By Julie Brown for MSNsportsNET.com
August 12, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Tavon Austin is used to people telling him that he’s a very talented athlete with tremendous potential. Coaches started telling him he was going to be a special player when he first began playing football at the Pop Warner level.
Despite this constant stream of praise, however, Austin has surprisingly remained a humble and modest person.
“It all really started to pick up in high school,” he said. “My coach was always telling me that I was going to be a special player, that I was able to do a lot of things that other players couldn’t do. The way I had it, I just try to stay humble. My grandma always used to tell me that there would always be players better than me, and that’s what I think about.”
Austin came into last year’s camp as a freshman with a lot of media and fan speculation surrounding him. He had had an outstanding high school career, and currently owns Maryland records for points (790), touchdowns (123), total offensive yards (9,258), and rushing yards (7,962). He had also led Dunbar High to three consecutive Class 1A state titles. As his freshman season wore on, however, he got the football less than people had expected.
“I had a lot of great players ahead of me,” said Austin. “I had to learn from them - I couldn’t just come in and be the man, it wasn’t my team at the time. I had to just come in and play my role, and hopefully whenever my time comes I can step in and do the same thing.”
That’s not to say Austin didn’t have a successful freshman campaign. He saw time in all 13 games, starting four. He finished the season with 15 catches for 151 yards and two touchdown and ESPN.com named him to the all-BIG EAST freshman team, but there were still lessons to learn about the college game.
“Last year I was thinking too much and couldn’t really play at my full speed. I only knew one coverage, I didn’t know anything about different coverages, and it really matters because the routes change with different coverages.
“It was a big change,” Austin said.
This year Austin entered camp with more experience and knowledge. He’s able to play at full speed again now that he knows more of what to expect from opponents’ defenses. Plus, the Mountaineer defense has been teaching him some lessons about that, too.
“Brandon (Hogan) has been beating me with his speed a lot in practice, and Rob (Sands) is very fast too, they both have the same speed as me,” he said.
Older offensive players have been helping him adjust and learn new skills as well. Noel Devine and Jock Sanders have been lining up next to him in practice as kick returners.
“We’re going to be very dangerous,” Austin said. “Who would want to kick to a line like that? At any time we’re probably contenders for the difference. I look at it as a good thing because we’re going to get good field position and help out our offense.”
To young receivers such as Austin, Stedman Bailey, and J.D. Woods, Devine and Sanders have been key role models to look up to and learn skills and lessons from.
“I feel like a lot of the wide receivers, we’re young. So I look at Jock and Noel as the big brothers. We have to do anything we can to get those boys out of here and to the place they want to go, the NFL, so if they have to get most of the reps, they’re going to get most of the reps,” Austin said. “We have to wait for our time.”
For Austin, that time may be now.
Coach Bill Stewart addressed the media following the team’s morning practice inside the stadium. The coach said they worked on punt coverage, team skeleton with plays signaled in from the sidelines, two-minute drill and some blitzing on defense.
Stewart singled out the play of safety Eain Smith and cornerback Brandon Hogan on defense, and Stedman Bailey on offense. Bailey caught a touchdown for the offense during the team’s two-minute drill work.
“Stedman continues to get better and better,” Stewart said.
Linebacker JT Thomas was back on the field practicing this morning without any restrictions, Stewart said.
This afternoon’s practice was in helmets and shoulder pads.
Tomorrow, Stewart said the team will work on kickoff coverage in full pads.
Stewart said he ended practice four minutes early yesterday because the hitting was so intense and crisp. “The guys were lined up ready to go on goal line and I said, ‘That’s it.’ I didn’t want to take any chances with the ways those guys were going at each other and that’s good to see,” he said.
Brodrick Jenkins was working with the ones yesterday at cornerback alongside Keith Tandy. For the first time since he’s been here, cornerbacks coach Dave Lockwood says he has three players he’s comfortable putting into the game at the two cornerback spots in Jenkins, Brandon Hogan and Keith Tandy. Lockwood is hoping to develop a fourth that is ready, a possibility being sophomore Pat Miller.