MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Day three of West Virginia University football training camp was actually able to happen after Tuesday night’s decision by the Big 12 presidents to continue pushing forward with a college football season.
Their choice to move forward came just hours after the Big Ten and Pac 12 conferences opted to suspend play in the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m encouraged,” Mountaineer coach Neal Brown said Wednesday following another split-squad practice. “I think that we have a plan now, which at the end of the day that’s kind of all the players and the staff wanted. We’re going to open on Sept. 12. We don’t know what that looks like, but we do know that we will play Eastern Kentucky, and they are going to go through the same testing protocol, so it’s going to be a safe game.”
Two weeks after that, West Virginia opens Big 12 play in Stillwater, Oklahoma, against an Oklahoma State team loaded with returning offensive firepower. The Cowboys defeated West Virginia 20-13 in Morgantown last Nov. 23.
“On Sept. 26 we’ve got a huge challenge. We go to Stillwater, Oklahoma – a game that came right down to the wire here, and they beat us,” Brown said. “We didn’t make plays at winning time and a lot of that had to do with our inability to score in the red zone.
“We are playing the team with probably the most returning talent in our entire conference and once we get into those conference games it’s going to be a challenge, but man, just a lot of hope and energy here now that we know the plan. We’ve got to go attack it.”
Which is what his two groups attempted to do this morning.
“The first group, we really had to push them and get them going and once we got them going I thought it was a productive day,” Brown said. “The second group I thought had great energy throughout. We had a lot of situational football.”
Brown said he decided to put on the pads today and get in some more detailed work for his guys.
“It was rusty, man. The last time we put on a pair of shoulder pads was against TCU last Thanksgiving weekend so it had been a long time,” he said. “It wasn’t the cleanest, but I did like the fact that our guys competed. We worked some areas where we’ve got to get better if we want to be one of the most improved teams in the country and that’s our goal. We worked on those areas today – third downs, red zone – and we’ve got to be better in those areas.”
Brown said his guys also got in some additional special teams work.
“We put some pressure on our returners today, and they came through so that was a positive,” he said. “Punt return is one of the areas we’ve got to get better at as well, and then our kickers answered the call and made some kicks around their teammates so that’s a positive.”
Brown noted his team will have a recovery day on Thursday and will resume split-squad activities on Friday and Saturday before having Sunday completely off.
Wednesday Practice Notes …
* Two newcomers who immediately pass the eyeball test are Bluefield defensive end Sean Martin and Clearwater Academy defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor, who comes to WVU by way of Toronto, Ontario.
Martin looks like a reincarnation of Renaldo Turnbull standing out there on the edge, and Mesidor is a fast-twitch guy with the potential to really help a defensive line position that is already considered one of the strongest areas on the team with the Stills brothers, Dante and Darius, returning.
“Sean Martin was a big get for us and not only does he look the part but he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do since he’s been here,” Brown said. “He’s learning. The game is obviously at a different speed, but he’s extremely detail-oriented, he’s intelligent, he understands the game and he’s about the right things. I think he’s got a tremendous future.
“Mesidor has got twitch and we knew that in recruiting,” Brown added. “We thought he was a difference maker – and a potential early difference maker – and he is. He’s got a chance; if he’ll take coaching and get his fundamentals I think he’s got a chance to be special here.”
* Brown thought his two quarterbacks, Jarret Doege and Austin Kendall, had some good moments and some not-so-good moments today.
“We threw a lot at them today and for both Doege and Kendall there were some wow moments when they spun it and put it in some tight windows and hit some home runs down the field, and there were some throws that they missed,” he said. “I think from a constancy standpoint it was not exactly what we want, but there were some flashes that give you a lot of hope.”
* Brown said yesterday’s locker room reveal to his team was a major shot in the arm to his players. A video clip of their reaction was posted on Twitter last night.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot for them to be really excited about lately, and so much credit goes to the people that made that happen,” he said.
“This is a big push by our administration to show that we’re all-in on building not only championship teams but a championship program. We’ve already got so much positive momentum in recruiting with the Big 12 deciding that we were going to move forward with playing football and that locker room reveal …,” he continued. “It was a great night and our kids were so excited.”
* Sophomore Winston Wright Jr. made the catch of the second practice when he hauled in a pretty over-the-shoulder reception near the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
* Speaking of passing the eyeball test, Garrett Ford’s grandson Bryce Ford-Wheaton is looking great this summer. He’s a sculpted 6-feet-3, 218 pounds and is looking a lot like his granddad used to look when he played for the Mountaineers in the mid-1960s.
* Strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph said it took his staff of four five days to carry all 1,000 individual pieces of weight equipment up to the concourse for the makeshift outdoor weight room the players are using.
They had to use flatbed trucks to move some of the bigger equipment pieces.
Joseph said he is aware of Maryland and Texas doing something similar with an outdoor weight room, but not quite to the extent of what West Virginia is doing.
Whenever it’s time to move the equipment back down into the weight room, Joseph said he’s not sure when they are going to have the time to do it.
“We don’t have an extra hour, let alone four days like we did in June when we moved all of it up there,” he said.
Joseph’s Tuesday at the stadium began at 5:30 a.m. and ended at 9:30 p.m., with nearly all of it on his feet. He said he registered a total of 35,000 steps on Tuesday.
Football director of operations Patrick Johnston said he got Joseph by 5,000 steps, which amounts to roughly 16 miles!
“I’m not sure that counts,” one staffer said, “because he takes little steps.”