MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Before the season, James Gmiter didn’t put much thought into whether announcers knew how to pronounce his last name.
Not that they could be blamed for any confusion. According to Forebears.com, Gmiter is the 588,812nd-most common surname in the world. The only two places you’re liable to run into a Gmiter are Poland and Pittsburgh. And even in Pittsburgh, there’s some disagreement on how the name is pronounced.
“If you’re from the north side, it’s G-might-er. If you’re from the south side, it’s G-mitt-er,” said Gmiter, who hails from the south suburb of Bethel Park. “Depending on what side you go to, either one is right.”
Gmiter is proving to be as flexible with position changes as his family is with its name. Despite most colleges recruiting him to play offensive line, he signed with West Virginia as a defensive lineman. This spring, the Mountaineers coaching staff saw the same thing most of his recruiters did and asked him to move over.
He didn’t balk or threaten to transfer.
“That’s where I felt that the coaches wanted me,” Gmiter said. “I wasn’t going to disobey them or deny them. I just agreed with it.”
Gmiter said that attitude is one learned from his late grandfather, a former Pittsburgh steel mill worker he describes as a “true Yinzer.”
“Don’t be a guy that does what’s best for them,” Gmiter recalled his grandpa telling him. “You have to sacrifice for the greater good.”
The switch wasn’t easy at first.
“It’s harder mentally than physically,” Gmiter said. “I had to come over from defense learning different blitzes. Offensive line, you have to understand who to go to, where to go to them, how to get to them, and then when they switch fronts you have to understand each front differently.”
With the steep learning curve, Gmiter was never mentioned as a threat to crack the starting lineup all through spring and August training camp. Mike Brown had the left guard position on lockdown.
But when Brown missed the North Carolina State game due to illness, Gmiter was asked to step in. He was part of a mass overhaul along the line that included center Briason Mays and right guard Chase Behrndt replacing previous starters prior facing the Wolfpack.
“I was excited, but at the same time I was very, very nervous considering I haven’t played the offensive line live against another team since high school,” Gmiter said. “Briason and I talked Friday night at the hotel about how nervous we were. Then Saturday for the pregame meal we just looked at each other like ‘Oh boy. Here it is.’”
Both redshirt freshmen been in the starting lineup ever since, and it may be quite some time before they’re replaced. Against Texas, Gmiter graded out as West Virginia’s top lineman, edging out veteran left tackle and future pro Colton McKivitz.
Gmiter even got a taste of his old life against the Longhorns, tackling linebacker Ayodele Adeoye on an interception return. Gmiter said instinct took over after some initial confusion.
“I didn’t even know who had the ball,” he said. “I forgot how to tackle for a second.”
Offensive line coach Matt Moore thought about giving Gmiter extra credit for the tackle.
“I should have given him a point,” Moore said. “But he was defensive player. He should be good at tackling.”
Gmiter is proving to be even better at blocking, which makes him glad that he finally came around to the idea of playing offensive line.
“What’s stuck out is that through recruiting I was recruited as an offensive lineman. I didn’t want to believe it at the time because I was so hard-headed about playing defense,” Gmiter said. “When I came over, it all started to click. I started to figure out that maybe everybody else was right.”