WVU’s Pettaway Returns To Where It All Started
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–For West Virginia’s junior running back Martell Pettaway, this Saturday will be something of a homecoming.
You see it all started for him in Ames, Iowa, two years ago.
Pettaway was a true freshman for the Mountaineers at the time, and with three running backs – Rushel Shell, Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy – ahead of him at the position, Martell didn’t see any action during WVU’s first 10 games in the 2016 season.
The hope was to redshirt Pettaway, whom the coaches liked a great deal. They didn’t want to burn a year of eligibility on a few carries as a fourth string back.
Then fate, as well as bumps, bruises and sprains, intervened.
Shell had a strong start to his senior season in 2016, and was averaging 77.5 rushing yards through the first six games. But he suffered a severe ankle sprain in a loss at Oklahoma State, and would not be the same the rest of the way. He had only four rushing attempts the remainder of the regular season and was not available for any action at Iowa State.
McKoy, like Pettaway a true freshman in 2016, was getting worn down by the end of the season, and a shoulder sprain limited him to just five rushing attempts over the final five games. He did give it a try in Ames, but after a couple carries, he was out.
Crawford had an amazing 334 rushing yards in a loss to Oklahoma the week before WVU’s trip to Iowa State, but that effort left him with little gas remaining against the Cyclones. Late in the first quarter, Crawford was also sidelined, and the only back West Virginia could turn to was a freshman who had not played a snap to that point in the season.
“The week before we played Iowa State, we played Oklahoma and they told me to be ready for that game, because Justin Crawford was the only healthy back we had,” remembered Pettaway. “Then it looked like Crawford would have to come out, but he was just cramping, so he was able to stay in the game and he played the rest of the game.
“The next week at Iowa State, everyone was hurting; Kennedy, Shell, Crawford, everyone,” Pettaway continued. “I didn’t think all three of them weren’t going to be able to play, so I still didn’t think I’d get a chance. But then in the first quarter, they all went down one by one. I started to realize I may really have to play. Next thing I know, I was in game and I did what I had to do.”
What he did was pretty amazing for a true freshman in his first college game. He ran the ball 30 times for 181 yards in leading the Mountaineers to a 49-19 victory en route to a 10-3 season.
“I just went in and played and did the best I could do,” said Pettaway. “Our O-Line was incredible that game. (WVU center) Tyler Orlosky was a big help. He kept saying, ‘Just follow me.’ The holes opened up just like he said they would. We kept running the inside zone, and it just kept working. The guys up front did a great job blocking it.”
No Mountaineer has surpassed Pettaway’s 181 rushing yards in the 2017 or ’18 seasons. His 30 carries are the most by a WVU back in the past six years.
At the time, he was just happy to help his team win, though he also recalls being very nervous when it came his turn.
“My first college game, I’m a freshman, it’s late in the season and I haven’t really been practicing with the (starting unit) that much, so there were a lot of nerves,” he said. “I just had to get over it.
“It probably worked out best that I didn’t really know ahead of time that I would have to play, or I would have been nervous all week,” Pettaway added. “As it was, I just got thrown into the action. I was nervous initially when I went out there, but I didn’t have time to worry about it for long; I had a job to do.”
Pettaway will return to Ames this Saturday, the first time he has been back to the scene of his college debut.
“I kind of think about it, but that’s past history,” said Pettaway, now a junior who has 213 rushing yards this season for the 5-0 Mountaineers. “They’re a whole different team now, and we’re a whole different team.”
With his redshirt gone after his 2016 performance at Iowa State, Pettaway saw action in WVU’s final two games of the season, carrying the ball 16 times for 63 yards in the regular season finale victory over Baylor and then getting three attempts for 16 yards in the Russell Athletic Bowl loss to Miami.
That 181-yard performance at ISU still remains his high-water mark, as he hasn’t rushed for more than 77 yards in a game since.
Pettaway has also become the poster boy for the new NCAA redshirt rule that allows a player to participate in up to four games in a season but still retain his redshirt.
That rule is now in effect, but it comes a couple years too late for Martell.
“It would have been nice (to redshirt), but it was also good to get the extra experience,” noted Pettaway. “I’m not really worried about that extra year. I’m just worried about what’s happening now.”
Currently ranked No. 6 in the country, WVU faces the 2-3 Cyclones at 7 p.m. Saturday. West Virginia is listed as a six-point favorite. The game will be televised by FS1.