By Cam Huffman
To say that West Virginia lost a little bit of its offense when Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin headed out of Morgantown bound for St. Louis to join the Rams would be a little like saying that your Chevy Suburban lost a little bit of gas on the drive from Morgantown to Austin, Texas, last fall.
The impact that two of the best wide receivers in the school’s history had on the program is impossible to overstate. Each caught 114 passes in 2012. The sure-handed Bailey ended the year with 1,622 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns, while the lightning-fast Austin produced 1,289 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. Together, they accounted for 2,911 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns.
To put that in perspective, that’s more receiving yards than nearly half of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams produced in 2012 as a team. Ohio State, which will enter the 2013 season ranked No. 2 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, had just 2,178 yards receiving as a team. Bailey and Austin each had more individually than Army and New Mexico had from their entire teams.
So yes, the Mountaineers are missing something with Bailey and Austin off practicing their craft under the shadow of the Gateway Arch.
But entering his third season on the Mountaineer sidelines, head coach Dana Holgorsen doesn’t sound worried.
“It’s college football,” he said. “Guys graduate, and you move on and replace them. Sometimes you replace a lot of seniors; sometimes you don’t. That is not something I worry about. Every year is different, and you can’t worry about the previous year.”
But where will the Mountaineers find that production, especially since last year’s No. 3 receiver, J.D. Woods, is also gone?
After the first few practices of the summer, it looks as though Kevin White could be the guy.
Remember the guy who had every Mountaineer fan asking, “Who’s that?” when he caught a screen pass and raced 46 yards for a touchdown in one of the rare offensive highlights of the annual spring game in April? That’s White, a 6-foot-3, 211-pound junior who came to WVU from Lackawanna Junior College, where he caught 36 passes for 535 yards and six touchdowns last season.
In high school in Pennsylvania, he was an All-Lehigh Valley Athletic Conference wide receiver, averaging more than 16 yards per catch at Emmaus High, and according to his coaches, he’s in the best shape of his life.
“You can tell from spring and going through summer workouts that he has gotten stronger and thicker,” said WVU wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway, back for his second stint after serving in the same role on Bill Stewart’s Mountaineer staff. “He could run when he got here, so the biggest thing for him is that he has to practice at a high level.
“That’s the challenge for him — to practice at a high level and know that if he doesn’t, there is someone behind him that could take his place. We’re expecting big things from him, but, at the end of the day, there are guys out there competing for jobs.”
That’s just fine with White, who seems to be enjoying the competition.
“It feels good, and I’m loving it,” he said after Saturday’s second practice. “There is a lot of competition out there, and it is fast-tempo, fast-paced.”
White, like many of the wide receivers, is still learning, but he said enrolling in January and going through a spring under Holgorsen’s guidance was beneficial to his progression.
“It helped me a lot,” he said. “If it wasn’t for spring, I would probably be pretty deep on the depth chart. I know everything and know the plays. When I get the calls, I do not have to think. I know what I have to do.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.