MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Neal Brown went 4-for-4 in one important category of West Virginia’s season-opening win over James Madison.
All four graduate transfers who arrived at WVU this offseason made an immediate impact in their first game as Mountaineers.
While Brown is happy that’s the case, he said off-field intangibles were an even bigger factor in bringing each player into the program.
“We were in culture-building mode this summer. We were really choosy about who we brought in,” Brown said. “Down the road, when I feel better about the makeup of our locker room, it will be based a little more on talent than what they bring into the locker room.”
Brown said he learned that lesson the hard way when he was at Troy.
“We were 0-for-2 on kids like that at Troy,” Brown said. “That’s one of the benefits of being in this chair. Those are mistakes we made previously that we didn’t want to make here.”
The most obvious of the new contributors was quarterback Austin Kendall, who went 27-of-42 for 260 yards and two touchdowns. Kendall was the first of the graduate transfers to arrive at West Virginia, coming from Oklahoma in January.
While it was a good showing for Kendall considering it was his first full game since high school, he found it far from flawless.
“I was a little amped up and ready to let it loose,” Kendall said. “I’ve got to settle down now. I’ve got one game under my belt. I have to make these plays now.”
Kendall was also hurt by five dropped balls, but he’s maintained a good attitude about those when talking to his receivers and running backs.
“You have to be positive,” Kendall said. “I tell them, ‘You make these plays in practice and you can make them in a game. You’ve made them before, so make them again.’”
One of Kendall’s touchdown passes was thrown to one of his grad transfer brethren. George Campbell, who decided to come to West Virginia after an injury-riddled career at Florida State, caught his first touchdown in his fifth year of college football.
“It’s been tough, but the one thing you can do is hold your head high and keep praying to God,” Campbell said. “I’m finally at a spot where I finally feel great physically and mentally. Being able to play ball again is the best thing for me.”
Defensive end Reuben Jones made his presence felt in his first game as a Mountaineer with two tackles and a sack. That production was no surprise to fellow lineman Darius Stills.
“The first day Reuben came [from Michigan], he wanted to get work in,” Stills said. “He didn’t want breaks. He’s the main battery to our defense. He keeps the energy going. He’s the hardest worker on our defense. We all feed off his energy.”
The fourth member of the quartet is punter Josh Growden, who arrived from LSU midway through training camp. He was kept fairly busy as West Virginia’s run game struggled, punting eight times for a 40.8-yard average. Importantly, he and the coverage team were able to limit electric JMU returner D’Angelo Amos to 4 yards on two returns.