It's one of the most exciting, and potentially backbreaking, plays in football. A team receiving a kickoff after an opponent's score gathers in the boot and sails down the field to immediately answer by putting points on the board. Or a defense, fired up after a stop, gets an even bigger lift as the punt return team paves the way for a sixty yard runback for a score.
West Virginia has had its share of gamebreaking kick returners over the past twenty years, and its possible that the Mountaineers might have more of the same in store this year.
Although special teams were by no means finalized coming out of spring drills, a number of potential return candidates got some reps running back both kickoffs and punts during April.
On kickoff returns, Travis Garvin, Jason Colson, Brian King, Bryan Wright, Adam Jones and Cassel Smith all got some chances, and among that group there should be at least two players who have the ability to make a move, shake a defender and make a big play.
Colson, with his running back mentality and big frame, and Garvin, who displayed his running ability on reverses last year, are two players who bear close scrutiny this fall. At the other end of the spectrum, Wright, who can be difficult to find in the maelstrom of a return, also has the speed and moves to be a factor. And of course, the highly anticipated fall eligibility of junior college transfer Kay Jay Harris, who recorded some eye popping returns of his own in college, could provide another weapon for the return team.
The punt return side is a contrast between stability and potential. Veteran cornerback and return man Lance Frazier catches the ball better than any other Mountaineer return candidate, but he lacks the speed and moves to be a dangerous return threat. Of course, there's much to be said for simply catching punts and giving the ball over to the offense!
The coaching staff also looked at other players in hopes of generating some punch in the punt return game. Again, wide receiver Travis Garvin was one candidate that stood out, and although the competition isn't closed by an stretch of the imagination, it appears that those two players have the inside track in the battle for the first team position.
Again, it should be reiterated that the return teams, especially the returners, are not set yet. There simply isn't enough time in the spring to nail down the special team depth charts, so the identity of the first team kick returners is still up in the air. Additionally, the coaching staff will want to give a look to some of the incoming freshmen to see if they can provide immediate help on special teams. One such candidate would be Perry Academy's Vaughn Rivers, who returned three kicks for scores last year.
However, with the talent on display during the brief special teams sessions during the spring, there is cause to believe that the Mountaineer return game may be able to create some excitement of their own this fall.
Up next: Will the defensive staff be able to come together quickly enough?