West Virginia Receiver Shelton Gibson Eyes Improvement Path Beyond Cactus Bowl

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- West Virginia wide receiver Shelton Gibson has watched a number of teammates "work their behinds off" during the offseason. With his second year in a Mountaineer uniform almost behind him, he already has a plan for his winter, spring and summer prep -- but is also eyeing a chance for big plays in the Cactus Bowl.

Shelton Gibson's 2015 season was the very definition of a rollercoaster. He started off with a bang, grabbing 12 balls for 329 yards and four scores, then settled into a less explosive, but still productive set of games to open Big 12 play. However, that spiraled downward in the midseason, hitting bottom with a pair of zero-catch games and two others with just one reception each. Sandwiched in between, though was a six-catch, 148-yard game against Iowa State. So which one was the real Gibson? What was different in those games where he streaked past defenders and those where he couldn't get open, or couldn't make a catch?

"I feel like my confidence was so high, and I feel like I didn't lose it," a very introspective Gibson noted. " I just wasn't in the right place [mentally]. You can't just go out there and be great. It takes a lot. You can't expect it right then. It's not going to be easy, and I didn't prepare right.  This offseason I will."

It takes a lot for a player to admit a shortcoming in his own preparation and work, but Gibson was not shy in doing so. Clearly West Virginia's assistant coaches have been in his ear, pointing out things that could be corrected, but some of those aren't quick, one-time adjustments. They are improvements borne over a long offseason of running routes, improving strength and catching pass after pass. Gibson has some role models, and not all at the wide receiver position, that he can emulate. 

"I learned I am going to have to do way more work than I did the last offseason," he said. " Each year, I looked at another person that worked their behind off. I feel like every year I'm here I see a person that just goes hard. My first year here I saw Will Clarke go really hard. And then Charles Sims. Then he left it to Kevin White, then this year Karl Joseph. But I shouldn't be seeing them. I should be doing the same thing. So I have to work harder."

While that work will begin in the very near future, Gibson has one more game this year in which to make his mark. He hopes it will more resemble the Maryland and Iowa State games rather than the tough Texas Tech-TCU swing, and he has a mindset he's working on to make plays against Arizona State when the opportunity arises.

"I have to get it in my mind that where the ball is around me I have to go get it," the Ohio native said. "There are opportunities for big plays. Watching film on the corners, I know that they switch. Both corners are pretty good, but I know that No. 8 (redshirt senior cornerback Lloyd Carrington) is very good. They're fast, and we're going to have to come with speed."

While the Sun Deveil defense may be fast, it hasn't been particularly effective against the pass. It yielded 321 yards per game, worst in the Pac-12 and 126th nationally, and was prone to giving up long gainers. While West Virginia certainly won't abandon its running game, it does figure to take a few shots, as usual, against a defense that will likely load up against the ground game. That tactic was, like Gibson's season, a hit-or-miss proposition for much of 2015, and was a big reason for at least two Mountaineer losses. Hits on just a handful of downfield passes could be the difference for Gibson and his teammates in this game, and give them the springboard they are looking for at the start of the 2016 calendar.

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