Cup Runneth Over

Many college football coaches would like to be in the position that Mountaineer running backs mentor Calvin Magee is sitting in at the moment, but there are still challenges for the coach that oversees one of the deepest positions on the team.

If Magee were playing a hand of Texas Hold ‘Em, he'd be trying not to give away the fact that he's been dealt a pair of pocket aces in the form of an outstanding stable of returning running backs along with an incoming class that appears to be just as, if not more, talented. The sextet of Jason Colson, Pernell Williams, Erick Phillips, Jason Gwaltney, Steve Slaton and Jetavious Best is probably the deepest corps of quality backs in the country, giving Magee the ability to deploy an array of weapons out of the backfield like no other in WVU history.

With all that talent, however, are a few concerns. Can enough playing time be found for six players who all appear to have the ability to stand out in Division I? How will the newcomers mesh with the returnees? Can a true unit, with everyone working together for the same goals, be forged? Can some of the players get snaps at different spots on the field?

Magee's first order of business this fall will be to fold the newcomers into the existing unit, and he's already laid the groundwork for that by getting to know the trio of incoming freshmen during the recruiting process. And, of course, he's also going to have to deal with the hype surrounding the best class of running backs in WVU history.

"I don't think that is going to be a big problem," Magee said of the move from recruiting, where players are wooed, to practice, where they are pushed. "Jason Gwaltney was told, like all our recruits are told, that they are going to be coached hard. He drives off being pushed, and he is used to having coaches get after him, so I don't think it will be a problem. I have thought about how I will coach all the running backs – how Steve Slaton fits in, how Jetavious Best fits in – and I'm going to coach them to get them ready to play.

Magee's affable style works well for him in the recruiting process, where he has to connect with players of widely varying makeups. While traveling to Pennsylvania, Florida or New York during the past recruiting season, Magee used the time to get to know his potential charges. By doing so, he got a better idea of which coaching methods would work the best with each player.

"I have an idea of what their personalities are like [which plays into how I coach them]," Magee said. "That's important to do during recruiting. "That's why I think it's important for the position coaches to get involved as much as possible during the recruiting process- so they can get an idea on what kind of person the recruits might be. I asked the area recruiting coaches [for their impressions about the players], but I want to get to know them personally too. I'll ask them to show me their room, to meet their moms and dads. I'll sit with them for hours and talk with them just to get a feel for them. I've sat in living rooms for hours talking with the family."

Magee also emphasizes teamwork in getting together with the recruiting coach in order to get a true picture of each recruit. In WVU's recruiting scheme, each assistant coach is responsible for one or more areas. Once that coach has identified a prospect, he talks with the position coach that would have that player at WVU. If both coaches approve the player for a scholarship offer, he is then taken to head coach Rich Rodriguez for final approval.

"I work real closely with the other coaches," Magee emphasized. "Whether it was Coach Kirelawich with Steve or Coach Hand with Jetavious and Jason, we spent a lot of time with them and their families getting to know them."

Magee also got some time on the field with two-thirds of the incoming class, as both Best and Gwaltney participated in WVU's football camps last summer before their senior seasons. While Magee obviously had seen plenty of film on all of his potential recruits, seeing them in person, and being around them in a football atmosphere, gave him even more insight into what makes each player tick.

As far as adding the newcomers into the veteran cast already on hand, the former All-American tight end doesn't foresee many problems. The fact that the freshmen, especially Gwaltney, are bound to receive much more media coverage than the returnees could be a source of friction, but Magee notes that while Colson, Williams and Phillips have all been working hard and are determined to hold onto their playing time, they are also team-oriented players who will welcome the additional competition.

Faced with the abundance of riches, Magee and the Mountaineer offensive coaching staff have been devising ways to get the backs onto the field in different ways. Up next: some of the plans for the running backs in the 2005 offense.

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