WVU looking for stars to emerge in spring ball
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Back in late January, an editor for one of the preseason college football magazines emailed me and asked for a few candidates for the cover of the 2014 WVU edition.
I was stumped. I asked if he'd ever featured a punter with the nickname of "Boomstache."
Kidding aside, I then told him he might take a flier on transfer running back Rushel Shell, although it probably wouldn't, well, fly if the only picture available is one of him in a Pitt uniform.
After that? The Mountaineers have an offensive guard in Quinton Spain. That would certainly take care of the entire cover.
Otherwise, there's Mario Alford, Karl Joseph, Kevin White and ... and ...
The point is, WVU desperately needs stars. Now. As spring practice begins this Sunday, the search is on.
When the entire freshman class hits Morgantown, there will be obvious prospects of interest. Cornerback Dravon Henry of Aliquippa, Pa., was a four-star recruit who helped buoy the Mountaineer rankings through much of the last year. Running back Donte Thomas-Williams of Durham, N.C., was a four-star recruit who was a pleasant surprise for coach Dana Holgorsen on signing day. Both, along with quarterback and fellow four-star player William Crest, will certainly get looks in fall camp.
But, during the recent media day, the names of a few other potential standouts surfaced when talking to Mountaineer coaches.
One thumbnail report, that of junior college quarterback transfer Skyler Howard, was reported in this space on Saturday. Holgorsen said Howard is inquisitive, works out diligently and players "gravitate toward him."
"He's a breath of fresh air," said the head coach.
Howard is one of six signees already in Morgantown and set for spring drills.
Another is linebacker Edward Muldrow. (He was listed as Edward Muldrow III, but word came down he'd like to simply be called Edward Muldrow. Knowing football camps as I do, it'll be no time before he's "Eddie" or just "E.")
New defensive coordinator Tony Gibson (aka Gibby - see?) spoke highly of Muldrow.
"I haven't seen him in football mode, but I have seen him in workout mode," Gibson said. "He has a big motor. And he's a long kid. Him and [Brandon] Golson look like twins. He's an athletic, competitive kid who can run."
If Muldrow plays like Golson, it would be a plus for the Mountaineers. After transferring in from junior college, Golson had 41 tackles, four sacks, seven total tackles for loss and led the team with five forced fumbles.
Another name that popped up during interviews was that of Keishawn Richardson, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound cornerback in from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Mountaineer assistant coach Brian Mitchell seemed quite taken with the back, which is somewhat surprising considering Rivals.com only ranked Richardson as a two-star prospect.
"Good football IQ," Mitchell said of the DB. "It's very rare you have a young man come into your off-season program and not miss reps. He hasn't missed any reps from a conditioning standpoint and that's, like, 'Wow.'
"Usually guys are going to be a little bit behind, but he hasn't missed a beat. You see him out there and his change of direction is excellent. We need to get him caught up schematically, yet the format we have will allow him to do that in the spring and summer. He'll get the terminology and verbiage.
"I see a young man who will compete and battle you at every opportunity."
There are names you'll get to know, like redshirt freshman tackle Marcell Lazard, who, at 6-6, 293, will get a shot to play offensive tackle. ("He's got some athleticism," said Mountaineer line coach Ron Crook. "He has some punch at times - but nowhere near the consistency we're looking for.") There is former five-star wideout prospect Shelton Gibson, who took a redshirt season. ("We're waiting," said receivers coach Lonnie Galloway.)
And then there is that transfer from Pitt. He has much to prove, but apparently much talent. Remember, he was one of the most highly sought players in the country before signing with Pitt. Nationally, he was ranked No. 4 among all backs by Scout.com. As a true freshman at Pitt, Shell ran for 641 yards and four touchdowns and caught nine passes for 103 yards. He then quit, looked at UCLA, among others, reportedly talked to Pitt coaches about returning, then, after Panther coaches reportedly shot the idea down, decided on WVU.
So far, though, so good in Morgantown - at least in the eyes of JaJuan Seider, WVU's running backs coach.
"Rushel Shell is a guy who doesn't know a lot yet on the field, but I enjoy being around him," Seider said of the 6-0, 215-pound sophomore. "If I text or call, he's the first one to text or call back. I think football is important to him. And I think he has some dog in him. I think he has some nastiness you like in a good way. He's not going to be afraid.
"He's one you can count on, on third-and-1, fourth-and-1, to get that hard yard for you. And the stuff I've seen from him - that jump cut for instance - is stuff that's natural for him, a big kid. He might have the most natural feet in and out of all [WVU's backs]. And he's one of the bigger guys. I'm excited to work with him."
And maybe, just maybe, he'll be the man on next season's covers.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.