MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Mario Alford, regarded as the fastest player on the West Virginia football team, certainly delivered the fastest turnaround last season. Through eight games at slot receiver, he owned all of nine catches and seemed entirely out of sorts. During the final four games in which he shifted outside, he caught 18 passes for an average of 25 yards.
That late-season surge rejuvenated Alford, along with the coaches’ belief in him. Now they hope for an extended run of explosive plays in 2014.
“Them last four games, that was great, but now I just want to boost it up,” Alford said. “I’ve just got so much confidence, I’m just going to ball out.”
“Them last four games (in 2013), that was great, but now I just want to boost it up. I’m just going to ball out.” — West Virginia receiver Mario Alford
Alford is a senior, just like West Virginia’s opposite outside receiver, Kevin White. Both arrived last year from junior college with talent gushing but confidence lacking. Now they’re cast as alpha dogs for their unit, roles heavy with responsibility.
While sophomore slot receiver Daikiel Shorts is the team’s top returning pass catcher with 45, Alford said he and White bear the largest burden in their final seasons. “We’re like the anchors of the receiving corps, so we’ve got to spark the plug,” he said. “We can’t take any days off. We’ve got to get it.”
That means running crisper routes, recognizing holes in soft zones and winning more catches against tight coverage.
“Obviously they’re very athletic, so now it’s the technique part of it that will get them to the next step,” said receivers coach Lonnie Galloway. “They’re wanting to work and do those things right.”
Shelton Gibson, coming off a redshirt season in which he was deemed a partial qualifier by the NCAA, is trying to crack the rotation at outside receiver. The former four-star recruit is showing flashes why he was among West Virginia’s top signees in the 2013 recruiting class.
“For him right now it’s learning what to do and getting his legs back,” Galloway said. “You can see that he’s a great athlete. Now he just has to figure it all out.”