Freshmen athletes face a number of challenges when they go off to college. In addition to all of the normal things a new collegian must deal with (Where are my classes? How do I get around? Where do I eat? Who's gonna do my laundry?), they also have the not-so-small matter of learning new systems and everything that accompanies life on the field. The rule change that allowed incoming athletes to enroll for summer school helps a great deal, but so too does the Big Brother program, which provides a more personal connection for those players new to campus. It's one thing to learn your way around town, but it's quite another to have someone to go to when you have a question.
The program typically pairs up players with something in common, whether it's position, hometown or some other trait. Those similarities can help break the ice and facilitate communication, which is the first step to a successful experience. For instance, freshman Darwin Cook was paired with another Ohioan.
"My big brother is Sidney Glover. He's from Warren, Ohio. He helped me on my recruiting visit, and showed me where the academic center is, and where the Mountainlair is. He's helped me a lot. [On the field, he knows the defense. He's a really smart guy so he helps me a lot. We chat and we text each other."
Freshman defensive back Terence Garvin, whose mentor is fellow defensive back Anthony Wood, is a bit more succinct, but sums up the program well.
"I think that's good to have. It's someone you can always go talk to you and who will look out for you. I like that."
Some players may develop a closer relationship with their big brother than others, but the knowledge that the elder is there to help with any issue is a comforting backstop for the rookies, many of whom are spending their first extended time away from home. Whether the relationship is just on the field, or extends further, the freshmen take advantage of the knowledge their partners provide.
"The program is very good," said Daquan Hargrett, who has Noel Devine to rely on. He shows me everything. He showed me around the town. With football, that's an advantage that I have because he's a star running back and he's so awesome and he's teaching me everything. Every time we get a break, he shows me plays and breaks everything down for me."
"He's a real funny person," Garvin chimes in about his pairing with Wood. "I watch him a lot. We don't have a lot of time right now, but we do what we can. During camp, (football) is all your mind is on. From like six ‘til nine, we're in here (the stadium). Then you go home and you're tired, so there's not really (much time to talk about things outside of football]."
On the flip side of that is Pat Miller's experience, which is more extensive
"They'll pull me to the side and tell me when I did something wrong and when I did something right. Brodrick Jenkins and I are the little brothers, and Keith Tandy and Kent Richardson and Brandon Hogan are the big brothers, so we just keep learning.
"Keith Tandy's my big brother. We talk about everything. It's not just about football. We've become friends now. I'll get with Brandon Hogan and we'll just chill, talk about football, talk about off the field situations. When I just got here, I was a little bit homesick because I didn't have anybody to talk to. But as time goes by, I became friends with older people. They've made the adjustment easier."
While it's clear that players have different experiences with the program, it's clear that most everyone gets at least some benefits from it. And in the battle to get each player acclimated to college life as quickly as possible, there's not much doubt that West Virginia's mentoring program is having the desired effect.