Campus Connection: RBs, RBs, RBs
West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider has some tough decisions to make as the Mountaineers move toward the conclusion of preseason camp this weekend.
Seider is coaching easily the deepest position on the team with five game-ready players capable of getting first-team reps – Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Dustin Garrison, Andrew Buie and Pitt transfer Rushel Shell.
In my estimation, the running back depth here right now is comparable to the early 1970s when a bevy of quality running backs forced West Virginia coach Bobby Bowden to move fullback Jim Braxton to tight end, or a few years later when Marcus Mauney made the switch to defense because of guys such as Kerry Marbury, Artie Owens, Dwayne Woods and Ron Lee.
And just like back in the early 1970s with Bowden, West Virginia coaches have a diverse and versatile group of runners at their disposal today.
“When we recruit guys we want them to be able to do multiple things,” said Seider. “We don’t want a guy who can only dot the I and be a downhill runner. We want a guy who can catch the ball and do various things without losing their elusiveness and making people miss.”
Presently, Seider said he continues to create competitive situations to see how his guys are going to react.
“Every day as a coach I try to motivate them and challenge them,” he said. “All of those guys have professional aspirations so right now it’s like being a pro – everybody has got the same contract. Some are at the end of their contract and some are at the beginning, but the pay is the same (a full scholarship). Who is going to win? I’m playing you because you are the best player and that’s the approach I take with them. You make it fun, but they need to understand it’s a business decision. We’re going to play the best guys that are going to help us win.”
Seider actually has a sixth runner who is also turning heads: impressive freshman Dontae Thomas-Williams from Durham, N.C. Seider said he hasn’t made a decision on Thomas-Williams’ status for this season, but considering the depth West Virginia has at running back, it will be extremely difficult for him to get into the mix this year.
Seider said he believes the great progress that Shell has made with a year off is an example of what can happen with Thomas-Williams a year from now.
“(Shell) came in and he wasn’t in the best shape, but now you are seeing after a year here his body has changed and how he is able to be a football player,” said Seider. “I think that can be great for Dontae. We can re-shape his body and get some of that baby fat off of him, bulk up, and get stronger and just fine-tune everything. He’s really started to turn it on in the last couple of days - he’s starting to look like the kid that we recruited and is not swimming as much, thinking about ‘am I doing this right?’”
As for his current crop of running backs, Seider said the No. 1 motivating factor for his guys is playing time – not signs or slogans.
“If I’ve got to motivate you with a sign then you aren’t really all into being a football player,” explained Seider. “My motivation is listen, ‘Do your job. Every day you do your job. Do what you’re supposed to do.’ If you live by that motto then everything else will fall into place.”
Some weekly notes …
- The two new names I keep hearing on defense are freshman linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton and sophomore defensive lineman Noble Nwachukwu. Benton is working at mike linebacker with Nick Kwiatkoski while Nwachukwu is battling Shaquille Riddick at defensive end.
- The final preseason meeting of the College Football Playoff Committee wrapped up Thursday morning in Colorado Springs to review operating protocol and procedures. Of course, West Virginia University Director of Athletics Oliver Luck is one of the 13 members of that committee.
Among topics reviewed included: mission, principles, voting process, number of teams to be ranked, meeting schedule, metrics, participants, pairings for semifinal games, pairings for other bowl games, selection sequence and recusal policy.
Luck is one of nine committee members who will be part of this year’s recusal process. The others are: Mike Gould (Air Force), Jeff Long (Arkansas), Dan Radakovich (Clemson), Archie Manning (Ole Miss), Tom Osborne (Nebraska), Pat Haden (USC), Condoleezza Rice (Stanford) and Barry Alvarez (Stanford).
You can learn more about the college football playoff committee and the selection process by listening to Jeff Culhane’s Mountaineer Insider Podcast interview with Bill Hancock, College Football Playoff Executive Director, posted below.
- It’s move-in day on campus today with thousands of WVU students returning to town to begin the start of the fall semester on Monday. Yes, there will be lots of traffic around town and shopping will be a challenge, but I don’t mind the increased activity because that’s the reason we all have jobs around here.
- I see some similarities between this year’s opener with Alabama in Atlanta and West Virginia’s season-opening games against No. 8-rated Oklahoma in Norman in 1982 and against No. 1-rated Ohio State in Morgantown in 1998.
In both instances, West Virginia was facing outstanding football teams. Of the two, the Ohio State team West Virginia played in 1998 was probably stronger, the Buckeyes finishing the year ranked No. 2 in the country and beating Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl.
