|Quarterback Clint Trickett signs an autograph during Sunday's Fan Day at the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
There was Clint Trickett
, sitting comfortably in a chair in the soon-to-be-replaced team room inside the Milan Puskar Center, shoulder heavily wrapped in ice, having a relaxed conversation with a handful of reporters one morning last week.
Trickett is more relaxed; he is a much, much more confident quarterback and it’s clearly showing out on the football field. Even Dana Holgorsen’s son, Logan, has noticed the difference in Trickett.
“Man, from last year to this year …” he told Trickett the other day during practice.
The last 12 months have been a whirlwind for Trickett here at West Virginia University, from being force-fed a brand new offense to struggling to make it work to having off-season shoulder surgery.
But there may be a crack of light at the end of the tunnel.
No. 1, he finally knows West Virginia’s signaling system, which means the ball cap and the headset will remain on Holgorsen’s head more often now.
No. 2, he was named the starting quarterback in the summertime, which was a huge relief to him.
And No. 3, with the coaching staff’s blessing, Trickett went down to Florida to spend a few days at IMG Academy with former Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke to polish up on some mechanical things that he felt was hindering his performance.
“You just don’t want them going out to anybody, but we have a good relationship with Chris,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “I trust what that guy preaches and teaches. When we had Geno (Smith) he was here a couple of times and we went out to eat and just picking his brain that guy knows a lot. A guy like him we have no issues with, but we’re going to be careful with that.”
What Weinke noticed right away was Trickett’s footwork was sometimes out of whack, causing him to lose velocity and power on his throws. Of course, Weinke has the luxury of being able to scrutinize these things because he doesn’t have the pressure of having to prepare for Alabama’s defense in a few weeks.
“I knew my mechanics were off and we broke it down, filmed it and it was all fundamentals,” said Trickett. “We got it back to where it needed to be. He knew about the surgery and everything and he said, ‘What we’re going to do is going to help you last all season.’”
What Weinke noticed was Trickett’s back foot was not always underneath him during his throws.
“I was all upper body before and was all over the place,” said Trickett. “We broke it down, made it tight and got it back to where it needed to be.”
“Being quick with his feet and eyes,” added Dawson. “As far as release, he doesn’t have to mess with any of that. That’s been good for a long time.”
Perhaps even more important than the mechanical adjustments Trickett made this summer was the mental tweaking that he’s undergone, particularly since Holgorsen announced a month before preseason camp that he was the starter.
That daily uncertainty was eating away at him, literally.
“I care so much about it that it kind of ate at me on the inside, especially with my Celiac disease and everything,” Trickett admitted. “It took a toll on me last camp so to know that I have (the starting job) it has definitely helped me out personally, but now my competitiveness is for the offensive unit instead of me as a quarterback. Now, we’re completely focused on competing against a defense, which is the way it should be. And I think we’re doing a pretty dang good job so far, too.”
Continuity at quarterback is extremely important for any successful offense, and West Virginia had very little of that last year. Like everyone else, Holgorsen wanted to have a No. 1 guy last season but wanting one and actually having one are two entirely different things.
Now, he has one. And it’s showing.
“I think that was one of our main problems last year,” admitted sophomore center Tyler Orlosky
. “We were in a position that we had to rotate guys in because (Trickett) wasn’t experienced or he hadn’t worked his way up to where he was in a (permanent) starting role. That’s a problem you face, but it’s a problem you have to handle. From there to where we are right now we don’t have that issue. We trust each other where before with the new guy coming in … ‘How is he different than the other guys?’”
“Last year I didn’t even know the guys,” added Trickett. “I was a stranger coming in. You hear things, ‘Oh, this is the kid coming in from Florida State.’ Now they actually know me. We hang out on a regular basis and we try and do that. No matter how much you try, things are going to take time.”
Which is precisely what Trickett didn’t have last year. There was no time for him to learn the hows and the whys of Holgorsen’s offense. It was the hows and the whys of William & Mary’s defense, then the hows and the whys of Oklahoma’s defense, then the hows and the whys of Georgia State’s defense, so on and so forth.
It’s not easy going from one complicated system to another – from Latin to Greek, so to speak - and there was no Rosetta Stone out there for Trickett to help him condense what he needed to learn in a matter of just a couple of weeks, from a whole new language and nomenclature to the way they do things on the field.
“Everything (at Florida State) was coverage based and not so much here,” explained Trickett. “Here it’s more progression based. Every route there has a set drop to it and the fifth step, hey, you’re going here with the ball or on the third step you’re here.
“Here, it’s shuffle and read,” Trickett continued. “It’s a completely different mindset and that’s why it took such a long time because I was so dialed into Florida State’s offense down there. I grasped it so quickly and embraced it so quickly and to come up here that was still the mindset.”
As a result, off went the head coach’s headset … often.
“Coach doesn’t even have to finish signals now,” Trickett laughed. “Last year I had to ask him like three times to do the signals over again. I guess that’s the growing pains of learning the offense.”
There were certainly quite a bit of growing pains last season.
At the three prior places Holgorsen called the plays at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State, his offenses consistently ranked among the best in the country in points and total yardage. Last year, the Mountaineers produced the yards but not the points – only seven against Oklahoma, zero against Maryland, 12 at Kansas State and just 19 at Kansas. Because of that, the quarterback position became a revolving-door situation.
First it was junior Paul Millard
, then it was freshman Ford Childress and then on to Trickett, then back to Millard and then to Trickett to finish up the season. I’m pretty sure rotating quarterbacks is not listed among General Neyland’s Seven Maxims to winning football.
“You are losing games last year and you’re trying to find something else that works and you don’t know what to do,” said Orlosky. “I think that was part of the (quarterback) rotation going in. You don’t have to worry about, ‘God, whose going today?’ You are more comfortable and less stressed after practice.”
And that includes the starting quarterback.
“His relationship with Dana is better. We’re having no issues with communication. The kid’s football IQ is off the charts anyway. He had to learn our system and the way we program quarterbacks. He’s definitely learned that. Now, with that first group we’re trying to create as much chemistry as we can,” noted Dawson.
They're on the clock. The first exam is coming up in 19 days down in Atlanta.