MORGANTOWN, W.Va – Some might be surprised by the emergence of CJ Donaldson, but don’t count West Virginia head coach Neal Brown among those caught off guard. Brown detailed his thought process when recruiting the WVU running back who never played running back at all before this season after a game that saw him break an 82-yard touchdown.
Brown said he wasn’t exactly sure what position he would get the most out of Donaldson, but knew he was “a true football player” that he needed to have on his roster. It wasn’t IF he would be able to utilize Donaldson, but how for Brown and the WVU coaching staff. The 4th year head coach of the Mountaineers even explained that he talked with running back’s coach Chad Scott about giving Donaldson work with the other backs right before football camp over the summer. The thought process that they would be able to then determine if he could handle being an actual running back or would be best used some other way, most likely on special teams or extra packages.
It didn’t take long for Brown and Scott to realize, not only did Donaldson have the capabilities of being a running back, or half back as they put it, but that he could excel at the task. And that’s been evident through three game so far on the season. Add a 44-yard run and 125 yards against Pitt, 48 yards on 13 carries in the loss to Kansas and then the monster run as part of his second 100-yard (101 yards to be exact) performance in the win over Towson and you have a guy who is putting up numbers comparable to a feature back. “He’s a tough tackle,” Brown said about what he noticed during camp that made him confident Donaldson would be a problem for opposing defenses.
Now Donaldson is not WVU’s feature back, at least not yet. Brown did make it clear the reason why he hasn’t received even more touches is he isn’t in shape to be able to deal with more carriers. It is said every tackle is like a car crash for running back in football. Donaldson even said he knows he has to get in better shape and teammates like senior receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton are helping to guide him through that process. The Mountaineers actual RB1 Mathis expressed how Donaldson’s ability and success to this point makes has made his job much easier too. Mathis took over the feature position after being behind Leddie Brown who graduated from the program after last season.
While some may not have expected this from Donaldson, and that extends to the entire country since he was not heavily recruited early on in the post-high school process, it’s now all about taking his game to the next level each week. A CJ Donaldson who keeps getting better is going to be a scary thing for defenders.