WVU sports: Transfers have paid dividends for Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia signed nine junior college transfers as part of the 2013 recruiting class. That wasn't even half of the haul at the University of Kansas.
WVU's nine transfers have been mostly significant parts of the team. Kansas has had mixed results with its 19 players. They share the field Saturday when Kansas (2-7, 0-6 Big 12) plays host to the Mountaineers (4-5, 2-5) at noon from Memorial Stadium. The game will be televised on Root Sports.
"The only team that probably attacked junior colleges more than we did was probably Kansas," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "As far as we're concerned, we did it for a reason and it worked out."
WVU starts junior college transfers Mario Alford and Kevin White at outside receiver. At different parts of the season, they've been the most reliable receivers and best threats down the field. White is third on the team with 30 receptions and leads the Mountaineers with 471 yards, 52.3 per game and three touchdowns.
Alford arrived just before preseason practice started in August, whereas White enrolled in January and was with the team for spring practice. Alford has 16 receptions for 261 yards and a 72-yard touchdown last week against Texas.
"That made me smile, maybe for the first time all year, when he took a routine play and made a big play out of it," Holgorsen said. "He's getting comfortable out there."
Alford, who was hurt during camp in August, is just settling in at outside receiver. He was used primarily as a running back at Georgia Military College and began as an inside receiver at WVU.
"I'm kicking myself in the tail for not doing it earlier," Holgorsen said. "When we recruited him we thought that he was like a Tavon Austin kind of guy. He played a lot of running back and they moved him around. But looking back at it, Tavon was a junior when I got here and he was there in the spring. I'm not comparing him to Tavon, which would be ridiculous. But we had Tavon all spring and his junior year wasn't that great. He only had, I think, two receiving touchdowns until the Orange Bowl.
"He got more comfortable and better with the system. It's harder to play inside than outside. We finally got smart and moved (Alford) outside. He got real comfortable and has been getting better every week. What he did on Saturday was good to see, but he's been heading in that direction ever since we moved him there."
Smith is from Wichita, Kan., and committed to the Jayhawks before grades forced him to play two seasons at Butler (Kan.) Community College. He'll have several family members and friends in attendance Saturday. He's second on the team with 424 yards rushing and five touchdowns and he averages 4.5 yards per carry, that number helped greatly by his 75-yard touchdown run against Oklahoma.
"We've gotten better at it," he said. "That's why we work hard on it all every day in practice. The blocking, the catching, those are the things they stress hard. We lacked it at the beginning of the season. We've picked it up now and we're getting better at it."
Each will be back next season and Stone Underwood, who played center in junior college, will be able to play after redshirting this season.
The help has been meaningful on defense, too. Outside linebacker Brandon Golson was Alford's teammate at Georgia Military Academy. He's started every game and has 35 tackles. He's second on the team with three sacks and third with 61/2 tackles for a loss. Defensive end Dontrill Hyman, slowed lately by an ankle sprain, has started twice in 10 games and has 17 tackles and 31/2 sacks.
Punter Nick O'Toole averages 43.4 yards on 62 punts. Twenty-one have gone farther than 50 yards and 20 put the opponent inside its 20-yard line.
"Everybody took somebody under their arm and guided us the right way," Smith said. "That's going to be my role next year with the incoming guys. We'll guide them the same way we were guided."
WVU did have two misses, though. Linebacker d'Vante Henry wasn't with the team at the start of camp because of a personal issue and was later dismissed from the team following an arrest in September for second-degree sexual assault. Receiver Ronald Carswell, who averaged a team-high 20.6 yards on 20 receptions in eight games, is suspended indefinitely for violating team rules before the TCU loss. Holgorsen said last week he'll revisit the situation at the end of the season.
Kansas has four junior college transfers redshirting. Two transferred and one was dismissed from the team. The Jayhawks still produced seven players who have started this season, plus a backup on the offensive line and two on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield.
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ONE OF WVU'S most notable enthusiasts against Texas was center Pat Eger, who was benched during the game for what Holgorsen called "awful" snaps. Yet as WVU led the game and tried to stay in control, Eger was constantly cheering on and talking up his teammates.
"He's trying hard," Holgorsen said. "Sometimes he tries too hard. It means a lot to him. He's a team captain. It means more to him than probably anybody on the team. That said, if the snaps are bad and he's not doing anything he needs to do, we're going to put somebody else in there."
Eger hadn't played center before he spent spring practice trying to figure it out, but he was a guard throughout preseason practice. Redshirt freshman Tyler Orlosky started the first two games and then the fourth, but Eger, a senior from Pleasant Hills, Pa., has played most of the snaps since then.
"It comes down to focus," Eger said. "When I snap, I want to go straight back and hit my crotch and release right through it. Sometimes when I see it go wide right, I know I let it go off the side of my leg. I can see it on film. Sometimes if they're blitzing or if I'm talking to someone and it happens quickly, it'll slip my mind and I'm not 100 percent focused on that.
"I was freaking out during the game, but the two snaps we fumbled, I was like, 'Wow, what did I do? What that high? Was it low?' Then I found out they weren't my fault."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.