MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The defensive production ran through the mike linebacker for the past few seasons. When it seemed like WVU was primed for success at that position again, its starter entered the transfer portal. However, Neal Brown and his coaching staff found a hidden gem in the transfer portal they believe will keep up the standard.

Here’s a closer look at the linebackers/bandits for the 2022 season:

Lee Kpogba – redshirt junior

West Virginia mike linebacker Lee Kpogba (8) studies the offensive huddle during the WVU Gold-Blue Spring Game on April 23, 2022. (Photo Ryan Decker/Gold and Blue Nation)

Even though he initially committed to WVU while still in high school, Kpogba never expected he would end up in Morgantown. After de-committing, he saw stints at Syracuse and East Mississippi Community College before finding his way back to the Mountaineers.

He tallied 44 tackles total tackles in two seasons with the Orange. After spending one season at EMCC, he entered the transfer portal as one of the highest-rated junior college prospects in the country. He recorded 84 tackles, including 34 solo tackles, two sacks, 5.2 TFLs, and an interception last season.

Defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley called Kpogba a “true mike” in the spring, and said he was the only player locked into his position.

“I was already prepared to come in and compete. I was going to fight for the No. 1 spot regardless of who was here. Nothing was going to change about my demeanor or how I practiced,” Kpogba said in the spring following Josh Chandler-Semedo’s departure.

Kpogba impressed during the spring, and Coach Brown said the linebacker set himself apart early due to his work ethic and athleticism.

He grew up watching Karl Joseph during his time at WVU, and it appears he will be just as hard of a hitter while also wearing No. 8.

Lance Dixon – redshirt sophomore

Lance Dixon at a spring football practice in 2022. (Photo: Jamie Green/Gold and Blue Nation)

After starting his career at Penn State, Dixon joined the Mountaineers last season and provided some much-needed depth. He started in four of the 10 games he played in.

Dixon did miss the final three games of the regular season due to an injury but returned for the Guaranteed Rate Bowl where he finished with a team-high 11 tackles. It marked his first 10-plus-tackle performance of his Mountaineer career.

(Photo by Ben Queen/USA Today Sports)

Exree Loe – fifth year

Loe appeared in 10 games at will linebacker for the Mountaineers before suffering a season-ending knee injury at Kansas State. He finished 2021 with 38 total tackles, one sack and three TFLs.

He’s appeared in 42 career games, including 11 starts, over his four-year career. He missed the spring season.

Jared Bartlett – redshirt sophomore (bandit)

Jared Bartlett lines up for a drill during a 2022 spring football practice. (Photo: Anjelica Trinone/Gold and Blue Nation)

Bartlett is the only player on the current roster listed at bandit. He made three starts at the position last season and played in all 13 games.

He shined against Virginia Tech, tallying a career-high three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He was named Big 12 Conference defensive player of the week and earned a national player of the week honor from that performance.

He finished the year with 31 tackles, 15 solos, 3.5 sacks, six TFLs and five QB hurries.

In 2020, his 3.5 sacks tied for No. 2 on the team, and his 5.5 TFLs checked in at No. 6.

Also on the roster: sophomore Tirek Austin-Cave, redshirt freshmen Caden Biser and Jairo Faverus, redshirt sophomore Wil Schoonover and freshman Trey Lathan.

Departures: Josh Chandler-Semedo

Chandler-Semedo was one of WVU’s most veteran players on either side of the ball. He moved to mike linebacker last season after the Cleveland Browns selected Tony Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Canton, Ohio, native announced in January that he intended to use his extra year of eligibility with the program. He decided to enter the transfer portal a month later.

While he was a four-year contributor, his senior season saw the most production. He finished with a team-high 110 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions. His 68 solo stops tied for second-best in the Big 12.

He tallied 254 tackles in 44 career games.

Check out some of our previous roster reviews: