Campus Connection: A WVU Sports Notes Smorgasbord

  • By John Antonik
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  • August 05, 2017 08:39 AM
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A smorgasbord of West Virginia University sports notes to take you into next week …
* It’s still way too early to get a handle on football camp surprises, but one name that keeps popping up is true freshman safety Kenny Robinson from nearby Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania.
Robinson is rangy (6-feet-3 inches, 191 pounds) with exceptional athleticism.
“He’s picking up things quick,” safeties coach Matt Caponi noted.
However, it’s going to be awful tough for Robinson to see the field this season playing behind junior Dravon Askew-Henry, but the future does look bright there.
Another name you are hearing a lot is redshirt freshman offensive guard Josh Sills, a 6-foot-6-inch, 316-pound man-child.
He oozes with raw ability, but veteran offensive line instructor Joe Wickline cautions he’s still far from a finished product.
“He has great movement, covers you up, big,” Coach Wick said. “He’s far from ready, but it’s not for a lack of motivation.”
* One more name to store in the back of your melon: Lamonte McDougle. He’s not quite ready yet, but at 6-feet, 303 pounds, the Pompano Beach, Florida, freshman has got the perfect body type for that zero nose Tony Gibson is always craving in his odd-front defense.
* An interesting sleeper candidate at wide receiver is Rice senior transfer Nate German, a part-time starter for the Owls last year, catching 29 passes for 496 yards and three touchdowns in hist last two seasons there.
German began his collegiate career as a quarterback.
He fits the profile of the bigger, more physical pass catchers coach Dana Holgorsen is seeking (6-feet-1 inches, 209 pounds) but it is going to be extremely difficult for him to crack a receiver rotation that boasts several key returning players, not to mention 2016 Cactus Bowl hero David Sills V.
“Really, right now he’s trying to figure out the offense and all of the ins and outs of it,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said Thursday. “Hopefully he can get out there and help us.”
Wide receivers coach Tyron Carrier said he likes the versatility he’s got to work with this year.
“I feel like we can’t go wrong with who we have out there,” he said. “The great thing is (quarterback) Will (Grier) knows how to feed the big guys and the fast guys. He is not going to feed the big guys something he would give a speedster. In the realm of my room, as far as receiver, I have everything that I need.”
Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons won’t be part of that mix this year, but did you happen to catch the sick grab he made during Thursday’s practice?
If you not, you can see it here:
* I’m not sure how much former Arizona coach Tony Dews researched the running back depth he was inheriting at West Virginia when he took the job last January, but he’s clearly got a lot to work with this year.
Across the board, this might be the most depth and pure talent the Mountaineers have ever had at that position - which is quite a mouthful considering the number of quality runners West Virginia has had through the years.
Instead of 1, 2, 3 and 4 on the depth chart, Dews might as well list them 1a, 1b, 1c and 1d.
“No one gets comfortable and thinks it’s ‘my spot’ or it’s ‘my job,’” he said Thursday. “They continue to support each other; yet they’re competing. As long as they’re competing and everyone’s working hard, hustling, running around, moving around doing what they’re asked, and not busting assignments, then we’ll continue to move forward.”
Three returning ball-toters have topped 100 yards in a game during their careers - Justin Crawford, Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway - and the fourth back, true freshman Tevin Bush, appears capable of doing it.
Crawford, the Big 12’s leading returning rusher from a year ago, is the headline guy, but I can envision situations this year where multiple running backs are in the game at the same time because of their ball skills.
And it’s nice having a former wide receivers coach to help them along with that aspect of their play.   
* The last time West Virginia had this many top-shelf ball carriers in the backfield at the same time you probably have to go back to the late 1960s when the Mountaineers had Jim Braxton, Bob Gresham and Eddie Williams in ’69.
That was the year Jim Carlen switched from a pro offense to the wishbone and beat ACC champ South Carolina in the Peach Bowl.
