MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In some regards, Neal Brown is very much a coach of the new school. It seems a safe bet that Bill Snyder did not open practice at Kansas State by bumping Lil Wayne over the sound system.
But in other regards, Brown has taken a very old-school approach. When West Virginia players enter the dining hall at WVU’s football facility, smart phones are a no-go. No Snapchatting, no Instagram, no Twitter. There’s also no hats or pulled-up hoods for anyone attempting to go through lunch or dinner unbothered.
Instead, players are forced to have an actual conversation with the people sitting at the same table. It seems pretty basic, but in an era where most college students have grown up looking down rather than up, it makes a difference.
“At first, some people weren’t happy,” said senior defensive end Reese Donahue. “But ultimately everyone’s bought in.”
If it were as simple as making everyone put their phone down, the difference might not be all that noticeable. But the staff has taken the extra step of not letting players sit within their own position groups while eating.
“It helps a lot,” said redshirt freshman wide receiver Sam James. “Now we’re eating and talking and getting to know each other better. You don’t really know much about the defensive players, where now you learn more about them.”
There is a football-related angle to the policy. On special teams, where offensive and defensive players mingle, the thought is that communication will improve if guys know one another better.
“They made a really vital point the other day in practice,” Donahue said. “We were lined up in the neutral zone and Josh Norwood is yelling ‘back up, back up.’ Only a couple people backed up.
“If you put your phones down and be more social when you’re eating, he might be like ‘Hey Reese, get off the ball,’ just to use an example. The point is the more that you know the people around you, the more you’ll trust the people around you, the better football team you’ll be in the long run.”
Donahue sees an even greater benefit from a character-molding perspective.
“Off the field, this staff has done a phenomenal job. When we’re outside of football, we don’t talk about football. We talk about you. We talk about your grades,” Donahue said. “Obviously it’s important to talk about football, that’s what we do. But we talk about the things that really matter when we’re away from here.”