MORGANTOWN - West Virginia's football team won't be going into spring practice without a quarterback after all. But the two who stand to see the most work may be true freshmen.
With starter Geno Smith scheduled for foot surgery this month and both freshman backups, Barry Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson, having transferred, the Mountaineers faced the prospect of going into spring practice with no healthy quarterbacks to learn and run new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's offense.
But 2011 recruit Brian Athey has enrolled for classes and an invited walk-on from Texas, Paul Millard, is now attempting to do the same.
Athey is a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder from Eden Prairie, Minn., who committed to the Mountaineers in July. He had not planned to enroll early until Johnson and Brunetti decided to leave. WVU's coaches convinced him to finish his graduation requirements at Eden Prairie and he is enrolled at WVU and eligible to take part in winter workouts and spring practice.
Millard is a last-minute addition who was being recruited to Stephen F. Austin in Texas. That's where new inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson was the offensive coordinator until joining Holgorsen's new offensive staff.
Millard still needs to work out some things in order to enroll early, but he told Rivals.com this week that he was "getting some things done at my school so that I can get up there Thursday or Friday.''
Without the two newcomers, West Virginia would have been in the position of having to try to rush Smith back into action or relying on Coley White, who spent most of last season as a slot receiver after being moved from quarterback. That's exactly what the team went through last spring when Smith did only skeleton drills after breaking a bone in his foot in January. White got all of the scrimmage reps, but then was switched to receiver in the fall.
There is a chance Smith will be available for limited work this spring, much as was the case last year. But as was the case last spring, he is not expected to be ready for any contact work, which means the arrival of Athey and Millard is important as the team adapts to a new offensive style and system.
Athey is the grandson of former West Virginia quarterbacks coach and current Mountaineer Sports Network analyst Dwight Wallace. He, like Millard, is a pocket passer who should fit into Holgorsen's offensive style.
He did not have big passing numbers this past season, though. Playing in a run-heavy offense on a team that reached the quarterfinals of the state playoffs, he threw the ball less than 100 times for only 719 yards and eight touchdowns, but was not intercepted.
Millard is a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who played at Flower Mound, a 5A high school in Texas. He, unlike Athey, had a chance to throw the football. As a senior he passed for 4,472 yards and 47 touchdowns. In one game against Flower Mound Marcus, Millard threw for 495 yards and five touchdowns.
If Millard is able to enroll, he will walk on at West Virginia during the spring semester with a chance to earn a scholarship later.