Just one year ago Colton McKivitz was relatively unknown to most West Virginia fans. As Dana Holgorsen put it, the Union Local product was just a 230-pound, long-haired basketball player when the Mountaineers recruited him out of high school. That assessment faded rather quickly, however, as McKivitz made a name for himself almost immediately in the season opener against Missouri.
On the season's first drive, starting tackle Yodny Cajuste went down with a devastating knee injury and it was McKivitz, a redshirt freshman, who was called on to fill the void. The term "baptism by fire" comes to mind, as the freshman found himself going head-to-head with Missouri defensive end Charles Harris, a name you will most likely hear in the first round of the NFL draft next week.
"It was a big step for me," said McKivitz. "Not playing at all (in his redshirt season) and then coming in and playing a first-rounder definitely speeds up how fast you need to play and it helped me progress."
While blocking a guy like Harris is a tough ask for any tackle, to do it in your first career game is a task of seemingly monumental proportions. McKivitz, however, flourished and even got the better of his counterpart for the majority of the afternoon. It was in that moment when he, the coaching staff and the fan base all realized that the once 230-pound, long-haired basketball player had a pretty bright future along West Virginia's offensive line.
McKivitz parlayed that confidence into a very solid freshman campaign and became a stalwart on Mountaineers' offensive line, beating out the much more experienced Marcell Lazard for a starting job after Adam Pankey returned to West Virginia's line-up. Fast forward six months and now, after a breakout season, McKivitz finds himself putting in some extra elbow grease to try and take the next step in his progression as a Mountaineer.
"It's been tough," admitted the now 300-pound linemen. "In the offseason you just work on getting mentally tougher and now in spring ball I'm working on my technique. (Fall) camp will be a grind because we will practice every day. Last year was really big for me mentally because I knew I could play This year I'm stepping into a leadership role and helping out the younger guys."
As he enters his third year, which is about the time when most linemen truly develop and start to make an impact on the field, he did admit that it's a little odd that he's already being called on for leadership, but he understands that it's part of major college football.
"It's kind of a weird thing to see younger guys in this kind of role already but it's a maturity thing. You have to step into that role because if a guy goes down then you have to step up and be a leader. Having experience, I know what to expect come September."
McKivitz is a part of a line that holds rather high expectations despite losing Tyler Orlosky. After the spring game Dana Holgorsen even said he believes the group will be better come fall. That's a tough ask, but with the emergence of Matt Jones at the center spot, the return of Kyle Bosch and Cajuste and the addition of big-bodied Josh Sills, it's not out of the realm of possibility - especially if the group continues to mesh under the guidance of Joe Wickline, the Mountaineers' newly-promoted offensive line coach.
"We understand the playbook and we understand what (offensive line coach Joe Wickline) wants from us," said McKivitz. "We're going to build in camp and we're going to see (how everything progresses) come September."