DALLAS — Team captains Al-Rasheed Benton and Elijah Wellman, acutely aware their West Virginia careers are nearing an end, are encountering all the senior emotions as the Heart of Dallas Bowl approaches.
They’re among 20 seniors on final notice as the Mountaineers (7-5) prepare to face Utah (6-6) on Tuesday.
“I’m just locked in on this last opportunity,” said Benton, this season’s top tackler with 102.
“I’ve given my all to this university, and to this team. I remember the Cactus Bowl when guys like Kwit and Barber and Shaq won that hard-fought game and the joy in their faces.”
Wellman turned tearful even before the Mountaineers left Morgantown, stirred by the final practice on campus. Once the team reached Dallas, he and Benton opened the first onsite practice by colliding in one-on-one “Mountaineer drills.”
“They see two captains in there, first ones up going after it, it gets the morale of the team up and gets stuff started,” Wellman said. “It was good to get out there and get some pads popping.”
More than facing a .500 Pac-12 team, most of WVU’s postseason buzz revolved around juniors Will Grier, David Sills and Yodny Cajuste deciding to return in 2018. The optimism makes the fifth-year senior Wellman wish he had another season left.
“I’ve been talking to the boys and saying ‘Y’all are going to have a team next year,’ and I’ll be sitting in the stands watching,” he said.
Utah RB recalls Seider
Emerging as high school football standout in the Miami area, Utah running back Zack Moss became familiar with West Virginia through the recruiting efforts of former assistant Ja’Juan Seider
“I remember that he used to come down to Miami,” Moss said. “I talked to him a few times, but not anything too serious.”
A Rivals three-star prospect in the 2016 class, Moss flipped his commitment from Miami to Utah amid offers from Tennessee, Louisville and Kentucky. He chose the Utes based upon “the opportunity to play early” and the chance to join two former high school teammates.
After running for 382 yards as a freshman, Moss emerged as Utah’s featured back this season with 1,023 yards and nine touchdowns.
For Wellman the highlight of pre-bowl activities was an excursion to Topgolf.
“That was fun to smack some golf balls,” he said. “It was kind of surprising, some of those guys that haven’t played golf before would swing as hard as they can and connect on a few of them.”
Christmas on the road
Both programs have team dinners planned for Christmas, a regular holiday occurrence for bowl participants.
“We are used to being on the road at this time of the year,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “I think we have been on the road for about half of them since I have been here.”