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Within WVU's o-line, a (big) helping hand

MORGANTOWN - Want a little scoop from West Virginia's spring drills?

Well, here's a dollop: Big redshirt freshman Russell Haughton-James is putting in some work as a backup center to Joe Madsen.

Haughton-James had been working as a right guard, but Madsen taught Haughton-James center techniques.

There is, however, a much larger, much more important tip in regard to Haughton-James. It's one that provides a ray of light within a college football world overrun by hypocrisy and cash grabs.

It is that life has been no snap for the almost 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman - yet his position with WVU has given him and his family a much-needed boost.

See, Haughton-James had moved from high school to high school in Florida - Cypress Bay, North Broward Prep, Western and American Heritage. He had a scholarship offer in hand from Minnesota.

Then the proverbial bottom dropped out. The bank foreclosed on the family house. Jerry Kill took over as coach of the Golden Gophers and killed Haughton-James' scholarship offer.

Enter WVU. Enter offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. 

"Toward the end of high school, things got a little rough," Haughton-James said. "My dad, my step-mom and I were there. I have a stepbrother and stepsister that went with their dad [after the foreclosure]. My mom lives in Massachusetts."

The wagons were circled.

"It was a situation that brought me, my dad and my step-mom real close," Haughton-James said. "Through the hard times, we really stuck together. You know things will pick back up, but we really stuck together and really grew as a family. It was a good thing. But coming here with Bedenbaugh was a huge part of it. Him caring so much.

"He came to visit during the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs. He's really a great guy."

The lowest was low.

"My senior year, when [Bedenbaugh] was recruiting me, he came and visited me," Haughton-James said. "Our house got foreclosed on. Yet he came and visited when we were putting all our stuff in storage.

"That's when he and I really clicked. I knew he didn't care where I've been, where I'm from. He cared so much he came to a storage unit just to meet with me. He's a great guy."

Not only did Haughton-James need a house, but a new college home. He committed to Minnesota early in the recruiting game, so only a few schools - WVU, Texas Tech, South Florida, Florida, Miami, Tennessee, Western Kentucky, Memphis - continued to even nibble.

"When Coach Kill came in at Minnesota, he pretty much dropped me," Haughton-James said. "WVU stood by me. Western Kentucky stood by me. Bedenbaugh and [former Mountaineer assistant] Lonnie Galloway were really there for me. I felt no matter who else came in [late] this is my best fit."

Now Haughton-James is trying to fit in with a veteran Mountaineer line. As mentioned, he is practicing as a backup center, but is listed No. 2 on the depth chart at right guard behind Jeff Braun. What he brings to the line is a big body WVU has struggled to find in past years.

"I put on a lot of weight since high school," Haughton-James said. "I'm about 320ish. In high school I was 275. I could move a lot better then, but moving now at right guard feels more natural. At tackle, I had to think about the movements. At guard, I think about the plays and assignments, but the movements are a lot more natural."

He points to his father for his size.

"I think I just got lucky," Haughton-James said. "My dad is 6-1, about 280. We have good genes. My uncle is about 6-4 and another 6-2. It's from my dad's side."

Last year, Haughton-James was redshirted.

"I didn't like it at all," said the lineman. "At all. Looking back on it now, though, it was for the best."

Haughton-James has learned to trust his line coach.

"It helped me a lot, actually, to redshirt," said the player. "It helped me grow mentally and physically. Coach Bedenbaugh expects a lot out of us young guys. I'm just trying to live up to it.

"I think I'll do well here. Coach Bedenbaugh only has my best interest in mind."

Apparently, from the very start.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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