It's no secret that West Virginia's defense lost a lot with the graduation of Noble Nwachukwu, Christian Brown and Darrien Howard. The three seniors had a bevy of experience and made a number of plays for the Mountaineers, but the thing West Virginia's roster will miss the most is the leadership that the defensive line brought to the DAWGS in 2016.
This spring, as Bruce Tall tries to rebuild a depleted unit, he is finding some of those same leadership qualities among a pair of West Virginia products - true sophomore Reese Donahue, who played at Cabell Midland, and redshirt junior Jon Lewis, who played down the road at University High School.
"It's quite early but there's no question Jon Lewis has been around for quite a few years and he's as hard a working young man as there is," explained Tall. "He's got great leadership as far as that's concerned. He's been around those guys and he knows what it takes. He's prepared himself physically. You have a young player like Reese Donahue who got a lot of snaps as a true freshman and he's a really focused and serious young man. They're doing the things you want to see."
Donahue, specifically, is a player who has drawn high expectations after breaking out in the spring of 2016 and earning a number of meaningful snaps in his true freshman season.
"I think now he's understanding the speed from being around it more," said Tall. "He's already a very powerful young man and he understands that if he wants to be a dominating player then he needs to improve on that. He's as focused as you can get. His (weight room) numbers are off the charts for a young kid. He's one of those guys that is a warrior in the weight room and he's giving you all he's got and he's only going to get better."
Donahue, who played in 12 of West Virginia's 13 games a season ago, is now one of the Mountaineers most experienced defensive linemen. When asked how he was able to get on the field and play in the trenches against grown men, he credited West Virginia's early enrollee process.
"Early enrollment really helped. I think it's a really good thing to do and I think that it's a really good process. It really gets you tuned into what's going on and it's a little bit better for the transition process. The coaches do a great job of getting us ready. Early enrolling is the best thing that happened. (The coaches) knew exactly what they were doing."
Donahue also cited the example that the three seniors on West Virginia's line set in 2016.
"Every day those guys came in the weight room and came on the field and gave it their all. They taught us how to work and to become those players and what you need to do to get where they're at. It was good to watch them, learn from them and be around them because you gain a lot of experience from them."
Of course, it doesn't hurt matters that Donahue is representing the state he loves while playing a sport he loves. From listening to Donahue speak for just a few minutes, one can easily see how passionate he is about playing football for West Virginia University.
"Going from being a fan watching to being on the field is a dream come true," explained Donahue. "It's more than that. I never dreamed it would be as sweet as it is."