Energy High as WVU Football Begins Fall Camp
By JARED SERRE
For the News-Register
MORGANTOWN — With the calendar flipping to August, the days of pads clapping and whistles blowing is underway.
The West Virginia University football program opened preseason practice Friday, eyeing growth after going 6-4 a season ago.
It’s the mantra that head coach Neal Brown continues to preach as he heads into his third season at the helm of the program.
Brown said that the team opened camp by going into split squads. The program implemented the idea last year to work around COVID-19, but has since come to see more than just health-related benefits from the idea.
“What we did find out, and it did carry out today, is that guys are out there for a shorter amount of time, but we get more total reps,” Brown said.
“Our young guys, it really helps them because they get one-on-one coaching, they get more reps — I think you always learn better by doing, rather than watching — and so we went to two practices. It’s harder on the coaches, but I think it’s better for the players.”
Holding two split practices limits the number of players on the field at a time, providing opportunities for younger players to make an impression early.
“We do a lot of drill work special teams-wise,” Brown said. “By splitting the squad, we found some guys last year that really helped us as the year went on on special teams. We wouldn’t have recognized them … but because we were split squad, they got live reps and were very proficient at the drills.”
The extra reps are also beneficial as the Mountaineers will look to their depth in the secondary, an area that is relatively thin.
“We probably wanted to add one more defensive back,” Brown said. “I feel good with what we have, we’re just going to be depending on some freshmen.”
Missing: one freshman
Two highly-touted members of the Mountaineers’ 2021 recruiting class play the same position but, so far, only one of them has made it to campus.
That would be Justin Johnson, a St. Louis native who rushed for more than 4,000 yards over his high school career.
The other is Jaylen Anderson, who hails from a suburb of Cleveland. Rated as a four-star prospect, Anderson is not currently on campus. Brown says the coaching staff does not know when Anderson plans to arrive, but is still hopeful that he will.
Nester nestling in
Of the six transfers the Mountaineers added this offseason, Doug Nester is one of the most hyped.
The former Spring Valley offensive linemen returned to his home state after two years at Virginia Tech. He’s expected to be leaned on on the offensive line, given his four-star rating as a recruit.
Brown said that Nester is more confident now than he was when going through spring practice. He’s currently receiving most of his reps at the guard position, where Brown calls “the best place for him.”
The injury bug is making itself known
Three Mountaineers are currently sidelined as camp begins, including an offensive starter.
Mike O’Laughlin, who started nine games a season ago at tight end, is currently sidelined for precautionary reasons. It is a minor injury according to Brown.
Also out is Ja’Corey Hammett, a freshman bandit dealing with an ACL injury from high school, and Naim Muhammad, a redshirt sophomore cornerback who had offseason surgery and is likely to sit out for a few more weeks.