The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

May 17, 2014

DE Riddick will solidify WVU defense

Transfers could open door for Shady's Connor in basketball

West Virginia University’s announcement Friday that it has signed FCS All-American defensive end Shaquille Riddick to use his final year of eligibility playing for the Mountaineers could be big news for new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s first unit.

Despite two sub-par seasons in 2012 and 2013, this year’s defense is shaping up to be a good one.

With a top-notch linebacking corps with the likes of Isaiah Bruce, Nick Kwiatkoski and Brandon Golson, and future stars like Karl Joseph and Daryl Worley in the secondary — not to mention a coaching staff that includes four guys that have all been coordinators in Gibson, Tom Bradley, Joe DeForest and Brian Mitchell — WVU almost looked to have the complete package.

The missing piece, it seemed, was a solid edge rusher.

If Riddick can match the standard he set by playing at the FCS level at Gardner-Webb in Boiling Springs, N.C., WVU might have found that guy.

Last year, Riddick finished fifth in the Buck Buchanan Award, giving annually to the top defensive player in FCS. He played in 11 games and had 8.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hurries. He was rated as the No. 12 defensive end prospect for the 2015 NFL Draft by NFLDraftScout.com.

Playing against the likes of Oklahoma and Texas, instead of Coastal Carolina and Presbyterian, is a major jump. But it’s not like there isn’t talent at the FCS level that can make the big time. The conference had three players selected in this year’s NFL Draft.

All indications are that Riddick, a 6-foot-6, 244-pounder, is a special talent that will translate to the Big 12. If he is, WVU’s defense could make a major turnaround this fall.

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While it’s difficult to view the news of the transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson as positives for the WVU basketball program, the defections could open a door of opportunity for former Shady Spring standout Chase Connor.

As a freshman walk-on, Connor had a couple of bright spots, including a nine-point performance in a win over TCU. Down the stretch, he was a guy head coach Bob Huggins felt comfortable putting on the court in situations where a shooter was needed. He played 27 minutes over the course of the final four regular season games and showed the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter.

When Harris and Henderson announced they were leaving, they took with them 136 3-pointers from a year ago. Both shot close to 40 percent from the outside.

Most believe WVU will be much improved on the inside for the 2014-15 seasons — and with the additions of Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton it’s hard to believe it won’t be — but it’s going to have to find a way to stretch the defense without two of its top outside threats.

Incoming recruits Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter are being sold as talented guards, but neither is a pure shooter from the outside.

So where will WVU find that production?

If Connor can step up his defense — a requirement for any player to take the floor for Huggins —he certainly could become that guy and see his minutes drastically increased.

The door has been flung wide open, now it’s up to Connor to step through and make the most of the opportunity.

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Staying on the subject of opportunities, it was great to see former WVU running back Noel Devine get a shot with the Carolina Panthers.

A standout under both Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart, the speedy Devine will be one of 35 players trying out for the Panthers this weekend.

Devine went undrafted out of WVU and never played in the NFL. He spent some time with the Montreal Alouettes in Canada in recent years but has been focused on a possible return to his dream of making an NFL roster.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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