* Our Anthony Becht is one of the selectors in this year’s ESPN.com Power Poll, unveiled Thursday: http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/20210159/top-25-loaded-familiar-names
West Virginia checks in at No. 25 in that poll.
* I am hearing early basketball season ticket sales are trending a little bit higher so far. I’m sure having a non-conference home schedule that includes Virginia and Kentucky on it helps, as does a strong returning team headlined by 2016 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter.
Carter’s name is already popping up on some of the top-player lists coming out this summer, such as this one:
* This may be old news, but congratulations are in order to Mike Gansey for being promoted to assistant GM for the Cleveland Cavaliers. You can now add Mike’s name to West Virginia’s outstanding pro basketball executive heritage that includes Jerry West and Rod Thorn.
* Since being traded to Double-A Trenton a couple of weeks ago, former Mountaineer first baseman Ryan McBroom is hitting .341 with three home runs in 11 games so far there. In 107 combined games this season with New Hampshire and Trenton, McBroom has slugged 15 home runs and driven in 62 while boosting his batting average to .253.
Also playing in Trenton this year is former Mountaineer second baseman Billy Fleming.
* West Virginia’s Ed Etzel is adding another tremendous honor to his growing collection of awards when he will be one of four outstanding marksmen inducted into the U.S. International Shooting Hall of Fame on Saturday, Aug. 26, at the Hotel Elegante in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
There are just 30 occupants in the U.S. International Shooting Hall of Fame since its creation in 1991 - a tremendous honor for Mr. Etzel.
Etzel won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and coached the WVU rifle team from 1976-89, turning in a 101-3 overall record, which begs the question: How did he lose those three matches?
I’m kidding, of course.
Congratulations Ed!
* How about the great news that Nikki Izzo-Brown’s WVU women’s soccer program will begin the regular season ranked No. 1 in the country?
This, despite losing two world-class players in national player of the year Kadeisha Buchanan and World Cup performer Ashley Lawrence. Izzo-Brown does have nine starters returning, including another star in the making in senior forward Michaela Abam.
I have been around for all 21 seasons Nikki has coached here at WVU and what she has done for soccer and women’s sports in general throughout the Mountain State is transformative.
Way to go Nikki!
* I know we are still a few weeks off from the home opener against East Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 9, but those of you who come to Morgantown via the Mileground on game day will want to take note of the work currently underway on Easton Hill.
That intersection is being completely reworked to provide direct access to Interstate 68, and the majority of the work is expected to be completed by Aug. 11 before the WVU students arrive for the fall semester, based on this news release from the West Virginia Department of Transportation: http://www.transportation.wv.gov/communications/PressRelease/Pages/Easton-Hill-Intersection-to-Close-for-Two-Weeks.aspx
The closure of that intersection has been a major nuisance for those accessing the city from the east, but, hopefully, the work taking place there right now will help alleviate one of Morgantown’s biggest traffic bottlenecks.
Now, about the Mileground …
* I am hearing former Mountaineer Wendell Smallwood is having a great camp in Philadelphia so far this summer. Smallwood is finishing off runs and is becoming a more physical ball carrier in his second camp with the Eagles.
Last year as a rookie, Smallwood rushed for 312 yards and a touchdown in 13 games, his best performance coming against Pittsburgh in week three when he rushed 17 times for 79 yards and scored a touchdown.
* West Virginia University Director of Athletics Shane Lyons is scheduled to give us a video tour of the West concourse at Milan Puskar Stadium later this month. I’ve been over there a few times already this week and it looks like work crews are close to having that part of the stadium completed.
Along with the new HD video board above Touchdown Terrace, I believe the “fan experience” at Milan Puskar Stadium continues to make impressive strides under Lyons’ watch.
* And finally, ESPNU is becoming ESPN8: “The Ocho” for one day on Tuesday, Aug. 8. The one-day switch was inspired by the move “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.”
Some place, somewhere, I’m certain Patches O’Houlihan will be watching with great pleasure, even if “The Ocho” likely won’t be running any Dodgeball highlights.
Have a great weekend everyone!