On the surface it looked to be among the most inconsequential passes of last Saturday’s football game, yet it many turn out to be one of the meaningful passes of the football season for West Virginia University.
The tone of the game had turned to WVU in the second quarter and Leddie Brown has just galloped 87 yards to put WVU in command at 24-10, a lead that seemed far larger than that considering the way WVU was now dominating play.
The fourth quarter had just begin when Ryan Nehlen, the former wide receiver who is now part of the WVU staff, offered up a play he thought might work. It was a nifty play they had shown this year with Sam James going in motion one way, cutting back and then slipping out into the flat.
If there would be any hesitance in running it was because James, the vastly talent yet far too often fumble-fingered receiver, was involved in a game where he was having trouble latching onto the football, already having dropped four passes.
But this play, late in the game, without the outcome at risk, became huge for James looked the ball into his hands, held on and toted it down the sideline and into the end zone for an 8-yard score.
Why did they go to James at that point?
“Awesome question,” said receiver coach and offensive coordinator Gerad Parker. “We’ve all been there, all right. In some way, we have all been there. When you think about it, we live in a pretty cynical world at times. So, what do we do? Do you lose faith and teach a kid how to fail and fail and be tossed to the side?
“Or do you teach a kid to stand tall, face it when everyone else probably wants him to sit or trust that Sam James is a good player who went through a tough time in the first quarter and a half. We have to stand by the kid, or what’s he going to be able to stand for later in life.
“So, it’s a fine line. He also has to be a productive player and he knows that. For him to stay with it and figure it out and have that piece of success is going to help him later. For us to find a way to get through and give our guys a chance to make plays but also stand by our guys whether it be him or anyone else is crucial not only in football but in life.
“So, it’s a valuable less for all of us,” Parker went on. “We will continue to grow our players, believe in them regardless of results and in the long run I bet we will better for it as not only men but as players”
James was not along on Saturday on needing some propping up. Bryce Wheaton-Ford has dropped three passes this year, T.J. Simmons two and Winston White one.
Perhaps we get spoiled by all the highlight reels that we see to really appreciate the art of catching the ball and that this happens maybe far more than we think it does
“It comes up every place I’ve been,” Parker said. “it was a topic that came up at the past place I was at and other place before. Those things come up because there is such a — I say it all the time in the years of doing this — there’s such a Little League coach mentality.
“Anyone who drops a ball, everybody screams, my mom included back home — what do we scream: We scream ‘Catch the ball.’ It’s just like the kid that’s pitching I’ve said this before publicly, ‘Son, throw strikes Throw strikes. ‘Oh, I got you. You want me to throw strikes, not balls.’”
If only it were that easy. Monday in the World Series Tampa Bay’s best pitcher, Tyler Glasgow, walked six batters and it beat him.
Right now, it’s a problem, and problems can be solved if you don’t them go any further.
“Listen, it is an issue that we can’t let be an issue,” Parker said.
So how do you get out front of it? Parker has his own idea on that and it is one that will make you laugh at first, but then that grows on you.
“I could go out there right now on a JUGS machine and catch balls at 39 years old with four kids and a dog and still catch it at a high level, but the difference is how many catches can we crate that are game like, that build confidence for the right reasons and that allow him to know that he’s going to catch the football when it most matters?” Parker answers. “So, I think it’s going back to work, but it’s also creating game-like catches so you build real estate in your mind to where one doesn’t turn into two.”