Unsung Players Who May Be Keys For WVU
If a team such as West Virginia is to have that magical season that everyone believes it is capable of having — not necessarily expecting to have — key players must reach the top of their potential.
It is that way, really, for every team in the country. In the Mountaineers’ case, Justin Crawford has to surpass 1,000 rushing yards, quarterback Will Grier must be what he has been touted to be while staying healthy for the whole season, and Ka’Raun White must follow in older brother Kevin’s footsteps.
If all that happens, the offense should be strong while, on the defensive side, Ka’Raun’s brother, Kyzir, must be a terror at the safety position.
The cornerbacks such as Elijah Battle and Hakeem Bailey must grow up quickly and safety Dravon Askew-Henry must pick up where he left off when his knee went out last August.
All of that, though, is obvious. What isn’t so obvious is that championship teams get great performances from players who are overlooked going in, players who have crucial jobs but whose resume doesn’t stamp them for a big season.
This is very true with the Mountaineers, who have any number of overlooked players who could decide games and the season even though they enter outside the spotlight and in the shadow of the greatness of their top teammates.
Here are five who can make a difference about whom you haven’t really thought before:
1. Running back Martell Petteway
On the depth chart, Petteway, a true sophomore from Detroit, ranks third behind Crawford and Kennedy McKoy, but he could be a difference maker.
Think of this way: 3rd and 1 on the Virginia Tech 7, WVU down 4 in the fourth quarter … Petteway is probably going to get the ball, for he is the team’s power back.
His redshirt was broken late last year, so he played only three games, broke in with a 180-yard effort in his collegiate debut and benefitted from the experience.
“It’s way easier now,” he admits. “I’m used to it now, defense-wise and on offense.”
And, he knows his role.
“This year, when they call my number to just go in there and do what I can. They said that I am going to be the bruiser. That’s what I guess they envision me as,” he said.
And, the difference between big wins and big losses? Well, think of it this way, one of the greatest moments in WVU’s history with Virginia Tech came when Grant Wiley stopped the Hokies’ All-American running back Lee Suggs on fourth and a foot on the goal line.
That’s the time the Mountaineers are going to call on Petteway to put the ball in the end zone.
2. Placekicker Mike Molina
If a team is to be great, it not only has to win the blowouts that come its way, but the close games.
And, over the years, how many games has WVU won on its placekicking?
Think of it for a moment.
Bill McKenzie beat Pitt in 1975 with a 38-yard field with four seconds left to play. In 1967, WVU beat Pitt, 15-0, with Ken Juskowitz kicking five field goals. In 2009, unranked WVU beat No. 9 Pitt, 19-16, on Tyler Bitancurt’s last-second 43-yard field goal. In 2014, Josh Lambert beat both Maryland, 40-37, and Texas Tech, 37-34, with field goals.
WVU figures to be involved in a number of close games this year, which will throw a burden on Molina’s accuracy and range in his final season as the Mountaineer placekicker.
Molina has shown improvement each year and needs to keep moving in that direction.
3. Center Matt Jones
Virtually without experience, playing in only the Iowa State game last year, Matt Jones takes over at center this year for Tyler Orlosky, one of the best and smartest to play that position at WVU.
It’s a tough position, needing to call signals, snap the ball and block, but Jones has come along through the summer and through camp.
“I think Matt is pretty big, he’s physical, he’s strong,” said tackle Colton McKivitz. “Now it’s just slowing down and playing. Sometimes, he goes a million miles per hour. I know once he relaxes, he’s making the right calls and we go off what he does. I think we’re pretty confident about what he calls and we’re just going to stick with it and go.”
Jones was a big-time recruit out of Cleveland and a good athlete for an offensive lineman, as evidenced by blocking five field goals in high school.
If he is ready for the task, WVU’s offense could really run smoothly.
4. Punt returner ????
Here’s the thing. WVU’s punt returning has been miserable and must get better if the Mountaineers are to move into contention.
The problem is, who will return punts?
Right now the incumbent Gary Jennings Jr. is listed as the No. 1 punt returner with David Sills, the one-time quarterback turned receiver, behind him.
Jennings vows to be better this season. He averaged only 1.8 yards a return and, if you take away his long return of 18 years, on his other 20 returns he had just 21 yards in returns.
This has been emphasis during the off-season and there’s reason to believe that the effort might be worth it.
5. Fullback Elijah Wellman
Normally you don’t single out a back who carried the ball 14 times and gained only 44 yards last year as a key player, but Wellman isn’t back there to carry the mail.
His job is to establish a tough attitude for the offense.
He can run the ball and can catch it but his main job is to provide bruises to potential tacklers and pass rushers.
A tough kid out of Huntington, he is a throw-back fullback, not necessarily a “throw-to” fullback, but he adds a dimension that many teams have given up on in modern football and that creates something special for the Mountaineers.