Eden Prairie, Minn., quarterback Brian Athey came to WVU's camp with expectations of learning things to help his progression as a player. He left with a number of drills and tips to improve his game – not to mention a scholarship offer.
Athey, a three-sport star at Eden Prairie, was one of about a dozen signal callers at West Virginia's rising senior camp on Sunday. He quickly stood out, thanks to an excellent throwing motion and a presence that was evident even in drills.
The quarterback was a few minutes late for the start of camp, having rushed to WVU following a state championship game his high school baseball team played in, and won, the previous day. After going through an isolated warm-up, he joined the quarterbacks for individual work.
"We started off with some footwork drills. In those, we worked on side-to-side, and then our backpedal," Athey related. "Coach Mullen was right there with all of us, and he gave me a couple of things to work on. For example, he told me instead of gripping the ball hard with both hands, to grip it more firmly with my front, non-throwing hand. That helped the ball came out with a tighter spiral. He also had me emphasize my follow through, and that helped with a better spiral too.
"Next we worked on throwing on the run. I was kind of drifting away from the target, and he helped me square up with my shoulders. After that, I had better velocity and better control. I felt like I knew where the ball was going. Then in one-on-ones, he wanted me to put more force on ball when I threw it, and to use my legs more while keeping my stance a little tighter. I sometimes stride too far, and that makes my passes sail. Overall it was a great time, and a great camp to attend. I will keep working on those things, and I think they will help. Coach Mullen really did a great job."
While most players expect to pick up a couple of things that will help their games, Athey was pleased with the amount of instruction he received. But that didn't match his feelings a bit later, when head coach Bill Stewart spoke with him and offered him a scholarship.
"I love WVU, and I have been following them for a long time," he said of the offer. "I was really excited when they made it."
While it might seem a bit odd that a player from Minnesota has West Virginia atop his list of favorite schools, all becomes clear when it's learned that Athey's grandfather is Dwight Wallace, a former WVU assistant coach and the current radio analyst for West Virginia's games on the Mountaineer Sports Network. Athey said that while Wallace isn't pushing him toward WVU, he has been an invaluable resource during his athletic career.
"My grandpa hasn't really been too involved in the recruiting process, because he doesn't want to sway my opinion. He wants me to make the decision, and he wants me to earn where I play in college. But he does want me to succeed wherever I wind up, and I call him just about every night to get his opinion. It could be anything from schools to mechanics to improving my speed and quickness. He has helped me ever since I was eight, and he had helped me a bunch. We'll study film whenever we get together, and we are working now on reading defenses."
Although West Virginia is first on board with an offer, a number of other schools, including many Big Ten squads, along with USC, Ball State and Duke, are also expressing interest in the QB. Wallace's presence, if not direct influence, certainly won't hurt, but Athey is making a studied approach to the recruiting process.
"I've been to camps at Alabama, Stanford, Iowa State, Indiana, and Ball State, and I want to get to Ohio State an USC," Athey said of his busy summer schedule. "It has been tricky for me to work out all of the camps, because most of them are in June, and that's American Legion baseball time. I worked it out with my summer baseball coach to get to some of them, and I was able to get to some of these Sunday camps because my high school baseball team doesn't play on Sundays. So, I did a lot of flying to get to different camps, and although it got a bit tiring, it was worth it. It has helped me a lot."
At the camps, Athey has concentrated on improving his techniques and learning what he can about the football program at the school.
"I want to get to know them and see what kind of people they are," he said of his goals. "At West Virginia, they have fun, but they are really serious too. I got the chance to look at the facilities, and see a little bit about what the program is about. WVU did a good job with that."
When it comes to making a decision on his college, Athey has a couple of challenges. He has an offer from his long-time favorite in hand, but countering that is the possibility that more may come. He is also a collegiate prospect in baseball, and is thinking about that route as well, although football looks to be his first choice at the moment.
"I was thinking about making the decision this summer, and I have thought about playing baseball vs. football in college. I loved baseball first, but after I gained 52 pounds last year, I am leaning a little bit more toward football. I don't think the two-sport thing would be out of the question in college, but I've talked to some people, and I know it would be tough. But I'm not a guy that needs to have a bunch of offers. I would really like to be a Mountaineer."
"I am just happy with that offer," he said of his current status. "I'm not satisfied with where I am as a player, though. I want to work on my mobility and reading defenses this summer. I'm also going to a local strength and conditioning business to improve on my speed. It's expensive, but even if I have to get a job to pay for it, I think it's worth it. I think I can work on my speed and get that down. It's about a 4.75 now, but I think I can improve on that."
The weight gain Athey reported is not a misprint or a typo. He credits a growth spurt, a lot of food and a religious weightlifting program for the big increase.
"I noticed I was eating a lot more than usual last year," he said with a laugh. "I never thought I would fill out, but my dad told me that it would happen. He's 6-5 and 235 pounds, and he said it would come. Then my grandfather helped me out with a weightlifting program, and I'd lift after basketball games, after practices, everything."
Athey currently checks in at 6-3 1/2 and 210 pounds.
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Athey noted that making the adjustment from throwing a baseball to a football can be tough, especially when he's switching from one to another from day to day. That was the case at West Virginia's camp, where one day after helping his team win a baseball state championship, he was trying to adjust to the pigskin.
"It really is different, starting with the size of the ball. I threw a lot in my state championship game, then I got to West Virginia and I'm throwing the football and I'm thinking, ‘Geez, it's huge.' Throwing the baseball you aren't bringing your wrist around or your thumb down to make a spiral like you do in football. And then there's the stride. In baseball it's longer when you are throwing, and that's something I have to adjust when I'm throwing a football. It usually takes me all the way through warm-ups and throwing a few routes before I get adjusted."