Wanting More

With only two games remaining in his true freshman season, WVU slot receiver and kick returner Tavon Austin has spent much of the season learning -- both at his current positions and the one that he hopes to hold in the future.

"I feel as though I picked up the system quick for a freshman," said Austin. "I've done okay for my freshman year as far as the reps I have received from my coaches and everything."

Those reps have been divided, as the freshman has spent time working at multiple spots on the field as he tries to increase his chances to make an impact on his West Virginia team.

Austin has worked his way into playing time as a kickoff returner and a slot receiver. That means more opportunities for the Baltimore, Md., native to see the field than some of his fellow freshmen.

Still, he said that his role has been somewhat smaller than he thought it may have been before the season began.

"They've had better players, with Noel and Jock here," he said. "It's just been a learning experience. My role is small this year."

"When I get my opportunity in the games, hopefully I just can come in and help my team out."

Indeed, the 5-foot-9, 164-pounder has done just that, making the most of his limited time on the field by scoring three touchdowns.

Perhaps more impressive is the fact that each of those scores has come in a different way.

Austin returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against Connecticut. He scored running the ball on a reverse that covered nine yards against Louisville. His first career touchdown came on a 58-yard scoring reception against East Carolina.

Even that has not been enough diversity in scoring to satiate the young speedster's appetite for action.

"I wanted to score a lot of different ways," Austin said, smiling. "The only way I haven't scored yet is on a punt return, but I haven't had the chance."

Despite not working as a punt returner, the Dunbar High School product has made a significant impact on WVU's special teams this season.

That has come almost entirely as a result of his prowess at returning kickoffs, a job which Mountaineer head coach and special teams coordinator Bill Stewart gave him to start the season.

While it is his natural athletic ability which has generated most of the buzz surrounding his ability to make plays as a kick returner, the freshman said there is a mental aspect to playing at that position that some may not recognize.

"It's not just ‘catch the ball' no more," he said. "You've got to catch it and make sure you've got a couple of blocks set up, because people are running down there the same speed as you and they weigh way more than me. If they hit me, it ain't gonna be a pretty sight."

"(In) high school, it was catch the ball, run in circles, all that. But you can't do that no more."

While most of the adjusting period to college has passed for Austin and his fellow freshmen, the coming week will mark one more key milestone to be passed.

They will be spending Thanksgiving away from home for the first time, but Austin said that he and the rest of the running backs were going to have their holiday at position coach Chris Beatty's home.

But beyond the opportunity to gorge on turkey and all the fixings, having a bye week leading into a week's vacation from classes gives the Mountaineers a chance to tweak some things before starting a pivotal stretch run of two games, which begins with next Friday night's clash with No. 9 Pittsburgh.

"The bye week gives us a chance to learn a couple more plays and gel a little bit more," Austin said. "It gives me the opportunity to get the ball a little bit more, because they put in more plays and told me to study them."

While almost all of his work this season has been focused on his roles in the slot and as a kick returner, Austin is still officially listed as a running back. That suits him well, as the freshman expressed a desire to get back to the position at which he made his mark in high school.

That is a task that has not been easy this year, as the WVU backfield has become increasingly crowded. Star running back Noel Devine and fellow slot receiver Jock Sanders have seen the bulk of carries. Fullback Ryan Clarke has also taken some of the workload, particularly in short-yardage situations.

For now, Austin is content to sit behind those players and bide his time, waiting for the moment at which he can stake his own claim to the running back position.

"I get a couple reps (at running back) in practice, but whenever my time comes -- maybe when Noel and Jock leave, maybe they'll put me back there," Austin said.

"That's my homecoming. That's where I've played my whole life. I would like to get back there again, but if it don't happen, I've just got to suck it up and keep on moving."

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