A team full of Cody Clays might not produce big numbers on a stat sheet, but it certainly would be among the top squads in terms of finishing assignments and getting the job done, not to mention morale. The Charleston, W. Va., native was instrumental in the Mountaineer offense during his four-year career, even though he shows just 20 catches for 175 yards and three touchdowns from 2012-15. A solid blocker who lined up just about anywhere on the field, Clay helped pave the way for many rushing yards, contributed to pass protection and even manned a spot on the wing of WVU's placekicking team. He was reliable as a Swiss watch, along the way earning notice from head coach Dana Holgorsen as “the best player on the team”. That might have raised some eyebrows, but given his knowledge and production, his everyday effort and reliability, it shouldn't be hard to see what he meant to WVU. He played in 51 games and started 24 during his Mountaineer career.
Darren Arndt saw action on special teams as well as behind Clay, but his departure, along with Clay's, leaves a gaping hole at the tight end spot, as well as in the leadership category. Like Clay, he was one of those players that don't get daily notice because they don't pile up flashy stats. Without players like these, though, West Virginia would be finishing a lot lower in the Big 12. He backed up Clay at tight end, and was a blocker in some of WVU's jumbo sets.
We're lumping a couple of positions together here, including those set to compete for Clay's positions, as well as backs whose primary job is to block, rather than to run or catch the ball. WVU classifies them as Tight End\Fullback on the roster, and while there can be some crossover, they do comprise two differing roles. We'll start with a look at the tight ends, then examine the backfield guys.
Stone Wolfley, son of former WVU offensive lineman Dale Wolfley, is coming out of his redshirt season with more notoriety than the average player at this spot, with much of that due to fans' familiarity with his father. That's not why he got a scholarship or is in the mix here, though – he has a nice blend of athletic ability which made him a good passing target in high school, and he also has the size and strength to be a rowdy blocker up front.
Michael Ferns, who transferred in from Michigan a year ago and sat out last season to fulfill eligibility requirements, is another player that has intrigued many Mountaineer fans. The older brother of highly-regarded incoming freshman linebacker Brendan Ferns, Michael could blossom from his spot under the radar. He is a redshirt sophomore, but as this is his first season where he can play in games at WVU, he deserves a look in this section. He got a look at linebacker before moving into his current tight end spot, and he has the physical nature and love of contact to excel at this position. The challenge is also a mental one, as solid intellect is needed to master the different positions and formations that are required of the position. While skill position players will get a lot of attention, Ferns and Wolfley will get a long look from new coach Joe Wickline and the rest of the Mountaineer offensive staff.
Trevon Wesco followed a detour through junior college before getting back to his home state school, and he brings some different skill sets to the tight end spot. He was a wide receiver at points during his high school career before growing into a tight-end sized performer, but the hope is that he can be both a blocker and a passer, in something more resembling a traditional tight end, at some point in the future. He won't enroll until after the spring semester, so he will be in catch-up mode when the Mountaineers begin fall practice.
While they aren't newcomers to WVU, both Alex Brooks and Jon Lewis will try their hands at a new position (for the spring at least) so it's fair to look at them along with Wesco. Brooks figures to compete in the backfield, while Lewis would be slotted in with Wesco. These positions, especially the backup spots, have been places where walk-ons have earned snaps in the past, so both Brooks and Lewis should be motivate to produce strong spring performances, as they could lead to playing time in the fall.
HOW IT ALL FITS
Elijah Wellman will be very tough to unseat from the primary fullback role alongside the running backs and QB. He disappointed no one with his play last year, which included 14 carries for 73 yards and a score along with five catches for 16 yards and two touchdowns out of the backfield. That role might be expanded by the slightest bit, but there's no doubt that his ability to provide lead blocks and clean up in pass protection will continue to be his dominant calling card. WVU could be sneaky at some point and line him up as a wingback or tight end in order to catch a defense by surprise, but that won't be an every-game occurrence.
Behind Wellman, there's a big gap. Walk-on Matt Vucelik, another in-state player from McMechen, W. Va., will try to should his way into a backup role, and he'll see competition from Brooks, who moved from linebacker to fullback this spring. One of those two players has the chance to snag this backup role, and while it wouldn't necessarily mean a huge amount of playing time, it will be a pathway onto the field.
The tight end position is very open across the board, with exactly zero snaps of returning experience. Ferns will get a lot of spring work, while Wesco, who won't arrive until fall, will have to scrape off the rust after missing all of last year with an injury. That will help him on the back end of his WVU career, as he still has three years of eligibility remaining, but he will have a lot of ground to make up in order to see the newly-installed turf of Mountaineer Field on Saturdays this fall. He probably has the best pass-catching skills of any of the tight end candidates, and could develop, over time, into a more realistic threat in that phase of the game.
Erstwhile defensive lineman Jon Lewis also is making the move to tight end this spring, and while that is not permanent at this point, he will get every chance to show if he has the ability to handle the change in terminology and the blocking assignments of the position.
Played two seasons for coach Mark Duda at Lackawanna College … missed the 2015 season due to injury … took a medical redshirt last year and thus has three years of eligibility remaining … finished the 2014 season with five receptions for 47 yards … A native of Gerrardstown, W. Va., and was all-state football and basketball player at Musselman High … Scout.com two-star recruit … rated a Junior College All-American by some services … committed to WVU on June 4 … has the size and wingspan coaches want … long arms … was the 10th commit to the class … played wide receiver at the prep level … grew into a tight end at in junior college … appears perfectly sized to step into the role previously held by Cody Clay … still learning to block ... played quarterback in high school, and so has good athleticism … in 2014, West Virginia tried to attract Wesco as a preferred walk-on but because of academics needed to go the junior college route first … has the speed to get by linebackers in space … is the sixth Lackawanna product to sign with WVU since Anthony Wood in 2008 … Wesco said it would have been hard to turn down West Virginia … often referred to it as “home.” … gained a WVU offer in May … also offered by UCF, Buffalo, Akron and Monmouth.
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen on Trevon Wesco – “That guy is huge right now. He is big. He didn’t play this past year, so he is bigger. He is athletic. I think (WVU basketball coach Bob Huggins) Huggs recruited him for a while when he was young. I’m serious. He was a really good, athletic basketball player. He grew into a more of a football player. The more they grow out instead of up, it switches from basketball recruits to football recruits. He had a heck of a freshman year, and unfortunately, he was dealt with a knee injury. He didn’t get to play this year, so he gained some weight. He is about to be cleared now, though.”
WVU recruiting coordinator Ryan Dorchester on Trevon Wesco – “Trevon is a big, athletic guy. Hopefully he’ll be able to give us the blocking element we lose with the graduation of Cody (Clay). From a body standpoint, Trevon should be able to do that. But he’s also a really good athlete. He was a very good basketball player and quarterback in high school, so he can run and do those things. In time, hopefully he can give us a legitimate option in the pass game. He was hurt this past year, so he redshirted. That’s good for us, because he still has three years of eligibility remaining on this level. It’s always good to get another West Virginia kid.”
WVU running back coach JaJuan Seider on Trevon Wesco – “He’s already more naturally athletic than Cody Clay. Played quarterback in high school, and he carries that 270 pounds of weight well. He will trim down coming off that knee surgery. He’ll start running and get his feet under him.”
Previously In The Series: