Frosh Surprise

J.R. House and Jason Gwaltney were anointed sure starters by some fans -those who have little idea of the jump from high school to college.

Though their high school careers were one thousand miles apart and equally as euphemistically far apart in terms of offensive style, West Virginia's two most spotlighted freshmen echoed each other in the awakening that is college football.

It (college practices) is a lot harder than I expected," Gwaltney said, "more so because we are a no-huddle offense and everything is quicker. Coach Rod preaches that. There are a lot of teams that could not run this offense."

Gwaltney, Scout.com's No. 1-rated prep tailback, is battling Jason Colson and Pernell Williams - two players with sure game experience and ability - for playing time. And though Gwaltney will certainly play, it remains to be seen if the newcomer can simply take over the spot as some fans believe.

House, the nation's prep passing leader in 1998, was penned in as the starter by the Maryland game by one reporter. The 26-year-old freshman dismissed the prediction, and gave insight as to the difference between high school and college.

"Realistically, you have to know that I have not played football for a long time, and now am at a level I have never been before," House said. "I have a long way to go before I will be able to step in there. I mean, I never knew how hard it was to give a handoff.

"There is so much with footwork and play action because it is so important. I never understood holding the backside linebacker or the end or those things. Those are the things that I wished I would have practiced coming in."

And those are things that sophomore Adam Bednarik and redshirt freshman Pat White have already practiced. The intricacies of the offense, as Gwaltney noted, is such that four to five months simply isn't enough to learn all one needs to know.

"A lot of things are common sense," Gwaltney said. "But I will make mistakes. I am a rookie, a freshman. I am having fun and learning, but it will be hard for me. Sometimes when I am running towards the hole I get impatient because in high school we had to get right in the hole and go.

"This is more waiting for something to develop with the great lineman we have. I have a bunch of gaps now and a safety to beat. It's a nice treat. I am making little errors. But I am trying to do what the coaches want me to."

Gwaltney is also trying to trim weight, going from 252 pounds during the winter to a svelte 235 by Syracuse. The north-south runner gained a lot of muscle, but the extra weight was detrimental to his ability to flow in West Virginia's no-huddle spread.

"Being from New York, it was cold up there a lot and it was hard to get outside," Gwaltney said. "I gained a lot of muscle in the weight room, but had to lose some of it. (Strength coach Mike) Barwis will get it down."

House's problem has been an off-season shoulder surgery - the same that sidelined Bednarik for spring drills. And because House's surgery took place three months after Bednarik, there is little reason to assume that House should be even with Bednarik in terms of throwing strength now.

"As a competitor you want to be the guy on the field," House said. "But I am just so happy that I can go through practices with my arm not hurting, and no pain. I know that it's fixed and it will get stronger, it's just a matter of when.

"Hey, anytime you throw into the field away from the boundary - even a hitch is a 30-yard throw - it is tough. It's my sixth practice in seven years, so I have a long way to go."

This is not to say that House and Gwaltney will not see action. Both probably will. But fans need to understand that neither has as much knowledge and experience as those they are competing against.

For fans to yearn for them to start is one thing; to expect it is another. Putting the weight of an entire team's fortunes on a pair of newcomers who have yet to take a snap while also dismissing season vets isn't fair to either.

Let's keep that reality in mind as drills progress


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