WVU practices indoors and outdoors Saturday; Brown addresses team culture and “free agency”
(Neal Brown post-workout press conference)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The WVU soccer team wrapped up its second week of spring training on Saturday morning with drills performed at both the Caperton Indoor Training Center and inside Milan’s Puskar Stadium. It was the sixth of fifteen scheduled training sessions.
“It was a mixed bag. You are always going to have a mixed bag when you go against yourself. Today is kind of the first day we put the ball down and let them play,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said.
Brown acknowledged a handful of strengths on offense, defense and on special teams. Continuing a trend in the first two weeks, offensive linemen led the way for positive endorsements from Brown. He cited Zach Frazier, Wyatt Milum and James Gmiter for their play. Running backs Tony Mathis and Justin Johnson, and receivers Preston Fox, Sam James and Kaden Prather stood out. Brown estimated Prather had over 200 receiving yards in Saturday’s practice.
Defensive standouts included Taurus Simmons (multi-sacks), Lee Kpogba, Charles Woods, Marcis Floyd and. Jordan Jefferson. New kicker Parker Groathaus was also mentioned by Brown.
Starting right tackle Brandon Yates missed Saturday’s practice with an injury. Brown expects Yates to return to practice on Tuesday. Redshirt junior Ja’Quay Hubbard replaced and is expected to be a major contributor to the line this fall.
“Ja’Quay has really changed his body since he joined us from [Virginia]. I think he is growing in this position. He was a guy who really played inside O-Line when he was heavier. Now that he’s kind of leaned up, we think his best opportunity to help us is at tackle. He has the ability to play on both sides. But he got all the reps at the right tackle today.
Garrett Greene, Goose Crowder and Nicco Marchiol continue to split reps in the battle for the starting quarterback spot.
“Garrett threw the ball deep today. That’s the thing that really stands out.
“Nicco was feast and famine. You always have to think about these high school students, he’s a high school student. He went over there and got reps with the [starters] in “Power 5” football. No offense, Hamilton High School, they’re really good. But there’s a little difference between that and going out and playing against our first group of defenders. The game moves quickly.
“Goose had a long run for a touchdown today on a draw. I think he did a good job getting back in the pocket and hitting a few plays on the court.
Then on the nose
With Thursday’s surprise announcement that two-year-old starting defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor has left the program, several young climbers are lining up for more shots. Brown doesn’t necessarily believe the team will pursue another defensive lineman from the transfer portal.
“I think it’s too early to tell. I’ll be able to tell you after 15 practices. What I mean by that – Zeiqui Lawton, he’s going to have a ton of reps. We want to see Eddie V [Vesterenin], he’s not there in the spring right now. We hope he can come back and do some exercises towards the end.
“Jalen Thornton is a guy you’ve heard me talk about. I think he continues to improve. It’s going to be a huge spring for him. Jordan Jefferson was created around the middle of last year. There are games where he started and played a ton of cliches. We feel good in the direction he is taking. Dante [Stills] gives us some flexibility. We keep him clear of the full tackle. Taurus Simmons is a guy we really need. Sean Martin – I think this is going to be a huge spring for him. It flashed today.
Practice Photo Gallery – Courtesy of Ben Queen Photography
Brown admits he was “sad and hurt” over Mesidor’s transfer decision. But he thinks his system of “instalments into student-athletes” will produce more positive results than departures.
“There are going to be cases in the world that we live in in college football now where you’re going to do everything you can for certain people and they’re always going to leave. For me, you sit there and think, ‘Well , we do all of this. Is it worth it? Absolutely, yes it’s worth it. We’re going to have a lot more success stories than when you really suffer from growing and developing and they leave .
“We don’t have a culture problem here,” Brown said. “If you look at the touchline and you look and see how the kids interact and you look at the staff and player interactions, those are really clear to me.”
Brown added that certain student-athlete transfer windows could help programs better manage defections to the portal.
“We have free agency and it’s 365, 24/7. There’s not another company that has 365, 24/7 free agency,” Brown said. ‘free agency.’
Tribute to the new Hall of Famer
Brown opened his press conference Saturday by saluting Bob Huggins. The WVU men’s basketball head coach of 15 years was officially announced Saturday afternoon as a member of the final class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“I grew up in central Kentucky, not too far from [Cincinnati] when he was planning his program. I thought I was a basketball player. Everyone in Kentucky thinks he’s a basketball player. Grow with its teams with [Nick] Van Exel and all those guys – they had the baggy shorts. It was the Jordan brand and all that kind of stuff. They had a cool factor. We had a team running on the floor and that’s how he played.