Close to half of WVU’s offensive linemen on the 2021 roster hail from West Virginia, including three newcomers that represent Spring Valley. The Mountaineers lose two key starters from a year ago, but they have plenty of available talent to plug in those gaps.
The improvements upfront were on full display in 2020. The program finished with 1,351 rushing yards compared to 879 yards in 2019. The line also paved the way for running back Leddie Brown to register a 1,000-yard season. Brown said the main change between the two years was the trust between the line and running backs. That, and actually having depth at the position. This spring communication and cross-training were two main focuses.
“What I’ve tried to do here is not just develop left tackles or left guards, I’ve really worked hard to develop guys that can play at least four of the five positions. Center is a little different because you’ve got to be able to snap. Now, I feel like I have guys I can move around because if they’re twitchy enough and long enough to play left tackle, they can play anywhere else,” offensive line coach Matt Moore said this spring. “If you’re good enough to play right tackle, you can play right tackle and right guard and left guard. That’s the way we’ve tried to do this thing to get this.”
Let’s take a closer look at the guys upfront as we round out our roster reviews on offense.
Zach Frazier — sophomore
In his first-ever showing as a Mountaineer, the Fairmont native started at center. For the final nine games of the season, he remained in the first group out, but at left guard. This spring, the majority of his reps have come at center while still getting in some left guard work. While he’s back to his natural position, he’s still adjusting to his newfound communication responsibilities. Frazier said switching from center to left guard last year taught him how to be versatile and led to growth.
He says the game has slowed down for him since first taking the field against Eastern Kentucky — he understands the offense a lot more and knows what is expected. Offensive line coach Matt Moore has said since Frazier’s arrival that he isn’t your “typical” underclassman.
“He is a football guru, he loves it. He likes to dissect plays. He and his dad — his dad played at Fairmont State, he loves football, too — that’s kind of their deal together. They don’t go golfing. They don’t go fishing. They sit around and watch old WVU games and talk about the three-technique and who they need to double team,” Moore said. “He’s a little different because he’s way ahead of where most young guys are. He understands the game, so that makes it much easier on my side as far as teaching it to him.”
The former Polar Bear was tabbed as the strongest guy on the team by his fellow Fairmont Senior alum Dante Stills. Frazier was tabbed an ESPN True Freshman All-American.
Brandon Yates — redshirt sophomore
Yates was the starting left tackle in nine of 10 games last season. It’s likely he will keep his starting position as he repped with the ones this spring.
John Hughes — senior
The Morgantown native played in all 10 games last season and started the first six at right tackle before Briason Mays took over the starting duties for the final four games. He was getting reps with the twos this spring.
James Gmiter — redshirt junior
Gmiter started at left guard for the first two games then Frazier took over as the starter at the position for the remainder of the season. He played in eight of 10 games last season. Gmiter saw 10 starts in 2019, six at left guard, the remaining four at right guard.
After redshirting in 2018 on defense, Gmiter made the switch to the o-line in the spring of 2019.
Doug Nester — junior
After two seasons at Virginia Tech, Nester is back in his home state to continue his football career. There’s plenty of anticipation around the Spring Valley product for this upcoming season.
He started seven of the eight games he played in last season at right guard. He helped the Hokies finish No. 4 among Power 5 schools in rushing yards, No. 6 nationally in rushing touchdowns, and No. 14 in total offense. He was a key part of a line that helped produce 400 or more yards of total offense in nine games. He started 10 games at RG as a freshman in 2019. That season, VT was No. 23 among Power 5 schools in rushing yards.
Nester was taking reps at tackle with the one’s this spring.
Brandon Yates — redshirt sophomore
Yates started at left tackles in nine of the 10 games he played in last season. He is WVU’s probable starter at the position this upcoming season.
Parker Moorer — redshirt sophomore
After redshirting in 2019, Moorer played in all 10 games last season. He repped with the twos this spring.
Jordan White — redshirt freshman
Played in three games in 2020 and saw action with the first group this spring.
“The communication has been really good with Gmiter, White and Frazier in the middle,” Moore said in April, adding White is a “really good football guy”
Wyatt Milum — freshman
Milum was one of WVU’s earliest commits in the 2021.
“At the time he committed, he was the highest-ranked prospect to ever say yes to West Virginia,” Neal Brown said on signing day. “I think he’s got a chance to be a long time starter here at the tackle position.”
The Spring Valley product will have plenty of eyes on him this season. He was named an All-American, No. 1 right tackle in the nation, and top-10 tackle overall by Sports Illustrated. He was the 2020 recipient of the Joe Stydahar Award by the West Virginia Sportswriters Association, given to the state’s top lineman. Milum was a three-time WV All-State honor, inlacing first-team honors as a junior and senior. Over his high school career, he saw action on 1,480 plays and finished with 198 knockdowns. He also did not allow a sack.
Milum had 22 offers, including Alabama, Florida State, Georgia and Ohio State.
Bryce Biggs — freshman
Biggs also comes from the Spring Valley pipeline and was teammates with Nester and Milum. He was first-team All-State as a senior and was rated the No. 3 lineman in West Virginia by ESPN and 247Sports. Biggs originally committed to Marshall but announced he was de-committing and reopening his recruitment in January.
Tyler Connolly — redshirt sophomore
Played in the season opener and repped with the twos this spring.
Nick Malone — redshirt sophomore
The Morgantown native played in two games in 2020 and took reps with the second group out this spring.
Ja’Quay Hubbard — redshirt sophomore
Hubbard transferred from Virginia in the summer of 2020 and was limited this spring due to an injury. The 6-foot-5, 335-pound guard saw two games in 2019 with the Cavaliers.
Adding depth at the position:
Chris Mayo — redshirt freshman
Jackson Oxley — redshirt freshman
Noah Drummond — redshirt junior
Donovan Beaver — redshirt sophomore
Chez Jennings — redshirt freshman
Shaun See — redshirt freshman
Briason Mays started the final four games at right tackle and entered the transfer portal in the offseason. Chase Behrndt was the starting center in 2020 and Mike Brown, an undrafted free agent with the Saints, was the starting right guard for all 10 games. Tairiq Stewart, a junior college recruit in 2020, entered the transfer portal last week.