The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

March 7, 2014

WVU hopes it’s found another receiving duo

At West Virginia, wide receivers often come in pairs.

Whether it’s Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, David Saunders and Shawn Foreman or Antonio Brown and Khori Ivy, WVU has had its share of dynamic duos over the years.

Mountaineer fans hope another one could be developing in Morgantown.

Sophomore Daikiel Shorts had a big rookie season out of Eastern Christian Academy last year, catching a team-best 45 passes for 495 yards and two touchdowns. He showed plenty of explosiveness, averaging 11 yards per catch, but he said 2013 was just the tip of the iceberg.

“I was going over film today, and finding things I could’ve done better last year,” said the Clayton, N.J., native Thursday, after WVU’s third spring practice session. “That’s big for me.”

The 6-foot, 201-pounder, who was also a defensive back in high school, said he’ll be a bigger and stronger player when the Mountaineers take the field this fall.

“I’m more explosive this year because of going through the conditioning and weight room part,” he said. “I’m doing everything that they tell me to do, and I’m feeling stronger and better. I feel like I’ll get more plays this year.”

His development, though, hasn’t been all physical.

“Watching film has helped me a lot,” said Shorts. “Going into the spring, I tried to watch film every night. Right now, I’m watching the practice video.”

If Shorts is the this team’s version of Bailey, catching almost everything that comes his way, senior Mario Alford could be the Austin, turning short passes into big gains.

The Georgia Military College transfer came on strong last year after a slow start. He caught 27 passes, 18 fewer than Shorts, but he turned those grabs into a team-high 552 yards, averaging more than 20 yards per reception.

“I had a couple issues until the end of the season,” said the 5-9, 175-pound playmaker. “As the season progressed, I got better every day.”

Like Austin, Alford believes he can help the Mountaineers in more ways than catching passes.

“I talked to my coaches, and we decided I needed to be a better all-around player, not just on offense but on special teams, as well,” he said.  “Coming out of high school and junior college, I was a running back. When I got here, they switched me to receiver. I can play back as well.”

Sounds a lot like Austin, who’s now in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams.

“Tavon is his own player, and I’m my own player,” said Alford, downplaying the comparisons. “He’s pretty good, but I can make the fans happy, too. I can do it all.”

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WVU finished up its third non-padded practice session Thursday. The team will leave town for spring break and hit the practice field again on March 18 for the first of 12 padded practices to finish out the spring.

WVU will hold an open practice in Wheeling on March 22, another in Morgantown on March 29 and a third in Charleston on April 5. The spring will conclude with the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game in Morgantown on April 12.

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

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