Bowl notes: Austin ready for challenge
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Sometimes football standouts take the company line. They don't pay attention to the opposing team's standouts at their position. They stay within themselves, etc.
But not West Virginia's Tavon Austin. He's spurning the company line and enjoying the company, the rivalry, of playing opposite Clemson's splashy 6-foot-1 freshman sensation Sammy Watkins.
Austin said on Monday it motivates him. That, and some of the Mountaineer coaches.
"One of my strength coaches has been going around saying, 'The best wide receiver on the field will be No. 2.' And our No. 2 [Brad Starks] is hurt right now," Austin said. "So he definitely has to be talking about Sammy.
"It's going to be something to see. I'm going to definitely give it my all."
Indeed, it should be something to watch. Watkins has 1,153 receiving yards in 13 games played for a 96.1 yard average. Austin has 1,063 in 12 games for an 88.6 average. Both have speed. Both have made their marks on special teams. Both will be in the spotlight for Wednesday's Orange Bowl.
"I love the big stage," Austin said. "I just come in, be focused, make a couple big plays and try not to get too excited. I'm treating this game like the LSU game. Excited. They'll bring their best and we'll bring our best. Hopefully, all of us will play our best."
Austin said he's not sure if he'll be returning punts after a late-season swoon there, calling it a "coaches' decision," but is looking forward to the challenge.
"It will be a battle," Austin said. "It will be something to see."
WVU quarterback Geno Smith has certainly made his mark on the football field. But on Monday he revealed he has other talents. The English major used to write poetry. And he used to be more than a fair artist - to the point where it could have turned into a career.
"I had some scholarship offers to go to art schools," Smith said. "One down here in Miami. A couple in New York. But I had a decision to make: football or art school. I chose football.
"At my middle school, we worked on acrylics. We worked on everything from water color to charcoal, pretty much every media. I won a couple awards. I don't have my portfolio, but I won a lot of things as far as art goes."
WVU deputy athletic director Mike Parsons on Monday said his school has sold around 7,600 of the 17,500 tickets it is charged to sell.
"That includes some we've sold that goes to military folks," Parsons said. "You always hope for more, but you also look at the Jan. 4 date as a challenge. It's not that it's a Wednesday, but that it's after the holidays.
"It's a great bowl and experience for the players. We love the amenities of south Florida, but it's hard for people to travel after the holidays."
Another challenge has been to compete against ticket agents.
"That's a challenge too," Parsons said. "I don't know how to deal with that. I guess the unused tickets go there. That's how they unload them."
Monday's weather in south Florida was beautiful, with a high near 80 degrees. But the weather in south Florida is supposed to turn south, with a high of 60 on Tuesday and a chilly night expected at game time on Wednesday.
WVU receivers coach Shannon Dawson is hoping that helps his team's underdog efforts.
"It ain't gonna hurt us," Dawson said. "If you watched our [away] Rutgers game, it was the worst conditions: sleet, snow, freezing wind ... These kids here, cold doesn't bother them. It might help us."
WVU won that game 41-31.
Among those expected to be in attendance at Wednesday's game is ex-WVU player and current Miramar High coach Damon Cogdell, who helped shape such current Mountaineers as Smith, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney.
"He did a great job preparing us," Bailey said. "He played at the collegiate level and even in the pros, so he knows what's going on. Did a great job of preparing us, working us out. He showed us the ropes. He was pretty much like a father figure to us.
We soaked in all the information he gave us about the college experience and so far it's all been true."
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.