The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

February 24, 2014

Cogdell jumps at chance to return to WVU

Former Mountaineer linebacker follows dream of being a college coach

MORGANTOWN — When Damon Cogdell got the call offering him a job on the West Virginia University football coaching staff, the former Mountaineer linebacker didn’t really hesitate.

Cogdell wanted to be a college coach, and the chance for the former Miramar High School (Fla.) head coach to return to his alma mater was basically a dream come true.

“(WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen) gave me the call in January, and at the drop of the dime I was here,” remembered Cogdell of the hiring process, which he said took no more than 10 or 11 days. “I still haven’t packed up my stuff at Miramar. That’s something I’ll have to do this summer.”

Cogdell may have flown to Morgantown faster than Tavon Austin on a fly route, but that didn’t mean the move was easy for the former runner-up for the National High School Coach of the Year. Coming to Morgantown meant leaving behind his wife, LeAndra, and three children — Destanie (18), Amaya (10) and Damon Jr. — in the Miami area.

Cogdell didn’t want to uproot his family, but living without them, he quickly found out, was no easy task. Even with the full support of his wife, who told him to go follow his dream, Cogdell admitted he had some cold feet in the beginning.

“It’s an adjustment,” admitted Cogdell, a 1999 WVU graduate. “I try to make sure I speak to them every morning. We’re on FaceTime. I’d never heard of that before until I got here. But we’ve been doing a lot of FaceTime with her and the kids. Hopefully when the season starts, the days will pick up and the days will run much faster.

“It makes us miss each other more,” he continued, trying to find a silver lining. “There’s more ‘I love you’ and ‘I miss you.’ When you see each other every day, sometimes you forget to say that stuff. But the separation brought closeness in the family. We’re much more affectionate.”

Cogdell will get to see his family on recruiting trips to South Florida — his main recruiting area, along with Atlanta — and his wife and kids will make the journey to Morgantown on occasion. Otherwise, he’ll be learning the ins and outs of FaceTime.

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Coping with the loneliness of missing his family isn’t the only adjustment Cogdell has been forced to make upon joining the WVU staff. Just like FaceTime, he’s had to learn about Twitter and other forms of social media just to stay on pace in the recruiting game.

“I’m still learning how to use that,” he said. “I’ve never had a Twitter account. I think I have over 2,000 followers now. I don’t know how I got that. I’m still learning. I’ve probably tweeted about eight times.”

Then there’s Morgantown itself. The city has changed a great deal since Cogdell was making tackle after tackle in 1997 and 1998, and he’s had to re-learn a familiar town.

“The outskirts are a lot different,” he said. “But the main part downtown — Bent Willey’s and all that — is the same. But they’ve built so much, and the living expenses are so different.”

Of course, there’s also the job itself. Being a position coach at a Division I college is an entirely different game than being a head coach at the high school level.

“It’s different,” said Cogdell. “I was the head coach and athletic director. To come be the position coach is different. (Before) at the end of the day, I could do what I wanted to do. Now it’s not like that. But it makes my job easier. All I have to worry about is the 6 or 8 d-linemen I have. I don’t have to worry about girls basketball, boys basketball, the track team or the parents. So it’s a little bit easier to just focus on those guys.

“My biggest thing is being me. I want to continue to do what I’ve done to get me here. I don’t want to come in and try to be somebody different. I’m not a me person. I don’t think I’m better than anybody, and I want the kids to understand that, too.”

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Cogdell’s new position has also drawn him closer to a pair for former Miramar Patriots who became Mountaineers before moving on to the NFL. Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey, Cogdell said, were thrilled to see their former coach land his new position, and they’ve promised to come back often.

Cogdell said he followed the rookie seasons of his former stars closely. He was impressed with Bailey’s work ethic and drive, and after some early worries he’s confident that Smith is on the right track and ready to reach his potential.

A visit from Mom, he said, got everything back in order.

“His mom is more hands-on with him now,” he said. “She’s up there a lot. That’s what he needs. He’s still a child, but he’s in the NFL making tons of money in New York. He needs her to put that belt on his butt, and she’s doing that now.

“You can tell from midseason to the end of the season he’s getting a lot better. You can tell his mom is putting her foot in the door now.”

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

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