MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s the final installment of the Gold and Blue Nation Roster Review series.
Today, the special teams unit is under the microscope.
Last year, the Mountaineers excelled at executing kick returns (No. 19 in NCAA, 24.89 yards/return avg.), and defending punt returns (No. 49 in NCAA, 6.45 yards allowed/return avg.). However, West Virginia was among the worst in the country at returning punts, averaging just 3.11 return yards per punt.
While two of the centerpieces of the special teams unit return for 2022, there will be much different about the group this season.
Here is what WVU’s special teams unit will look like:
Casey Legg – redshirt senior
“Leggatron,” as he’s known, is back for another year with the Old Gold and Blue.
Legg was 19-for-23 on field-goal attempts last season, was a perfect 35-for-35 on PATs, and was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award.
The Charleston, West Virginia native also kicked off at times for the Mountaineers last year.
While Legg is the most established kicker on the WVU roster, he did have some competition this spring, according to special teams coordinator Jeff Koonz.
Parker Grothaus – redshirt senior
Following a lengthy collegiate career at Florida State, Grothaus joined WVU via the transfer portal in March.
“I’m pleased with what he brings in,” said Koonz. “He’s got a big, strong, powerful leg, which is what drew us to him. And he has demonstrated that.”
Koonz added that the Indian Lake, Ohio native competed for a spot in both field goal kicking and kickoff packages.
In 2021, Grothaus averaged 60.6 yards per kickoff, tallying 29 touchbacks for the Seminoles.
His yards per kickoff average was four yards better than Staley, who also recorded just nine touchbacks last year for the Mountaineers.
During the spring game, Grothaus averaged 64 yards per kickoff and tallied a pair of touchbacks.
Other kickers on the roster: Danny King (r-Fr), Leighton Bechdel (r-Jr)
Key Departure: Evan Staley (graduation)
Oliver Straw – freshman
What did Straw focus part of his spring on?
“Kind of learning the American game, even though he did have a base here, he did spend some time in the states, and had been here before,” said Koonz.
West Virginia’s special teams coordinator said he was pleasantly surprised by what he had seen out of the Australia native during spring camp.
Straw was part of the 2022 recruiting class for WVU, and was an early enrollee, as well.
“The thing that I’ve been pleased [with] is that when he’s been in the live settings, he’s caught every snap, his launch points have been where they need to be, his operation has been good,” Koonz said. “And you got to remember, he’s a slightly older freshman, but he’s a freshman.”
Straw punted twice for a total of 88 yards in the Gold-Blue Spring game. His longest punt traveled 50 yards.
Kolton McGhee – redshirt junior
McGhee handled the majority of the punting duties for the Gold team during WVU football’s annual spring game in April.
McGhee punted twice, though he averaged just 30 yards per punt, with a long of 37.
The Altoona, Pennsylvania native saw action in two games last year and four games in 2020. In 2021, he stepped on the field as a placekicker. The year before, he played as a punter.
He’s back to punting in 2022.
Other punters on the roster: Roman Swope (r-Fr.), Danny King (r-Fr.), Leighton Bechdel (r-Jr.)
Key Departure: Tyler Sumpter (graduation)
Austin Brinkman – redshirt sophomore
Brinkman returns after being West Virginia’s long snapper for every game last season.
The redshirt sophomore stood out to the coaches during WVU’s home win over Texas. He was named the team’s Special Teams Champion for the game.
Kick and Punt Returners
Graeson Malashevich – redshirt junior
Among returning players on the West Virginia roster, no one was used more in the return game last year than Malashevich.
The Spring Valley High School product returned four punts and four kickoffs last season. His longest return was a 23-yard kickoff return against Oklahoma State.
Davis Mallinger – redshirt freshman
Malashevich included, it’s a wide-open competition to be WVU’s lead returners heading into this season.
“We’re going to need to have a good depth at the position. Obviously, we’re going to have new faces back there regardless next year, we all know that,” Koonz said.
A few other names, specifically, came up throughout the spring when talking about the return game, and one was Mallinger. According to head coach Neal Brown, Mallinger was a good returner in high school.
Mallinger, who saw the field in four games last year, is being looked at to return punts this fall for WVU.
Other potential returners: Sam James (r-Sr), Jaylen Anderson (r-Fr), Justin Johnson (So.)
Check out some of our previous roster reviews:
- Head coach and offensive assistants
- Defensive assistants
- Running backs
- Wide receivers
- Tight ends
- Offensive line
- Defensive backs