West Virginia’s former defensive staff thought Nick Kwiatkoski
would be a pretty good fit in the 3-3 stack defense the Mountaineers were running a few years ago.
After talking to Jeff Metheny, Kwiatkoski’s Bethel Park (Pa.) coach, and then seeing Nick in person when he came down to campus for Junior Day a few years ago, the Mountaineers were the first school to pull the trigger and offer him a scholarship.
“I went back to school that Monday and they offered me,” said Kwiatkoski.
It took a while for the rest of the schools to see in Nick Kwiatkoski
what the West Virginia coaches saw right away – a super athlete, who, with the right coaching and proper development, could blossom into an outstanding college player.
Sounds familiar, huh?
Kwiatkoski is really the poster child for what the West Virginia program has been all about for the last 10-12 years or so – unearthing good athletes, figuring out the right place to put them and then turning them loose on the football field.
Right now Kwiatkoski is certainly letting it rip. His cleat-removing tackle of Georgia State’s Jonathan Jean-Bart in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s game was the latest eye-opening play to come from the emerging sophomore. He currently leads the team in tackles with 27, including a team-best 11 in West Virginia’s 16-7 week-two loss at Oklahoma, and he followed that up with eight solo stops and a sack in last week’s win over the Panthers.
West Virginia defensive coordinator Keith Patterson may have inherited him, but he saw many of the same football traits that his predecessors noticed in Kwiatkoski three years ago when they were recruiting him.
“I think back during fall camp, and even since I’ve been here, Nick’s just done some good things,” said Patterson. “It’s been a total evaluation for me. I coached him two springs ago, watched what he did last season and then coaching him again this past spring and in fall camp, I just liked what I saw.”
What Patterson saw was a 235-pound kid who can run, think quickly on his feet, and is willing to stick his face in the fan. That’s a pretty good combination for a football player to have - not to mention possessing one of those ethnic Pittsburgh last names that is nearly impossible to spell correctly all of the time, let alone pronounce (Quit-ah-COW-ski).
“He’s big and he’s a lot more athletic than people probably give him credit for,” said Patterson. “He looked like the fastest guy on the field last Saturday. I really like what I see from him and I think he’s just going to continue to improve. He’s just a sophomore.”
Patterson also likes the way Kwiatkoski can effortlessly get around a football field.
“He plays with such limited wasted movement so he doesn’t get himself out of position very often,” the coach explained. “That puts him into position to make a lot of plays and that’s what he’s done the first three weeks.”
Kwiatkoski believes it’s just been a matter of finally finding a home at Will linebacker and sticking there. He came to WVU as a running back/safety in high school before starting his Mountaineer career in the secondary.
“Last year I was new to the linebacker position,” he said. “I came here as a safety and I put on some pounds during the offseason. It’s also a matter of learning the defense and getting settled in.”
The fact that he has moved around quite a bit from Spur safety to Sam linebacker and now to Will linebacker has made him understand the Mountaineer defense a lot better than if he had remained at just one spot.
“It’s easy when you put in a new coverage or a new defense now because you know what people around you are doing so you learn what you’re doing a lot better,” he said.
Kwiatkoski is also taking the extra time to come in on his own to learn what his opponents are doing. That additional knowledge allows him to play at a much quicker pace.
“Through film study, if you can find little tricks or keys of what the offense is going to run it really helps you,” he said. “If you can narrow it down to maybe three plays they can run out of this formation, it helps you play a lot faster.”
As for his decision to cross the state line and journey south to play at West Virginia University, Kwiatkoski said it was really a no-brainer once he got down to Morgantown, saw the campus for himself, and realized that everything he was hearing from Pittsburghers about WVU just didn’t ring true.
“People from my school were teasing me and all that and everyone kind of had their comments here and there and as time wore on it was more joking, but at first it was serious,” he said.
Then Kwiatkoski came down to WVU and walked into a full stadium, saw the Hall of Traditions, looked at all the bowl banners hanging down in the weight room and the success the Mountaineers have enjoyed; he saw how well Western Pa. kids have done down here through the years and he noticed how the entire state rallies around the football program 365 days a year.
Then he compared that to what some of the other local football programs had to offer and realized that the Old Gold and Blue was a lot better looking than the other Blue and Gold that some people thought he should be wearing.
“West Virginia was always high on my list,” he said. “It wasn’t far from home; great football program, so when I was first getting recruited it was a program that I showed a lot of interest in before I even had an offer. Then when I got down here it made me think highly of it.”
Mountaineer football fans are certainly glad he did.