Freshman Henry vying for playing time
MORGANTOWN — With all of the experience West Virginia has nearly across the board — and with an eye toward not wanting to throw youngsters into the fire until they’re really ready, unlike the past two seasons — it would seem that the opportunities for true freshmen to play for the Mountaineers this fall might be limited.
That’s not to say none will, however. One, wide receiver Ricky Rogers, is already on the depth chart. Who knows how quickly the prize of the recruiting class, quarterback William Crest, will develop?
And then there is Dravon Henry.
“There’s a lot of guys that want to be good,’’ defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said Saturday morning. “And then there are guys who work and act like players and do things like real players. And I think right now, after two days, he’s one of those guys.’’
Indeed, if there is a true freshman who seems to have what it takes to step in and play right away, it might be Henry. In addition to the work ethic, he also has the background.
While Crest gets much of the attention because of the position he plays, Henry was actually the highest-rated player in the recruiting class, a four-star prospect by pretty much every scouting service. He was also a Top 150 recruit in the country on two lists and Top 200 on two others.
He chose West Virginia late in the recruiting process over Pitt, although he had offers from a Who’s Who list of Top 25 programs, including WVU opening opponent Alabama. He was a four-year starter at running back and defensive back at Pennsylvania power Aliquippa.
He’s listed as a cornerback on the Mountaineers’ roster, but the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder is working at free safety. And last week at Big 12 media days in Dallas, coach Dana Holgorsen suggested that it might not be that far-fetched to think that Henry could be the starter there.
Daryl Worley, who emerged as WVU’s best cover corner last year as a true freshman, is certainly impressed.
“He’s probably ahead of me,” Worley said, comparing Henry’s progress to that of his own at the same stage. “He’s ahead of where I was last year just based on the 7-on-7 [during summer conditioning]. He’s covering so much ground. Even if a corner does get beat, he’s right over the top. He’s a guy we can instill our trust in that he’s going to be behind us.”
This time of the season, though, a lot of players are full of promise. The team has yet to even hold a padded practice or hit.
“It’s easy in shorts,’’ Gibson said of the impression Henry has made so far. “Let’s see where he’s at when we put it all together. But right now I like where he’s at. I like him from a mental standpoint. Physically, he’s very gifted.’’
And in the secondary, Henry could fill a need. The Mountaineers have plenty of players returning on the back end of the defense, including Worley and Ishmael Banks at corner and Karl Joseph at safety. All three have multiple starts and there are younger players pushing them, as well.
But there is a hole where Darwin Cook started the last two years. He and Joseph traded time at free and strong safety, and when Cook missed the last game, freshman Jeremy Tyler stepped in and started. Joseph is likely to remain at the strong safety, or bandit, and a handful of others will see time at the third safety spot closer to the line, the spur. That’s essentially K.J. Dillon’s spot, but he’s out with a bad ankle right now. Dayron Wilson and Pitt transfer Cullen Christian are playing in that spot for now.
As for Henry, he fits in at free safety right now, fighting with Tyler and Ricky Rumph.
“Up to this point, he’s doing what we’ve asked him to do, he’s learning the defense as we go and he’s gifted athletically,’’ said safeties coach Joe DeForest. “Whether he picks it up mentally and he’s confident enough to execute it in the heat of battle, who knows?
“He’s got all the tools to do it, though.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.