MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Nearly two years after leaving for Texas A&M, assistant coach Jake Spavital remains close not only with his mentor Dana Holgorsen, but also with several West Virginia players he recruited.
During Friday afternoon’s Liberty Bowl interview session, Spavital ran into Mountaineers sophomore Daryl Worley in a hotel lobby. The guys have swapped texts throughout Worley’s two seasons at WVU, a program to which Spavital lured the overlooked cornerback.
“I was an Oklahoma kid driving around Philadelphia when I saw Daryl Worley,” Spavital said. “From the minute you saw him walk in, you knew he could be a player.”
Having bonded with Spavital during a time when few other major programs showed interest, Worley became disappointed upon enrolling in January 2013 only to see his lead recruiter leave for College Station days later.
“It kind of hurt me when he left, but we still talk a lot,” said Worley, who called his shot regarding a bowl game interception. “I’m waiting to pick it off, and I hope it’s on Jake’s sideline so I can say something to him.”
Spavital’s other big contributions to the 2013 recruiting class were Biletnikoff finalist Kevin White and Mike linebacker-in-waiting Al-Rasheed Benton.
At 29, Spavital shoulders a rare blend of youth and responsibility. His first season as a stand-alone offensive coordinator featured the rise-and-fall of Kenny Hill, a midseason shift to true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen, and a streakiness that saw the Aggies surge and dip to emotional extremes.
For Spavital, who first took over play-calling duties at last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, the last four months were humbling for an already-humble guy.
“We were ranked fifth in the country, and then we lose three straight and we’re the worst team in the country,” he said. “Then we beat Auburn and I’m back to guru status, but we lose the last two games so now we’re back to being an average team.”
Through the jumps and slumps, Spavital stayed connected with Holgorsen—so much so that the WVU coach let slip in late November that Clint Trickett’s latest concussion might be be season-ending. That information became more vital when the Liberty Bow pairing was announced Dec. 7, though Holgorsen only revealed the official prognosis to reporters Friday.
Come game time, the overlap of offensive systems means both coaches must be cognizant of the other side recognizing signals. And cognizant of what Spavital jokingly described as “lots of side bets.”
In the six years since they were thrown together on a University of Houston staff and a UH apartment—Holgorsen as coordinator and Spavital as barely-paid grad assistant—they’ve been tethered.
“He took care of me and he treated me like a little brother,” Spavital said. “He always made sure I had everything I needed. It was tough to leave him because he took such good care of me, but he understood the move.
“I loved working for Dana and I enjoyed my time with him at Houston, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. I owe a lot to that man.”
And in a sense, West Virginia still owes some gratitude toward Spavital.
“He brought some great players to West Virginia,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “I’m excited about that.”