of the time. But it’s morphed the other way as of late, as the Mountaineers have run the ball 59 percent of the time the last two seasons. The usage of fullbacks and tight ends has gone up by similar proportions. Heck, WVU will jump into an old-fashioned I formation every now and then, with fullback Elijah Wellman leading the way for the tailback. And at tight end, following the graduation of Clay in 2015, Trevon Wesco has taken over the reins.
Wellman and Wesco are relied upon much more for their blocking than carries or catches, though occasionally Holgorsen will throw them a bone by throwing (or handing) them the football.
A transfer from Lackawanna (Pa.) College, the 6-foot-3, 263-pound Wesco entered WVU last summer as a third-year sophomore, having taken a medical redshirt his second season at in junior college because of a knee injury. That surgically repaired knee slowed him in preseason camp and didn’t allow him to see any game action in the non-conference potion of the schedule. But then Wesco, a native of Gerrardstown, W.Va., which is near Martinsburg, became a regular fixture at tight end in the final 10 games. A number of Skyler Howard passes came his way, though his only catch of the year was a TD grab against Iowa State. A former high school quarterback and all-state basketball player at Musselman High School, West Virginia hopes to utilize Wesco more and more in his final two seasons. But his primary role is and always will be as a blocker.
Wellman serves the same block-first function from his fullback position, and his value to West Virginia’s offensive is undeniable. Of the Mountaineers’ 983 offensive snaps last year, Wellman was on the field for 55 percent of them (540). He has gotten semi-regular touches in his three previous seasons as at WVU starter, heading into his senior season with 30 career rushing attempts for 121 yards and one touchdown and 11 catches for 35 yards and three more TDs. But the 6-foot-1, 241-pounder from Huntington, W.Va., is best known as a blocker. In fact, last year, when WVU running back Rushel Shell was asked his favorite play, he said emphatically, “Any one where Elijah is my lead blocker.”
The question for West Virginia at the fullback and tight end positions isn’t about who will start – Wellman and Wesco have those jobs locked down – but about who will back them up. None of the players currently listed behind Wellman or Wesco have ever played in a college football game before.
What WVU has at fullback are a couple walk-ons in Elijah Drummond and Matt Vucelik, as well as true freshman Maverick Wolfley. A 5-foot-11, 223-pound redshirt freshman from Bridgeport, W.Va., Drummond drew praise last fall as a member of the scout team. A very good linebacker and running back at Morgantown High, the 6-foot-1, 252-pound Wolfley, who enrolled at WVU this past January, is being groomed to take over for Wellman after the senior graduates. Wolfley could potentially see action in 2017, though West Virginia’s coaches hope to redshirt him this coming fall and then turn him loose the next season. But a Wolfley redshirt means that Wellman stays healthy and that Drummond and/or Vucelik can handle any backup duties.
The situation at tight end is similar, though there isn’t a scholarship freshman waiting in the wings.
The only pure tight ends currently behind Wesco are a pair of redshirt freshmen walk-ons. Matt Bezjak (6-4, 234 lbs.) and Nate Green (6-4, 260 lbs.) both worked with WVU’s scout team last fall, and now they are jockeying for a backup job. West Virginia will also likely do what it’s done in the past when it wants to utilize a two tight end set and that is insert an extra offensive lineman opposite Wesco. Last year Rob Dowdy was used in that role a good bit, and even though his primary vocation is as an offensive lineman, the 6-foot-6, 299-pound sophomore could again slip into a tight end spot when necessary.
At one point West Virginia had hoped that Maverick Wolfley’s older brother Stone would be fill a role at the tight end position. But this past spring WVU’s coaches moved the redshirt sophomore over to the defensive line.
The Mountaineer coaches are still keeping their eyes open for a last-minute addition to the tight end position as well, via either a late qualifying junior college player or a graduate transfer. Chris Deloach, a 6-foot-4, 245-pounder at East Central (Miss.) Community College, is one junior college player who WVU is looking at and could potentially join the squad this summer.
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