Overexposed

Like Terrell Owens and Marcus Vick in the national media, some storylines at West Virginia University receive way too much attention.

As you might have guessed, I'm talking about the frenzied discussion and debate being paid to the struggles of Jason Gwaltney, but before I go any further, let me say that I am in no way comparing WVU's freshman running back to Vick or Owens. I'm simply using them as a point of reference. They are getting way too much attention for their various exploits – and so, in my opinion, is Gwaltney.

The majority of it is not his fault, of course. After being hyped to high heavens by nearly everyone during the recruiting process, he came to West Virginia with more hype than even Jonathan Hargett did a few short years ago. Those things are out of his control, but no one listened.

The coaches cautioned us that he still had to prove himself in college. And although we knew that Steve Slaton was a huge talent as well, he was mostly overshadowed by the bigger, more imposing Gwaltney, who did nothing to hurt himself with the way in which he handled himself with the media. (Ironically, Slaton may have benefited greatly from being out of the spotlight during fall camp and the early part of the season – with no pressure on him, he was free to learn the offense and progress steadily before making his mark at the midpoint of the year. Had Gwaltney had the same opportunity, might things have turned out differently?)

When Gwaltney was sidelined with injuries, the attention didn't abate much. Just about every Rich Rodriguez press conference included questions about his health and status, even when it became evident that there was much more wrong than just a sprained ankle or knee. Other players with extended absences, such as Josh Bailey, a dedicated senior who has given everything he has to get back onto the field, didn't get nearly the attention. And that's wrong.

I understand that Gwaltney would naturally be of more interest than, say, a fourth team defensive back, but the spotlight shone on him was out of all proportion to his contributions to the team so far. His 45 carries for 186 yards and three scores are solid, but by no means irreplaceable, numbers on a squad loaded with rushing threats. When he went down against Rutgers, there were able replacements available.

Understand that I am not ready to throw him under the bus just yet. Many freshmen face adjustment problems on and off the field. He brings additional baggage in the form of his great high school achievements, because the moment he didn't put up those same numbers in college, people began labeling him a bust, which is manifestly unfair. I think he has the ability to admit whatever mistakes he has made, make the right choices, and become a productive member of the Mountaineer program. I hope he does, and wish him the best.

Not playing in the next two games gives him a chance to address his academics, work with the training staff as he should, and get his career on the right track. It will be an uphill battle. Perhaps he has dug himself a hole too deep to climb out of. But until that situation plays out, he shouldn't be the target of daily updates and speculation. There are far more interesting and relevant storylines to be covered over the next few weeks, and that's where our attention should lie.

In fact, the only concern I have at this point (other than hoping Gwaltney rights his ship) is the effect all of this will have on the team. Head coach Rich Rodriguez has quite rightly downplayed talk about this issue so far, in the hopes that banner headlines and miles of message board posts won't follow. To date, this team has been remarkably mature and even-keeled, responding to almost every challenge in a positive fashion. Let's hope something as relatively small as a backup running back having some adjustment problems and missing two more games (in addition to the three he already sat out), won't cause the team to melt down in the same way it has some fans.


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