For redshirt junior Exree Loe, this season feels different.
“Being an older guy, camp’s not easy, but I’m just used to it,” Loe said. “Things I focus on are just being consistent, always being consistent and making sure I’m always doing the right things. I know my alignment and my assignment. Just playing ball.”
His true freshman season, Loe came to the Mountaineers in 2017 as a cornerback. He had experience playing defensive back and wide receiver in high school in Johnstown, Pa., but the WVU defense, then lead by defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, immediately redshirted and moved him. Dana Holgorsen’s staff quickly readjusted his skillset to safety, but that wasn’t a perfect fit either.
At that point, the opportunity to transfer was available, but Loe made the executive decision to stay in Morgantown, one which has since paid dividends.
“I could have got down on myself those first couple of years when nothing was happening,” he said. “I’m not a quitter. I’m not going to give up just because something isn’t going my way.
“Life isn’t going to treat you fair, so you just have to keep your head down and keep working and once you get to that point, you still have to work because there’s always room for improvement.”
When 2018 came, Loe was moved to linebacker in an attempt to add much-needed depth.
Of his conversation with Gibson to switch positions, Loe recounted that, “It was just that he said, ‘I think your way on the field is becoming a backer.’ Just me being a young guy, I just wanted to get on the field and find the experience and find out what it’s like to play on this level, so that’s what I committed myself to and just went after it.”
Loe said that the transition took around six months. He increased his weight from 200 pounds to between 215 and 218. Still, he wasn’t playing many snaps other than special teams; of the 210 plays he had action on, 160 came from special teams.
“Physicality-wise, it was a big difference, because at corner, you really don’t get that action,” Loe said. “You don’t see linemen and tight ends and stuff coming in the box. You know, linemen are on your feet fast, so it’s a lot different. It was a hard transition at first.”
In 2019, his play began to draw serious attention, but he was still a cemented second-string player. His first start that season came from Josh Chandler-Semedo’s exit ahead of the Oklahoma game; that game, he ended up tallying five tackles and one for loss. He eventually had time in 12 games, three of which he started.
His 2020 season statistics were rewarded with a WVU Special Teams MVP award, given by the WVU coaching staff. He finished the season with 46 tackles, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup. Inconsistency stood in his way, though. Backing Chandler-Semedo weighed on his mind, and that mental hierarchy began to negatively impact his production in practice.
“I think my big thing last year was that I was a very inconsistent player,” he said. “I’ll have good days at practice. Some days, I’ll have bad days. My focus this year is, all week, on my best and performing at my best.”
Going into 2021, Loe made yet another position alteration. With Chandler-Semedo’s move to MIKE, the opportunity Loe had been waiting for since age 18 was finally his for the taking. The starting spot at WILL put him in a versatile position to help the team as a utility backer, of sorts. The musical chairs he had been playing in order to find a home was finally getting the recognition it deserved. Now, he and Chandler-Semedo are the two linebackers with the most time in a Mountaineer jersey, and that coupling is a force to be reckoned with.
“I think this is his time,” head coach Neal Brown said of Loe’s recent fall camp performance. “He battled a foot injury all year last year. He’s been one of the best special teams players now going on three years. We know he’s going to be a contributor on special teams. He’s going to be a great, not a good, special teams player, but I think it’s time for him.”
As a leader on and off the field, he’s the personification of the team’s motto, “Trust the Climb.” Loe’s versatility and his combination of patience and appreciation for the process are expected to be recognized and utilized to their fullest extent this season.