7 out of 10: that’s how redshirt sophomore Bryce Ford-Wheaton rated the performance of the West Virginia receiving corps with two games left on the schedule.
“I think we could be a 10, honestly,” Ford-Wheaton said. “We are starting to get in the swing of things and everyone’s confidence is starting to pick up and things are looking a lot better for us.”
Six to eight different receivers are in the rotation every Saturday. As of now, five of them have at least one touchdown on the season, but none have more than 500 receiving yards.
Winston Wright is the leading pass-catcher through eight games with 42 catches for 494 yards and two scores. Ford-Wheaton is right behind with 23 catches for 365 yards to go along with three touchdowns. T.J. Simmons racked up his first scores of the year in the win over TCU, finding the end zone twice. He is No. 3 in receiving yards with 309.
This season, it’s pass-catcher by committee for the Mountaineers. There isn’t that one dominant receiver every game, but rather a mix of guys making plays whenever their number is called.
Ford-Wheaton said this season has lead this receiving corps to grow in one major area: maturity.
“You can have a good game without having 100 yards. There’s other things in football that are just as important,” he said. “If your brother in the receiving room is having a good game, that’s really all that matters. It doesn’t always have to be you. If it doesn’t help the team, it doesn’t matter. With everyone in the receiving room, if coach asks us to do something, we do it. It doesn’t matter who gets it that game, we are all out there fighting for each other.”
There have only been three contests this season in which a WVU receiver has had more than 100 yards. The first game against Oklahoma State was Wright’s first of two times to shine, with a 127-yard game that was highlighted by a 70-yard touchdown. He also had 127 yards in a losing effort at Texas Tech. Ford-Wheaton had his shot when he caught three passes for 104 yards against Kansas State. Simmons came close in the most recent contest against TCU, finishing with 90 yards.
It has taken the West Virginia receivers longer than they would like to find their rhythm, but confidence is growing every game as they learn there is only one thing that matters and that is winning games.
“[Offensive Coordinator Gerad] Parker teaches us not to rely on results. He isn’t going to coach us different whether we win or lose, or drop a pass or catch multiple passes,” Simmons said. “When we look at the stats and see who has what amount of catches, it doesn’t matter to us because we winning more games this year and that’s what is important.”
The resurgence of the rushing attack has also had an impact on those receiving numbers this year. Leddie Brown has been a force out of the backfield, already surpassing last year’s team rushing total by himself.
“We see ourselves as the ones that have to get everything going. Whenever everybody is focused on Leddie Brown, we know we have to make plays, like clutch 3rd downs or 4th downs to keep a drive going,” Simmons said.
Not only do opposing defenses have to account for Brown, but there’s also the added challenge with a revolving door of receivers.
“I think it’s a lot easier for every other receiver, too, because if we have a good game, the other team will prevent us from doing that the next game. So, that opens up the opportunity for anyone else to step up and capitalize on it,” Ford-Wheaton said.
Regardless of which receiver emerges on game day, one thing is for certain — this group has personality. From dancing during pregame warm-ups to touchdown celebrations, or even times when the game isn’t going their way, they still keep up the energy.
“It starts with T.J. Simmons. T.J. always brings the energy and everybody else just has to catch up to him,” Ford-Wheaton said. “On game days, it’s easy to have a lot of energy, honestly. That’s just who we are. We dance all the time and joke around all the time. It’s just our personalities.”
Simmons said the juice man is just who he is, on and off the field, and he’s embraced that role over the past few years.
“It’s just fun to be myself on the field,” Simmons said with his typical ear-to-ear smile. “Everybody is drawn to my energy and how I’m always live on the field. Everyone will come to me and be like ‘bro, we need you to get the juice going’. Everybody looks to me to get it going, so I keep it up.”
Versatility, confidence, personality talent — the WVU receivers bring it all. So, what’s stopping them from performing at that 10 that Ford-Wheaton knows they are capable of?
“We need to rely on our technique and our coaching. We don’t need to make insane plays, we just have to make the routine plays and I think we’ll be fine,” Ford-Wheaton said.