As the calendar turns to March and off-season workouts kick into full swing, West Virginia's coaching staff starts to look over each player with a keen eye, trying to spot who could be a contributor for this team next season.
After hauling in a recruiting class that contained three new options in the backfield, running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider almost immediately began the evaluation process, looking to find a replacement for Big 12 rushing champion Wendell Smallwood.
The common sense choice is redshirt senior Rushel Shell, who split time with Smallwood last season, compiling 708 yards on 161 carries and finding the end zone eight times. Seider said Shell has re-dedicated himself this off-season after seeing firsthand evidence of what hard work can do.
“We haven’t done anything out of the ordinary for us as far as lifting, and the little bit of time we get to meet, but you guys will be surprised when you see Rushel," Seider said. "His body has changed. I think the light went off for him, seeing a guy he played with (Smallwood) that took the spotlight last year and how hard he worked in the off-season to have the success he’s having now."
According to Seider, Shell is more motivated now than ever, and said he realizes that this is his final chance to make a major impact on the college level.
“He is working. He is dedicating himself. I think he has a lot more focus in his life now," Seider said. "He doesn’t have any outside distractions to worry about with family or life, whatever it may be. He is focused. I told him, ‘this is it, and you have a lot of things you can improve on. You showed that you can be a good player. You haven’t rushed for 1,000 yards yet. You have a lot of goals that you can accomplish. There is no reason that this time next year that we shouldn’t be talking about you in the same breath that we talk about Wendell."
While Shell will never be the type of running back Smallwood was in terms of what they do well, West Virginia may have found a player that fits that type of mold in its most recent recruiting class.
Kennedy McKoy, a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder from North Davidson High School in Lexington, North Carolina, has garnered plenty of hype for his speed and change-of-direction ability - both of which took Smallwood’s game to the next level.
McKoy is one of nine early enrollees in this year’s class, so the coaching staff has been able to get an early look at what he can bring to the table. So far, Seider is liking what he has seen, and he thinks you will, too.
“I think that the Mountaineer Nation is going to be really happy with that kid. His talents are undeniable," Seider said. "We do a couple of bag drills here and there. He has no wasted motion. When his feet hit the ground, he is already coming back out. He is a bigger version, you know I hate comparing guys, but he reminds me so much of Wendell and Charles (Sims). He has that same type of body structure that he can be an outside guy, he can be a backfield guy, and he’s smart.
“It’s refreshing to coach a kid that has a 4.0. He doesn’t even need to write things down sometimes, because he remembers everything that we tell him. He’s eager, and it’s going to be fun coaching him for the next few years.”