Although the official college football season is still a full six months away, spring football is under way. The Miami Hurricanes are already in pads and schools in warmer climates are now following suit. This is the time of year when coaches push extra buttons to find those that can carry the load mentally and physically.
Locally speaking, here is a glimpse at what coaches will be looking for in College Park, Morgantown and Happy Valley. Also, a quick look at some of the impact recruits for next season is in order.
The dilemma in College Park resides in the fact that only eight starters return from last season, an extremely low number by any standard. Back-up QB Josh Portis has decided to transfer. Ergo, two-year starter Chris Turner should not be looking over his shoulder, the first time this has occurred for a QB during spring practice in over six seasons. The ball carriers are all back including Da’Rel Scott, the ACC’s No. 2 rusher statistically. What has to be the biggest question mark for coaches this spring will be the line of scrimmage. The blockers and tacklers up front are all newcomers in regards to fulltime duty as guard Phil Costa is the only returning starter on either side of the ball. Alex Wujciak bolsters the LB unit but the front seven has to locate some other playmakers. This spring may be the most crucial in Coach Friedgen’s eight-year tenure from a reloading standpoint.
With the line of scrimmage being a huge position of need, DE DeOnte Arnett out of Forestville H.S. (MD) should help immediately. Any school would be hard-pressed to find a defensive end that is better against the run. OG Peter White from St. John’s H.S. was the No. 1 rated player at any position coming out of the Washington, DC area. The 6’5, 340 lb. blocker has a 3.0 GPA and fills a huge need in terms of a road-grader (opens holes). C.J. Brown (Cranberry Township, PA) fits the prototypical Friedgen role for a QB. While carrying a 3.9 GPA he led the WPIAL in passing yards his senior season. One of his biggest attributes is his mobility and quickness. Brown also doubles as a basketball star.
The eyes of the nation will be watching Morgantown this spring to see how WVU operates without the longtime services of QB Pat White. His incumbent is athletic senior Jarrett Brown. His feet are not as swift but his throwing arm likely offers more than his predecessor. He has spent time on the Mountaineers basketball squad and has found playing time while filling in for an injured White. How offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen decides to utilize Brown will go a long way in defining the WVU post-Rodriguez offensive identity. The chief replacement project is up front where the offensive line will adorn five new starters. The concerns on the defensive side appear to be much more settled than they were a year ago where coaches had to completely rebuild the secondary. With full-time contributors like All-Big East performer Scooter Berry at DE and LB J.T. Thomas back in the fold, the defense should be ahead of schedule this spring with eight starters returning.
RB Tavon Austin from Dunbar H.S. (Baltimore) owns practically every high school rushing record in the state. Coaches have already labeled him as the most exciting player signed since Noel Devine, the guy he will compete for carries with this coming fall. Another “sure-fire” bet for immediate playing time is JUCO transfer Tevita Finaue at DE. The Hawaiian native starred at Phoenix College the past two years and was also recruited by USC. The future of the program appears promising with the signing of dual-threat QB Eugene Smith out of Miramar, FL. The Florida Class 6A Player of the Year finished his career as the third-best passer in Broward County history.
Offensively, QB Daryll Clark and TB Evan Royster return to make the running game command respect. In fact Clark and Royster are sure to be included on many preseason Heisman watch lists. The senior laden offensive line responsible for making Penn State one of the best rushing attacks needs retooled. On top of that, the complete array of receivers moves on. Defensively, the pass rush took a major hit when both DEs Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans declared early for the NFL Draft. The secondary also needs four new starters. All this does not necessarily mean a dreaded rebuilding season. Navorro Bowman continues the tradition of Linebacker U., while hopes are that last season’s potential Butkus Award winner Sean Lee can return from his (pre) season ending knee injury. Unfortunately but realistically, the expectations are probably somewhat higher than a year ago, despite the fact there will not be as many veterans on the upcoming team.
Big 6’7 Eric Shrive (Scranton, PA) will get an opportunity to find immediate playing time while trying to fill an offensive tackle spot. Shrive is a two-time First Team All-State selection. QB Kevin Newsome out of Hargrave Academy (VA) is the face of this recruiting class. With Daryll Clark being the only scholarship QB on the roster, the need to locate another was a monster priority and JoPa managed to steal this top rated hurler who originally committed to Michigan. PSU also snagged two of the top cornerbacks out of the state of Maryland in Darrell Givens (Lackey H.S.) and Derrick Thomas (Eleanor Roosevelt H.S.)
SPRING GAME DATES
West Virginia – April 18
Maryland – April 25
Penn State – April 25