MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — At his core, William Crest still identifies himself as a quarterback, the same way he did back at Dunbar High when teammates nicknamed him “Little Geno” after committing to West Virginia.
Confident, agile and accustomed to being essential, he projected the path you’d expect from a sought-after recruit: One year’s training as the Mountaineers’ backup quarterback and then taking control of the offense.
Only that development was interrupted, first by a shoulder injury and then by the rapid rise of virtual unknown Skyler Howard, who signed with WVU amid none of the buzz that accompanied Crest.
Instead of emulating Geno Smith, a starter through parts of four seasons at West Virginia, Crest now embraces the utility role of Ohio State’s Braxton Miller. An experiment that began during the spring of 2015—when Crest approached head coach Dana Holgorsen about plugging in at different positions—continues this spring with the redshirt sophomore lining up at running back and receiver and taking fewer passing reps as the unofficial No. 3 quarterback.
Though Crest emphasizes how he “volunteered” to switch positions last year, the move meant relinquishing the alpha-male identity he amassed as a four-star recruit in Baltimore.
“Playing high school ball, you’re the guy and people are depending on you, and that’s what you’re used to,” he said Saturday, wearing a West Virginia jacket over his old Dunbar sweatpants. “So it was some hesitation there. But I had to realize this team was bigger than me. That’s why I went to Coach and asked why not give it a shot?
“Braxton Miller played quarterback and did well, did phenomenally well. Then he turned around and ended up playing wide receiver and he did that well too. So why not be a game-changer? That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Blessed with a fullback’s thighs and soft hands, Crest looks natural in many facets. Equally important, though, is his willingness to respect Holgorsen’s decision and applaud Howard for “doing what he did to take over the game.”
Dubbing Holgorsen “the mastermind” for two decades’ worth of offensive evolution, Crest said, “I don’t question the mastermind.”
Outsiders aren’t always so positive or patient. Crest hears the speculation about a transfer and the potential for joining the litany of passers who found greener pastures at their second stops. With Baker Mayfield and Jake Coker, half of last season’s college playoff field featured transfer quarterbacks, and Clint Trickett, the guy under whom Crest apprenticed in 2013, came to WVU from Florida State.
Situations and tolerances may change down the line, but for now, Crest buries any hint of dissatisfaction.
“Some people blow it out of proportion,” he said. “They say ‘But you’re a quarterback, you’re a quarterback,’ and yeah, I am. But if I can change the game and help the team out, that’s what I’ve got to do.
“I’m not going to sit around here and be selfish and say they’re not giving me what I want.”
In parts of two seasons at quarterback, Crest has completed 14-of-29 passes for 131 yards and one interception without throwing a touchdown. His only two scores came on keepers, and during spot work at wideout last season he made four catches for 29 yards.
“It gets complicated sometimes. I’m learning different parts of the game but they all come together,” he said. “It can get frustrating and it bothers me, but you’ve got to take it all in, learn and be a sponge.”
During Saturday’s position drills, Howard and second-teamer Chris Chugunov rotated through the primary quarterback reps, while Crest worked with the other skill groups. During the pressurized 2-minute scrimmage, Howard and Chugunov were again at the controls, though Crest eventually took snaps in an untimed portion of the scrimmage. Mostly he ran zone-reads with a sprinkling of play-action passes.
“I mostly do a little bit of everything—a dab of this and a dab of that,” he said. “That’s what I’m living off of, the team aspect, not the I aspect.”