By Cam Huffman
The old thought was that if it was possible to redshirt a freshman, it was best to do so.
But like his offensive play-calling, West Virginia University head football head coach Dana Holgorsen thinks a little differently about what to do with rookies. The Mountaineers’ second-year head coach has said repeatedly that he recruits athletes to play, and that’s what he expects of them from the moment they step on campus.
“If we feel they can be a contributor, then we’ll play them,” said Holgorsen. “I’ve been saying for a year that I’d like to play a lot of freshmen, and I think we should’ve played more freshmen last year. If they can help, they’re going to play.”
Making those decisions, though, isn’t always easy. Holgorsen wants the new guys on the field, but he also doesn’t want to waste a player’s eligibility. Holgorsen used junior wide receiver Ivan McCartney as a prime example of what can go wrong.
As a freshman in 2010, McCartney wasn’t redshirted under Bill Stewart’s staff. He took the field in 11 games, but he caught just one pass for four yards and had one carry for two yards — not exactly worth the loss of a season’s worth of eligibility.
“It’s tricky,” said Holgorsen. “You don’t want what happened to Ivan two years ago to happen, where if he’s not in the two-deep or not able to play some special teams, you redshirt him.
“You can always play him three or four games into the season, which I wouldn’t have any problem doing if he can help the team, but we won’t even talk to them about this until three weeks into it.”
So far, it looks as though there could be plenty of fresh faces taking the FieldTurf surface at Mountaineer Field when the season opens with the Friends of Coal Bowl against Marshall on Sept. 1.
Safety K.J. Dillon has already turned some heads with his play in the secondary, and with injuries starting to mount in the defensive backfield, he could see major minutes early in his career.
“He’s going to play,” said Holgorsen of the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Apopka, Fla., native. “His job is to try and push for a starting job.”
Karl Joseph could also see early action in the WVU secondary.
“(He’s) a guy who is always around the ball,” said Holgorsen. “He’s a freshman, but we don’t tell them they’re freshmen. We tell them that they’re no different than what Darwin Cook is or some of the seniors.
“He’s learning. He’s young and he’s going to make mistakes, but he’s a physical guy out there. We have two young safeties that we feel good about.”
As well as those two safeties have played, both have struggled trying to catch up with slot receiver Jordan Thompson. Nicknamed “Squirt,” the Katy, Texas, product could be the Mountaineers’ next Tavon Austin. He’s small enough to get lost in the hallways of a middle school, but he has the speed to outrun a stock car.
“That guy is something,” said Holgorsen. “He’ll play, obviously, as a true freshman.”
Offensive line is a position where Holgorsen, and line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, would prefer to take the old school approach and redshirt every newcomer, but Adam Pankey and Tyler Orlosky are making that decision difficult.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to play those guys,” said Holgorsen. “You want to be able to redshirt O-linemen, but those guys are physically up to speed. Mentally, it’s going to take some time. We’ll keep repping them, and we won’t talk about a redshirt situation here for the next few weeks.
“I’ve never had two freshmen run second string,” said Holgorsen, who identified both Pankey and Orlosky as second teamers at this time. “That can change if they start getting overloaded or maybe some other guys pick things up.”
Holgorsen said the NCAA rule of allowing freshmen to come in early and participate in workouts could eventually lead to even more rookies playing right away — even on the offensive front.
“The physical nature of these guys is pretty good from a freshman standpoint,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with the NCAA allowing us to get guys in early and let them work out with the team for two months. That’s obviously beneficial, so physically I’m happy with what we’re seeing.”
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