Frankly, the jump from high school to Division I Power Five football is one that is too big for the majority of incoming freshmen. Most need a year of maturing, both physically and mentally, before the confidence is there to put them in the game. But for the chosen few true freshmen who, for one reason or another, find their way onto the field in live game-action, the moment is theirs to either make a name for themselves early on as a playmaker or do something that causes their position coach to yank them back to the bench.
For the traditional powers of the college football world, sometimes only one or two true freshmen don’t need the redshirt year and they find their way contributing in some form or fashion. These players are usually heavily recruited, transcendent talents who then become national household names by their sophomore or junior seasons and then are seen playing on Sundays. For many other teams, especially those who suffer losses due to players leaving early for the NFL Draft, transfers or recruiting lapses, more than just a couple of true freshmen can see playing time. It’s mainly out of necessity.
For the 2019 West Virginia Mountaineers, there are a few position groups that one could say have “open auditions,” given the change in the coaching staff, change in scheme/philosophy and lack of depth or a cemented starter(s). Here are the top-five true freshmen that fans could see make a positive impact this season and then beyond:
1) Winston Wright
It’s almost disrespectful to compare any high school player to the great Tavon Austin, given his highlight reel plays that will go down in Mountaineer lore. But if you watch Wright’s senior season highlights, one can’t help but think “man, he reminds me of Tavon.” He’s got the moves, especially on special teams as a returner, where fans probably will see him make his first big play in a WVU uniform. He was an All-State track champion in the 100 and 200-meters in Georgia, so he has the speed and it definitely shows up on film. He’s the fastest man on the field. He’s slippery, and at 5’11” and only 166 pounds, he’s an Austin prototype that can be used both as a running back and a receiver.
With a crowded wide receiving core in which the dust will probably still be settling through the first month or so of the season, Wright may only see sparing opportunities. Once he does, the sky is the limit for his collegiate career, especially once he bulks up.
2) Tykee Smith
One of just two four star pledges West Virginia received in the class of 2019, Smith very well could be the first true freshman to see the field because of the defense’s need at the safety position. The first quality that sticks out about Smith is he’s a big hitter. Often times, because of his speed and raw strength, he was moved up into the box like an outside linebacker to crush the ball carrier. His closeout speed to the ball is Division I, Power Five worthy. Smith also was a pretty talented running back with speed to burn, so if he does get his hands on an interception, he would have the ability for a sizable return. Overall, he’s a great athlete with more than enough ability to be molded into any one of the three safety positions, but he will probably end up at the spear. Going up against the best the Big 12 has at receiver will be a challenge early on because he really didn’t have to use much technique or always be in the right position at the high school level.
3) Parker Moorer or Brandon Yates
In general, a team that is going to play in at least 12 games is going to have to have rotational players on the lines. That is all that both Moorer and/or Yates can hope for in 2019 is getting snaps in low-leverage situations, spelling one of the starters. Offensive line coach Matt Moore has not been very pleased, especially during the spring, with the second and third groups, so there is room for one or both of these guys to make an impression in practice and possibly climb their way up the totem pole. Unfortunately, outside of possibly James Madison, Kansas and/or Kansas State, there isn’t a game on the schedule that will be so one-sided that either or both guys could get in because of a blow out. If either because of injury or inconsistent play from any older players, fans may see Moorer and/or Yates in there shielding the quarterback. But, they very well could be headed for redshirts.
4) Kerry Martin Jr.
Like Smith, Martin Jr. may see the field the quickest because of the Mountaineers’ lack of depth in the secondary. Though listed just two inches and nine pounds bigger than Smith, Martin Jr. has a much different frame, long and lanky, similar to former Mountaineer cornerback Rasul Douglas. Martin Jr. did absolutely everything for Capital High School in Charleston, playing quarterback and defensive back, but also running and receiving the ball, while making an impact on special teams. It’s hard to pass up on those types of players, especially one that’s from the Mountain State. There’s a lot to like with Martin Jr., especially his ability to read the quarterback’s eyes and close out on the ball. He’s going to be a project for defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae to build Martin Jr. into the same kind of player that he was in the Old Gold and Blue. When he fills out, he’ll remind fans of Robert Sands.
5) Nicktroy Fortune or Tae Mayo
It seems as if the coaching staff is pleased enough with the progression of Dreshun Miller to plug him in as a game one starter at corner, with Keith Washington manning the other side of the field and redshirt senior Hakeem Bailey being the first guy in. Behind them is totally up for grabs between Fortune, Mayo and others who have seen little playing time. Fortune has the size advantage over Mayo, but Mayo was a guy Brown’s staff was able to get late in the recruiting cycle, so the staff sees potential there. Like Moorer and Yates, though, Fortune and Mayo will have to work their way up the totem pole while vying for an opportunity either in a low-leverage situation or because of injuries.
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