Frosh Three Impressive Early

Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee knows he has a trio of freshman weapons. He's just deciding how to mold and unleash them.

Jock Sanders is a multiple-threat player, able to be used at the slot wideout spot, in the backfield and to return kicks. Prep quarterback-turned-receiver Brandon Hogan has already been lauded by veterans. And running back Noel Devine seems to be making even the mildest of Mountaineer fans giddy with his blend of balance, explosion and speed.

The threesome totaled 13,916 yards and 1,342 points in their prep careers. None came in rated any lower than three starts and all run at least a 4.5 flat in the 40-yard dash. They appear to have all the tangibles needed to play immediately. The task remaining through the rest of fall camp: work on those intangibles.

"Oh, those guys are talented," Magee said. "Of course, there is a lot for them to learn right now. Their heads are spinning, but they are studying and trying to become players who know the game well. They have shown flashes, some really good things."

They have also shown some bad. The issue, as Magee says, is that West Virginia's superbacks – and wideouts and tight ends and seemingly every skill slot on the field – is essentially on an island every down. The reads, the routes. All must be understood thoroughly. Pat White drops, looks, throws to Hogan on an out route, except the freshman ran 10 yards instead of seven. The corner jumps it; pick six the other way. It's not such a major concern at schools minus the spread. But at West Virginia…

"The biggest difference for us is that they don't have time to break the huddle and think about it when they are jogging out," Magee said. "The quarterback can't remind them right before they come to the line. We're on the line of scrimmage. They are on their own. The quarterbacks try to help them, but we go so fast, that's why it takes them longer."

All-American Steve Slaton splashed onto the national scene when he scored six touchdowns in West Virginia's 2005 come-from-behind, triple overtime win over Louisville. Head coach Rich Rodriguez has said he was the "best freshman we have ever had" in terms of learning the offense. Yet it took the WVU single-season rushing leader five games to break into the lineup. And that was only when Magee and Rodriguez felt forced to insert him in a nationally-televised game against rival Virginia Tech. Slaton promptly ripped off a long run, dragging Hokies along, then set Sugar Bowl rushing records. Now he is a Heisman candidate.

But unlike with Sanders, Hogan or Devine, Slaton was able to avoid the spotlight and expectations that come with it. Prep All-American Jason Gwaltney was the one with the accolades, and is now the one not playing college football. Magee is trying to avoid a similar situation with his new uber-hyped recruits while still fully prepping them for the season.

"They fit the mold," Magee said. "We recruited the guys we wanted for this offense. But I bite my lip a lot to be honest. You want to maintain that high intensity and you want them to know how we play – at a high intensity. But at the same time, these kids just got here. … I think over the next couple weeks we will be able to determine it. It took Steve five games, and he still didn't know what he was doing half the time. But he made plays when he touched the ball to make up for it."

Translation: Know what to expect, even as you're expecting. Magee and Rodriguez have said they will know if any of the freshmen will play by the close of camp. That's 10 days, some dozen-plus practices in which to judge. Can Devine learn the reads, the play calls, the sets; can Sanders match West Virginia's returners in execution and skill? Can Hogan break into a rotation that Rodriguez said "did not have four wide receivers right now." All will remain unanswered, at least over the next week and beyond, as positions are solidified during game weeks.

"There's a lot left for them to learn," Magee said. "The biggest problem area for our young kids is that they are so used to just carrying the football from high school and not doing all the other things. The thing that is impressive is that those guys are trying to do all those other things, and that's fun. We all think we know what they can do when they touch it, and they do that, but doing those other things is very important, too. I'm having fun with it."

As are the veterans. Tailbacks Eddie Davis and Ed Collington are working closely with Sanders and Devine, instructing, teaching and leading by example. The two are relative veterans and are far ahead of the newcomers in understanding. So it's not as though the backup job behind Slaton is going to be given away because of prep accomplishments.

"All guys are in the mix playing," Magee said. "We won't determine those things until much later. I'd like it sooner. Much sooner. When it's clear, if it's the first game or sixth game (we'll decide). But let them compete for it."

Note: If Slaton has set any personal goals, he is refusing to discuss it publicly. The junior tells all who will listen that he wants to be more productive, wants to help the team win any way he can. But there is no naming of numbers.

"You never can tell (about productivity)," Magee said. "Steve and I talk about goals, but I caution him to let it happen. Just play ball, let it happen."

Mountaineers Daily Top Stories