MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Sometimes the best way to learn is when you least expect to. That is what happened to West Virginia University sophomore tackle Colton McKivitz
, a natural right tackle forced to play left tackle when Yodny Cajuste
went down with a season-ending injury in the season-opening game against Missouri last September.
The Mountaineers, anticipating significant matchup problems with the untested McKivitz lining up across Missouri stud defensive end Charles Harris, were pleasantly surprised when Colton more than held his own.
Harris, recently taken in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, didn’t register a sack and was credited with just two tackles in one of his least productive afternoons as a collegiate player.
But the 6-foot-7-inch, 307-pound Union Local High product from Jacobsburg, Ohio, feeling afterward like he had just conquered Mount Everest, came crashing back down to Earth the following week when FCS-level Youngstown State’s defensive end tandem of Derek Rivers and Avery Moss got the best of him.
You can forgive McKivitz, though, because Holgorsen said after the game that those two ends would be two of the better ones his young tackle would face in 2016. And Holgorsen turned out to be right – the New England Patriots made Rivers a third-round choice and the New York Giants took Moss in the fifth round of this past weekend’s draft.
The experience facing those two outstanding pass rushers was another valuable one for McKivitz.
“Last year, I was taking a big step back and I was all off-balance and that was evident against Youngstown State when I got thrown off on a couple of blocks,” McKivitz admitted recently. “This year, through the spring I definitely worked on my zone step. It still needs some work, but I’ve moved forward on that.”
Moving forward for McKivitz this year means moving back to his more natural right tackle position now that Cajuste’s injured knee has healed, and he is ready to go for 2017.
“That’s a big thing on the left and (having Yodny back) brings a lot of security over there,” McKivitz noted. “I know he was pretty upset he missed last year.”
The Academic All-Big 12 first-teamer was part of an offensive line last season that helped the Mountaineers average 485.5 yards per game while opening holes for four different runners to eclipse 100 yards in a game.
This group also did an admirable job protecting gun-slinging quarterback Skyler Howard, who frequently used his legs to escape trouble to keep plays alive downfield. McKivitz admits it can sometimes be difficult blocking for scrambling quarterbacks.
“With Will (Grier), you kind of feel where he’s at in the pocket,” McKivitz said. “Skyler was a good quarterback for us and he was the scrambling type. It was kind of hard chasing after D-linemen.”
With the freshman McKivitz as a starting tackle, the Mountaineers ranked second in the Big 12 in sacks allowed, so getting Cajuste back at left tackle paired with McKivitz on the right side has the coaching staff extremely excited.
“Colton has picked up where he’s left off,” veteran offensive line coach Joe Wickline, who assumed total control of the group this spring following the departure of Ron Crook to Cincinnati, said earlier this spring. “He’s a guy that’s been ‘Steady Eddie.’ He’s very consistent and uneventful - he kind of does his deal.”
Those words from Wickline sound benign, but being a consistent offensive lineman is a major, major deal to coaches. And getting a young player to play consistently so early in his career is not an easy thing to do at all.
The Athlon Sports All-Big 12 Freshman Team choice admits he’s prideful in the consistent manner with which he goes about his business.
“Sometimes I will have one play where I’m like, ‘What the heck happened there?’ But usually I’m pretty consistent and I do take pride on that because you don’t have to hear Wick yelling at you all the time - just do your job and win your individual battle,” he said.
As for the differences between Wickline and his former offensive line coach Crook, McKivitz said it’s mostly a matter of style.
According to McKivitz, Wickline’s No. 1 concern is his linemen getting to the defenders who need to be covered up so West Virginia’s talented backs can hit open seams and get into the open field.
“It’s been a good transition,” McKivitz said. “We now understand what he wants and I think it’s going to go well because now we know what he expects from us.”
What West Virginia fans can expect from the Mountaineers’ 2017 offensive line is another productive group with possibly two of the more athletic tackles in school history in McKivitz and Cajuste.
West Virginia’s two inside guys - former Michigan transfer Kyle Bosch
and senior Grant Lingafelter
- are experienced players with significant game experience while Holgorsen continually praised redshirt freshman center Matt Jones
’ performance during the spring.
There is some talent and toughness in this group, although it’s not overly deep.
However, what this group is lacking right now is that proven, vocal leader that senior center Tyler Orlosky provided for last year’s group.
Despite being just a sophomore, McKivitz said he is willing to step up and do his part.
“After getting through it and showing what kind of capability there is and improving on that, it’s time for me to be more of a leader by bringing some of the younger guys along,” McKivitz said. “I think we’re meshing real good and me, Grant and Bosch all have leadership roles we need to take helping the younger guys along.”
McKivitz admits this summer will be an important one for him.
“Always getting stronger in the weight room - that’s always a key thing,” he noted. “My footwork and then also understanding more about the game - fronts and stuff like that.”
Words like this continue to demonstrate Colton McKivitz
’s desire to learn and develop into one of the better offensive tackles in the Big 12.