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Finding a Home Among the Hills: WVU Football’s Brian Polendey

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WVU’s transfer tight end Brian Polendey almost never played football.

The 6’4″, 252-pound offensive threat was pushed onto the pitcher’s mound by his mother and his love for baseball grew organically. His family moved around frequently with his father’s range of jobs, and Polendey found comfort and companionship through sports. Despite the variety of teams and teammates he experienced, Polendey’s identity was irrevocably tied to athletics from youth.

Polendey was born in Eugene, Or., but his family moved to the Seattle area during his secondary school days. The southpaw’s sport involvement was cultivated under the guise of a baseball-centric lifestyle.

“Growing up, my dad actually, he wouldn’t let me play football,” Polendey said. “He always raised me to be a pitcher. I’m left-handed, so he said okay. I was going to be tall and strong. He said, ‘Let’s get him pitching,’ so I played baseball all the way until high school.”

Entering high school in Seattle, Polendey’s allegiances were shifting. He still enjoyed baseball, but rumblings of another move for the family shook up his priorities… and opportunities.

The Polendeys moved to Denton, Tx. when Brian was halfway through his freshman year in high school. He was forced to begin again. Friendships needed rebuilt. His identity as an athlete was changing and a newfound love was stirring. Denton, a suburb of Dallas, placed Polendey in the heart of Texas high school football. John H. Guyer High School, home to 2,626 students and a football team coming off an 11-1 season, turned out to be the perfect move. Polendey had cut his football teeth on a season in Washington, and was excited to make the move and expand his football acumen and his friendships.

“My mom was the one, when we moved again to the Seattle area, she was like, ‘Let’s get him into football and see how he does, so he can make some friends.'” Polendey said.

“I’ve never been the kind of guy to have 100 friends. I’ve always had a couple good friends, so football has definitely given me a lot of good friends. My mom, she can kind of tell I needed to get out some energy.

“I started playing football. I really liked it, and then, believe it or not, I was like, ‘Okay. I’m done with baseball. I just want to play football.’ My dad was like, ‘You have the frame for a tight end. Do you want to play that?’ I just kind of got to working on that and ever since then, I’ve just put my head down and my goal has always been to be the best tight end I can be and play football as long as I can play it.”

He would blossom in the locker room of the C. H. Collins Athletic Complex, where he completed the final three seasons of high school football. When he graduated in 2017, Polendey had amassed a three-star rating from ESPN and been named the No. 11 (ESPN), No. 20 (247Sports), and No. 27 (Rivals) tight end in the country. Coming out of Guyer, he was wielding offers from Arkansas, Colorado, Duke, Houston, Illinois, Iowa State, Michigan, Nebraska, UTSA, and his commitment, the University of Miami.

When he arrived in Miami Gardens in 2017 for his true freshman season, the sport of football had officially facilitated coast to coast movement. Moving across the country, again, wasn’t the most difficult adjustment though. He enrolled early at the university, and was met with a stark contrast in play. The offensive schemes under Miami head coach Jon Richt, offensive coordintor Thomas Brown, and tight ends coach Todd Hartley, who recruited him, were a far-cry from what Polendey had been used to.

“I played my varsity football at Guyer High School in Texas, and we were more of a play-action, run-heavy offense, so that’s where I got most of my bulk, from blocking,” Polendey said. “My catches would be off the play-action. When I got to college, it was more drop-back game, quick game, and that’s a part of my game that really had to develop.”

2017, Polendey saw action in six games, but his influence was dramatically limited to special teams and practice squad work. When he returned for his sophomore season, Polendey had put in the work for a season, and was ready to make a move up the depth chart. Then, injury struck. During the second game of the season, a 77-0 win over Savannah State, Polendey fell to the turf with a season-ending right knee injury. It set him back the rest of 2018 and caused him to utilize his redshirt option after one 14-yard catch. He recorded no statistics in 2019, though he saw snaps in six games. Feeling relegated to a perpetual back-up player, Polendey entered the transfer portal. The staff at Colorado State University snatched him up, and Polendey was back aboard his grand trek of the United States.

He found success in Fort Collins in 2020. He started all four games of the abbreviated COVID-19 season, but the team finished 1-3 and Polendey didn’t register any stats. His redshirt senior season, in 2021, the team finished with a similar win percentage, at 3-9, but Polendey nabbed his first and second collegiate tackles in games against Wyoming and Nevada. Still not satisfied, he took to the transfer portal with one final season of eligibility. West Virginia’s former tight ends coach Travis Trickett watched his film and picked him up; Polendey was on the road again, headed to his third college in six years.

“My childhood prepared me for all the moves I’ve had to make,” Polendey said. “My family’s been very supportive, honestly, so it hasn’t been that bad. Growing up, my dad, he would change jobs a lot trying to better my family’s position. Moving is nothing new to me, and I actually kind of enjoy it because I go to new places and I meet new people. It’s what brought me here, and I’m just happy to be here.”

“A lot of credit goes to Travis Trickett,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “We wanted to get a tight end in the portal. Our objective was that we wanted to find a blocker, that was a blocker first and foremost. Somebody that had done it. We wanted somebody that had played and had experience. [Polendey] played a lot at Colorado State, played a little at Miami, but he played a lot at Colorado State… The thing that stuck out on Brian’s film is he played with his hand down and in that hip position and was really physical at the point of attack. He’s been what we thought he would be. A very positive contributor. He’s going to help us in the run game without a doubt.”

“[At West Virginia], I saw the opportunity to become more of a complete player, and I think that’s what I was looking for,” Polendey said of the program’s offerings. “I wanted more of a balanced player to prove that I could be ready to do anything, and I saw that on [WVU’s] film and that’s what made me want to come here.”

In addition to the level of play and the opportunity to play immediately, courtesy of an injured Mike O’Laughlin and an inexperienced depth chart, what attracted him was a myriad of off-the-field factors.

“I’d say the biggest thing is all of the recovery technology that we have here,” Polendey said. “I’ve been at places where we have cold tubs and all that good stuff, but here, Coach Mike [Joseph] in the weight room, it’s a whole new emphasis on getting your body right and ready to play every day instead of having to fight through fatigue and always having something hurting, it’s more geared toward getting your body right every day so you can perform to the best of your ability.

“When you’re training in the off-season, when you’re waking up at 5 a.m. every day, when you’re lifting, when you’re running, all that stuff, it’s not fun, but what is fun is going out there with your brothers on Saturdays at a stadium like this, and just putting it all on the line. That’s what it is for me, is just putting it all out on the line for everyone to see and then doing it with the guy next to you. After you go through everything together, it’s a pretty beautiful thing when you come out on top.”

Polendey’s short time in Morgantown has already made an impression on Brown. In the new-and-improved Graham Harrell offense, Polendey should expect to see the field quite a bit, but it goes beyond tackles and receptions. His consistency and will to work are rubbing off on the entire tight ends room.

“He’s been an extremely hard worker,” Brown said. “He plays with really good technique and that’s spreading to two young tight ends [Treylan Davis and Victor Wikstrom] getting reps, and you can kind of see them coming. He’s done a great job setting the standard in that room for how to practice.

“He’s been impressive. I love his approach. He’s a great teammate. Guys love him. He’s the same every day; he’s consistent, which I think is a great compliment. Extremely physical. He has great self-awareness. He knows who he is and he’s not trying to be somebody he’s not. He knows he has to be an overachiever. He knows what his role is on the football team.”

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