'Squirt' just one of several WVU freshmen who will play
MORGANTOWN - Jordan Thompson has made huge strides as far as gaining weight and muscle are concerned since arriving at West Virginia just eight months ago.
O.K., so maybe huge isn't a word to be used when talking about Thompson, who still tops out at just 164 pounds and carries the Stedman Bailey-dubbed nickname of "Squirt.''
"Yeah, but when I got here they told me they thought I could be 175 pounds by the time I left in four years,'' Thompson said Tuesday. "I figure I'm almost there already.''
Indeed, the guy who is perhaps WVU's most-talked-about and ready-to-compete freshman showed up on campus with just 145 pounds on a 5-foot-7 frame. Even by Tavon Austin standards, that's tiny. Austin was signed as a 5-9, 170-pounder out of Baltimore and 31/2 years later is listed at 5-9 and 174.
Save for the extra two inches, they already have pretty much identical frames.
Apparently they already have pretty much identical games, too.
WVU coach Dana Holgorsen was asked this week if, after less than a week of practice, any of the true freshman receivers had shown already that they were ready to play.
"No, except for Squirt,'' Holgorsen said "That guy is something. He'll play obviously as a true freshman.''
Just as was the case with Austin three years ago when he made his debut, there are obvious questions about Thompson's durability. In a game in which even some cornerbacks dwarf him - not to mention the safeties and linebackers he'll face as he crosses the middle as a slot receiver - perhaps the No. 1 thing Thompson has to learn is to survive.
It's not an easy task.
"Just [Monday] I got hit twice pretty good by [linebacker] Jared Barber and [safety] Darwin Cook,'' Thompson said. "My helmet actually popped off [with the Cook hit], but it's all right. You just have to bounce back up.''
"It's just a mentality. You have to have the mentality that you're going to survive. You know there are going to be a lot of people who are stronger and bigger than you. You have to have the mentality of playing bigger than you are. You know you're going to get hit, but you just have to bounce back up.''
Perhaps there's no one better to guide Thompson in the art of survival in a big man's game than Austin. After all, Thompson was attracted to West Virginia by watching Austin play on TV the last two years from his home in Katy, Texas. He saw a guy with the same body type become a full-fledged college star and figured he could emulate that.
That includes one of Austin's survival tactics, which is stepping out of bounds, especially if the extra one or two yards he might gain by challenging a bigger defender aren't that critical. Austin gets criticized for it all the time, but it has helped him get where he is without injury.
"You've got to deal with a lot of people talking about how you're soft and how you run out of bounds,'' Austin said. "But at the end of the day I know I'm a small player. I've been small since I was in Pop Warner. And my cousin Shawn [Waller, a coach in Baltimore who helped develop Austin's game] always told me, 'If you can avoid a hit, do it.' ''
Now he's passing that on to Thompson.
"Tavon's talking about it to me,'' Thompson said. "He says I don't need to take that many shots on the field because it's going to take a toll on your body. I haven't mastered it like he has, but I'm getting there.''
Thompson's coaches look at Thompson's lack of size and pretty much see Austin and treat him the same way. Sure, it's a concern that he might get injured, but there are ways to avoid that.
"The only thing I tell him is to make sure you don't get hit. Don't take a solid shot. That's about it,'' said offensive coordinator and receivers coach Shannon Dawson. "Take Tavon, for instance. I'm not trying to compare ability. I'm just saying that Tavon's not a big guy, either. And this is what I tell Jordan: You never really see Tavon get hit. Jordan's got to be like that.''
It helps, too, that Jordan came to a school that runs a wide-open offense. Not that he had much choice, of course, seeing as his other college options besides West Virginia were pretty much Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston or playing baseball.
But perhaps if he was going to survive it wasn't going to be in one of those other systems.
"A lot of it depends on what offense you play in,'' Dawson said. "If you had Jordan Thompson playing running back in an I formation, he'd probably get hurt the first game. But in our offense, because of the spacing, [defenders] are running around trying to cover grass and they're lucky just to get somebody on the ground with an arm tackle. You very seldom see just a blind-sided shot. It happens, but not that often.
"But I wouldn't advise him to try and run over somebody.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.