The 1982 Oklahoma team began the season ranked No. 8, dropped out of the polls after the loss to West Virginia, but recovered with victories over Kentucky, Texas and Oklahoma State to finish the year 8-4, ranked 16th in the country.
No, it wasn’t one of Barry Switzer’s strongest Sooner teams, but Don Nehlen’s win over Oklahoma in Norman really set the program up for years to come. A couple of things about that Oklahoma game …
Nehlen worked on his guys for nine months following the win over Florida in the 1981 Peach Bowl, masterfully building them up over a nine-month period. The fact that Jeff Hostetler performed so well in his first game for the Mountaineers is a testament to how talented he was and how well-prepared the team was.
And, Oklahoma not having any film of Hostetler playing in West Virginia’s system probably helped matters, too.
When you are searching for a big victory on the road against a tough team to open the season, it never hurts having your guys run out of a Trojan horse.
- Cranes are moving into place at the new ballpark site up at the University Town Centre, which means the physical structure is about to start taking shape … http://oxblue.com/open/mascarro/wvubaseballpark/
The really cool thing about this is that you can see some of what is happening on site when you drive toward the Coliseum from Patteson Drive.
- I had lengthy telephone discussions recently with Don Reinke, Director of the Monongahela County Development Authority, John Deskins, WVU Associate Professor of Economics and Director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, and West Virginia Senator Bob Beach.
All three tell me the economic situation in Morgantown is fantastic right now.
In fact, the population in the Morgantown Metropolitan Statistical Area (which includes Preston County because of commuting patterns) is expected to approach 150,000 by the year 2024.
That’s about 10,000 more residents than are living here right now. Why are things so good in this part of the state?
No. 1 is West Virginia University and No. 1A is the booming healthcare industry, they say.
You will get to see for yourself all of the construction that is going on around town when the Mountaineers open the home portion of their schedule on Saturday, September 6 against Towson.
We will have an update on the things happening around the stadium in a few weeks.
- Finally, speaking of conversations, I had a nice little talk with Tommy Deas, executive sports editor of the Tuscaloosa News, the other day. Deas stopped by the Puskar Center for some interviews before heading down to Fairmont to do some research on Nick Saban.
We talked about Bear Bryant and how he was not only an iconic coaching figure at Alabama but was also probably the No. 1 sports brand in the south. As great a coach as Bryant was, there are many who believe his keen business sense and marketing abilities were even better than his coaching skills. In that regard, Bryant was light years ahead of the rest of the coaches of his era.
We talked about Bobby Bowden turning down the Alabama job and how Bowden was put off when he visited Tuscaloosa and was met by the search committee instead of a blanket offer to coach the team (when Bowden coached at WVU he was sometimes referred to as "Little Bear" because of his admiration for Bryant).
We also talked about Deas’ other brief visit to Morgantown in 2006 when Rich Rodriguez was considering Mal Moore’s offer to coach the Crimson Tide.
Following the regular season finale against Rutgers, when it became known that Rodriguez was Alabama’s top target, media outlets throughout the Yellowhammer State converged on Morgantown looking for the big scoop. A few writers even spent the week camped out in their cars in the Puskar Center parking lot trying to be the first one to break the Rich Rod to Alabama story.
Deas was late on the scene, arriving in Morgantown midday Friday afternoon expecting to hunker down with his competitors to wait out the decision. In an effort to get the lay of the land, Deas got out of his rental car and walked up to the football complex to see what was going on.
In the meantime, he had already written shells for two stories – one, Rodriguez was the new Alabama football coach and, two, Rodriguez was staying at West Virginia.
No sooner had he reached the front door of the Puskar Center when a group of West Virginia players converged on the doorway. Sensing this was some type of important team meeting, Deas, in a thick southern accent, asked one of the players, “Staying or going?”
They told him Rodriguez was staying, so Deas got on his cell, called the sports desk and told them to run the Rodriguez is staying story. He then dictated a few player quotes to add to what he had already written.
As he was doing this, television crews were still unpacking their equipment and getting set up and the other writers were trying to stay warm in their cars. Deas said he beat everyone in Alabama by a good hour on the story. Then, after he got the information he needed, Deas returned to Pittsburgh to catch a late flight back to Alabama.
The time Deas actually spent in Morgantown getting his scoop probably amounted to less than the time it took him to tell me his story.
This goes to show you that timing is everything in life!
Have a great weekend!
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