WVU Football Practice Coming to the Island

MORGANTOWN – Spring drills will take on a whole new look at West Virginia University as the Mountaineers will take to the road in hopes of building interest for the upcoming 2014 season.

“It (traveling) was really my idea,” coach Dana Holgorsen said during Friday’s pre-spring drills media luncheon. “I really think everybody will be happy with what they are going to see.”

WVU’s road trip, weather permitting, will begin on Saturday, March 2, when it heads to Wheeling Island Stadium. The Mountaineers also will conduct Saturday practices at Mountaineer Field (March 29), Charleston’s Laidley Field (April 5) and, of course, the annual Gold/Blue Spring Scrimmage at Mountaineer Field on Saturday, April 12.

“We will begin with three non-padded practices on Sunday, March 2,” Holgorsen said. “Those practices will be helmets only, inside, with a lot of teaching. That will lead us up to spring break. When the players return we will have 12 practices remaining and they will all be in pads.”

But, they will not include every player that finished last season’s 4-8 disappointing campaign. Senior linebackers Wes Tonkery and Jared Barber, offensive lineman Tyler Tezeno and senior quarterback Clint Trickett all have been ruled out as they continue to recover from a variety of off-season surgeries.

“Clint is progressing from shoulder surgery. He will be throwing in the spring, but will not participate. He will be cleared by May 19, so we will have him for the entire summer,” Holgorsen said.

That means that the majority of the practice snaps will be divided between returning part-time starter Paul Millard, who completed 93 of 168 attempts for 1,122 yards and six touchdowns with six interceptions, former Fairmont State quarterback Logan Moore and junior college transfer Skyler Howard.

“I’ve already had a meeting with all of them (the quarterbacks),” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who also serves as the team’s quarterbacks coach. “I told them that we do not have a starter. And, I don’t expect us to have one by the end of spring unless one of them (Howard, Millard, or Moore) step up and just take over the position.”

Those may not be the exact words Mountaineer fans want to hear after suffering through a season that witnessed the offense struggle to move the football – especially in losses to Maryland and Kansas State.

WVU’s offense will have some new faces, however, as Howard, who completed 219 of 325 attempts for 3,151 yards and 33 touchdowns at Riverside City College, and University of Pittsburgh transfer Russell Shell make their debuts.

Also making his debut as the team’s new defensive coordinator will be former Van High School and Glenville State College product Tony Gibson.

“No one cares more about this program, especially the defense, than Tony,” Holgorsen said. “He is a native of the state and he has worked hard to get to where he is today.”

Gibson will take over a defense that ranked among the worst in the Big 12.

“First, I am honored that Dana brought me back,” Gibson said. “Now, he has given me this position and I can’t thank him enough for the opportunity.

“It is a challenge, but we, the defensive coaches, accept that challenge and we all want to return our defense to the level our fans expect to see when they come to see us play.”

Other coaching assignments were also named with former Mountaineer player Damon Cogdell taking over the defensive line, Brian Mitchell returning to coach the cornerbacks, and Joe DeForest, who serves as the team’s special teams’ coordinator, working with the safeties.

In addition, the school has hired former longtime Penn State assistant coach Tom Bradley, who was interim head coach for the Nittany Lions after Joe Paterno was fired in 2011 during the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal.

Holgorsen says Bradley’s defensive coaching position will be designated later. Bradley was defensive coordinator for Penn State from 2000-11, and became interim coach for the final four games of the 2011 season.

Bradley played at Penn State, started coaching there in 1979 and never went anywhere else. In 2000, he was promoted to defensive coordinator after Sandusky retired.

After Bill O’Brien took over as head coach at Penn State, Bradley was not retained. He has been working as an analyst for CBS Sports Network and on radio for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Gibson, a defensive back for the Pioneers in 1994, also will take over as the coach of the linebackers.

In another announcement, Holgorsen named five players who were selected to serve as team captains by their teammates for the spring.

Safety Karl Joseph and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski were chosen by the defense, guard Quinton Spain and receiver Cody Clay were selected for the offense and Parkersburg South graduate Michael Molinari will represent the special teams.

“All of these kids are workout warriors and have done a great job of leading the team during our winter workouts,” Holgorsen said. “This will be only for the spring.”

A spring, however, that very well may be the most critical of Holgorsen’s time in Morgantown.

“We will have 70 scholarship players for the spring, so I am very excited,” the coach said. “With numbers like that as well as the experience we have coming back and the players we have added, I will be very excited to see what we can get accomplished.”

West Virginia opens the 2014 season Aug. 30 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta against Alabama.