MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — His fifth spring practice at West Virginia features getting-to-know-you moments with a new offensive coordinator and a new position coach. Fullback Eli Wellman also must familiarize himself with the heightened sense of responsibility he feels toward fostering younger players.
“If they see you disrespecting the program they’re going to think there’s some leeway,” Wellman said. “It means you’re never going to be late for workouts or miss lunches or be late to meetings.
“It starts with simple stuff like that. If young kids see you do everything right, they’re going to do everything right as well.”
Having touched the football only 41 times in 1,434 career plays, Wellman has made a career out of the seemingly simple stuff. That equates primarily to blocking, though such assignments are more nuanced than casual fans might think.
West Virginia’s rushing totals have improved in each of his three seasons — from 4.2 yards per carry in 2014 to 5.2 yards last fall, and from 182 yards per game to 228.
His blocking helped spring Wendell Smallwood (1,519 yards) to the Big 12 rushing title in 2015, and Wellman was pivotal in Justin Crawford’s 2016 encore (1,184 yards).
“Love it. That’s the pride you take in a fullback’s role — is blocking for them guys and letting them run by you with the ball,” Wellman said. “That’s pretty much the only thing I do.”
It’s the thing he plans on doing in 2017 also, having absorbed enough from Jake Spavital to understand that the new play-caller isn’t planning to reinstall the so-called “Air Raid” of Geno Smith’s era.
“I like Spav a lot,” Wellman said. “He definitely digs the aggressive, toughness part of it, and that’s right up my alley.”
Not even a few reps at receiver have Wellman worried about West Virginia becoming a finesse offense. He’s mostly running routes because injuries, departures and one academic obstacle have temporarily depleted the number of receiver bodies.
Still, occasions have arisen — and will continue to arise — during live-game tempo situations where the 240-pounder’s versatility demanded he line up in the slot.
“If we’ve got a big set in there and Jake wants to go-go-go, then I want to know what to do out there,” Wellman said. “But I’m not a speed guy or make-somebody-miss guy. They’re not going to put me out there in a dire situation and have me run a fade route or anything.”
Along with Spavital, Wellman is acquainting himself with a new running backs coach, Tony Dews, brought in after Ja’Juan Seider left for Florida.
“They way they’re blending in, you’d think they had been here for years,” Wellman said. “That’s one of the main things — getting comfortable with your players and having them trust you. And we do.”