In training camp this summer, redshirt sophomore receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton was a player West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown had pegged as a potential breakout candidate.
“[Ford-Wheaton] has got talent. He’s got the size and the speed and he’s just got to put it together,” Brown said near the end of camp in August. “I knew he was going to be a really good player here, I just didn’t know exactly when it was going to happen.”
Through the team’s first two games, however, Ford-Wheaton has not been connecting on the big chances he has been presented with. In the season-opener against Eastern Kentucky, he let a deep ball fall through his arms. Last week at Oklahoma State, he failed to catch a ball near the goal line, albeit while being interfered with, and could not get a foot down after making a catch at the side of the end zone.
“It’s a game of inches,” Brown explained after the game Saturday. “[Quarterback Jarret Doege] throws a great ball to Bryce in the end zone, he toe taps and probably misses it by that much. Bryce wins big on a post, gets [pass interference] and it hits kind of off his helmet because the guy grabs him.”
Through two games, Ford-Wheaton is third on the team with five receptions and fourth on the team with 80 receiving yards. He also scored a touchdown against Eastern Kentucky. WVU offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said it is less about the results Ford-Wheaton has been getting and more about the process of getting there.
“He’s playing at a really high level,” Parker said Tuesday. “He’s really put himself in a position to clear man coverage and become highly invested in getting better. Now instead of being totally honed in on just results, which can be an emotional rollercoaster, he’s now just involved in getting better.”
Brown said it was more encouraging that Ford-Wheaton was getting these chances in the first place than frustrating that they are not connecting yet, especially given his age and relative inexperience.
“He was open a bunch [Saturday], we didn’t always connect but he was open a bunch,” Brown said. “He had a couple of balls hit off his hands, he’ll make those plays. He’s still coming but I’m pleased with him and excited about what he’s going to do in the future.”
In 11 games as a redshirt-freshman in 2019, Ford-Wheaton made 12 receptions for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Parker added that the strides Ford-Wheaton has made to improve since last season have not yet been seen by the public because none of those big plays have connected yet.
“I think you’re going to see him continue to ascend,” Parker said. “And with that, he’ll make more and more plays down the field that are really going to help us become more explosive.”
Ford-Wheaton’s next opportunity to make splash plays will come when West Virginia hosts Baylor at Milan Puskar Stadium this weekend. The Mountaineers and Bears will kick off at noon on Saturday from Morgantown with the game broadcast on ABC.