MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Sitting cross-legged in his blue-and-gold golf cart, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen conducted his first preseason camp media session Sunday.
Four weeks before the opener against Tennessee, he proclaimed: “Summer’s over. I just finished my last round of golf.”
No hint of regret in that statement. No longing to enjoy a few more sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico. Holgorsen has a team picked near the top of the Big 12, and he seemed appropriately antsy to jumpstart the mission.
So many components have aligned to make this his best unit yet. The Heisman quarterback returning for the senior-year payoff. The national leader in touchdown catches ready to catch a ton more. Several impact newcomers primed to plug gaps. And a staff that retained nine of 10 assistants — more continuity than a Power 5 program expects in such transient times.
“There’s a lot of excitement within us,” Holgorsen conceded. “There’s been times where I didn’t really want vacation to end, but this season we were all excited when vacation ended. We were all ready to get to work.”
WVU’s first preseason practice in upper pads transpired on an 85-degree afternoon that carried a twinge of deep-South mugginess. Drills were kept basic during the media viewing session, with upperclassmen efficiently getting their reps and several wide-eyed freshmen getting a taste of fiery assistants.
(Some reporters apparently need reps, too. One fellow asked about the status of Will Grier’s hand, to which Holgorsen replied: “He was fine in January.”)
The coach could stomach months-old topics more than he could any mention of a depth chart.
“I don’t even know if I have a depth chart. Did we put one out?,” he asked of his sports information staffers.
Told that WVU had indeed published a two-deep within the media guide, Holgorsen shrugged off the relevance: “I think we do that because we have to.”
Not quite Jim Harbaugh-stubborn, but Holgorsen understands only a few jobs are locked down, leaving the next three weeks to sort out the majority.
“How many times have I said, ‘I love putting out depth charts’? … With all of these young kids and new kids, they have to understand that they may have people in front of them, but work hard and try to beat them out. I don’t look at depth charts until a week before a game.”
Amid the cozy glow of a top-20 ranking and projections they’ll battle Oklahoma for the conference crown, the Mountaineers must compartmentalize the expectations or risk falling victim to them.
“You better be old. If you have immature people, then that’s almost impossible,” Holgorsen said. “You better have some strong leaders that understand how to handle that, and we do. We have a dozen or so old guys that I feel really good about, and they’ll have a very strong presence, and they are going to make sure this team does what they need to do.”
If that happens, if West Virginia maximizes its potential, Holgorsen should enjoy the many months between now and his next round of golf.
More practice notes
David Long, the All-Big 12 linebacker who never does anything half-speed, even delivered some smacks during “thud” drills. You could sense a readiness for full-contact when he popped Josh Chandler, the true freshman who reminds Long of himself.
“Josh is a great kid and he’s been putting in a lot of work,” Long said recently. “Being behind me he’s seeing stuff he can get better at. Talent-wise, he’s there. He’s just got to correct mistakes and it’s going to take a little time.”
Among other sightings Sunday, Darius Stills practiced with a cast covering his left forearm. The sophomore from Fairmont nonetheless lined up with the first-string defense.
Stills’ younger brother, Dante, the gem of the most recent recruiting class, looked every bit like a Power 5 lineman and 6-foot-3 newcomer Kwantel Raines stuck out among the safeties. Junior college signee Josh Norwood, the ex-Ohio State transfer, worked with the cornerbacks.
There was even an appearance by VanDarius Cowan, the Alabama transfer who only 24 hours earlier announced that he was joining WVU. He’ll be eligible in 2019.