MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – With no obvious meal ticket on this year’s roster, West Virginia knows it has to take a lunch-pail approach to the upcoming season.
Five key Mountaineers from last year’s team were drafted. Another, wide receiver David Sills, is a strong bet to make it on Buffalo’s roster as an undrafted free agent. All-conference safety Kenny Robinson is off the team, lingering in the NCAA transfer portal.
For the casual college football fan that had reason to catch a West Virginia game for a chance to see a Heisman candidate and three stud receivers last year, these Mountaineers probably won’t have much to offer. This team is built strictly for WVU diehards.
“Star power is great. I get that,” said senior defensive end Reese Donahue. “It’s a big wow factor for the crowd. But ultimately does one person win a football game? No. Do two people win a football game? No. It helps. But the reason it’s a team is that it takes multiple people to win a game.”
WVU’s most established star is left tackle Colton McKivitz, who graces the cover of Athlon’s preseason magazine. The number of fans tuning in or buying tickets to watch blind-side protection can probably be counted on one hand, though.
Though McKivitz doesn’t play at a flashy position, junior offensive lineman Josh Sills says he has a lot in common with the likes of Gary Jennings or Will Grier.
“Last year we had a lot of star power. But they didn’t rely on that,” Sills said. “They relied on hard work and durability and the time they put on the field. I wouldn’t call that star power. I’d call it hard work and dedication. Determination.
“Colton works his ass off every day. You can say it’s star power, but when it goes back to the weight room and the field he does everything and anything. He’s the first one in.”
The benefit of a team that recognizes that its talent level might not be the same as the previous year is that players know they have to work that much harder to bridge that gap. Doing all that extra work together builds a sense of purpose.
“Ultimately [there are] games, moments, times in the locker room where you don’t know if you can finish or not,” Donahue said. “Who is going to be the one to push you through that? Coach Brown yelling at you, or someone you’ve been working with?
“It might help us win one game. It might help us win one down. It might help us win 10 games. I don’t know. I can’t tell you. But I do know it’s a huge factor.”
When the Big 12 preseason poll is released on July 10, the Mountaineers figure to be in the bottom half of the league. But if this can be the closest team Donahue has been on at West Virginia, he figures it can perform better than expected.
“There’s no science to measure camaraderie,” he said. “There’s no GPS you can put on. There’s no bench press at the combine that you can tell. Camaraderie is underrated as much as it can possibly be. There’s something about it that changes the dynamics of a team.”