WVU’s Colton McKivitz Assuming Leadership Role For Revamped Mountaineer Line
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It might be surprising to think of a group of six foot plus individuals weighing 300 pounds or more as not being physical, but West Virginia offensive lineman Colton McKivitz saw that as an issue with last year’s group. The redshirt junior, who will need to be a leader on this year’s line, said establishing that quality was a focus during spring drills.
“Last year, we weren’t the most physical group up front. That was definitely a weak point on last year’s team,” said McKivitz, who was very honest in assessing a problem that kept West Virginia’s offense from succeeding, especially in the run game, as much as it might have. “We took that into this offseason with (strength coaches) Mike (Joseph) and (Darl) Bauer and (Chad) Snodgrass. They pushed us this offseason, and there was an emphasis that we have to be the more physical group up front. That’s where our games are going to be won. We have some of the best skill guys in the country, but it’s going to come down who is the most physical group up front.”
Without question, injuries and shuffling along the offensive line contributed to that lack of aggressiveness. It is difficult to fire out confidently when unsure of assignments and without the cohesion that defines successful offensive lines, and West Virginia suffered from that in 2017. As the season wound down, those issues became more apparent, especially after quarterback Will Grier departed with the most famous broken finger in Mountaineer history. A desultory Heart of Dallas Bowl loss saw the offense overrun by the Utah defense, and that’s something that McKivitz doesn’t want to see repeated.
Leadership in the process to build more physical play is falling to senior Yodny Cajuste and McKivitz. Neither has stood out as particularly vocal in the past, but both need to set examples both on the field and in the locker room. They are being counted on to anchor the Mountaineer lines at tackle, but have to seize initiative during practices and in the group’s meeting room.
“I’ve played a lot of snaps, and I wasn’t expecting to play this many already,” said McKivitz, who was on the field for a massive 986 snaps in 2017. “It is just maturing as time goes and realizing that you are in the veteran role, and you are one of the leaders of the group and you have to take command of that and teach the young guys how things are supposed to be done.”
The building blocks are there, but getting those assembled into a structure that can excel in the Big 12 is a giant task. The Mountaineers have starting experience returning in guard Josh Sills and center Matt Jones, and a swing backup in Kelby Wickline. They need to get Isaiah Hardy, Jacob Buccigrossi, Tyler Thurmond and Chase Behrndt up to speed, with Hardy competing for a starting job and others capable of filling supporting roles. Assuming all come through (that’s a big ask), West Virginia would have one of its deeper lines of recent memory.
“The inside (of the offensive line) is still working and fighting, and it’s a job to get those guys ready,” McKivitz said. “We are looking forward to this season. Yodny and I are trying to get them there, we are teaching them at film session every night after practice. It’s helping. Bucc (Jacob Buccigrossi) and Matt Jones, they are going at it (at center).I think that is helping, and we are getting some guys coming this summer so that will help with depth. I think it is going to be good.”
McKivitz understands the path that must be taken to develop, even though he advanced along it quicker than most. Behind the one or two backups that can swing between positions, it’s important to have a couple more linemen ready to play. Their participation might be limited in some games, but getting 10 snaps for youngsters like Thurmond and Behrndt will help make WVU better later in 2018, but also in future seasons.
“We have to give them confidence make sure they know what is going on,” McKivitz said of the mentoring process. “Teaching those guys what to expect and how to play the game. I think we improved (over the spring). Both practice and watching film, we were getting better every day. We learned from mistakes, improve depth, and get the young guys more comfortable in the system. Getting guys like Thurmond and Chase ready. The guys are improving and young guys are coming along.”