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In wake of departures, new leaders developing for West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – At this point in college football’s evolution, players have grown accustomed to seeing a handful of teammates transfer every offseason. But in most scenarios, those are players looking for more playing time rather than already-proven playmakers.

That’s not quite the case for West Virginia this offseason.

Three would-be starters – wide receiver Marcus Simms and safeties Kenny Robinson and Derrek Pitts – entered the transfer portal this offseason. Pitts transferred to Marshall, Simms entered the NFL supplemental draft, and Robinson is still looking for his new home.

During spring practice it was evident that Simms was probably on his way out, but there was an expectation that Robinson and Pitts would still be on the roster this fall. Both practiced as starters. Senior defensive end Reese Donahue said there is no feeling amongst the remaining Mountaineers that they quit on the team.

“There’s no grudges and no hard feelings about it. It’s just kind of how college football is now,” Donahue said. “It’s sad to see those guys go. But we have, what, 120 guys? You can’t say one or two people absolutely make the team. We’ll get a couple new guys in.”

This summer, the Mountaineers are learning who will take the place of those who have left during their organized team workouts.

“We’ve been in a position where Kenny has had a lot of playing time and has always been there for us,” Donahue said. “What that makes everyone else do is step up. Maybe not one person as leader, but that entire safety group steps up. It’s a collective accountability deal.”

Donahue sees more players vying to do the things they might otherwise wait for Robinson and Pitts to do first.

“It kind of helps. When they left, I think everyone in the room was like ‘We’re going to be playing. It’s got to be me,’” Donahue said. “I think they’re all getting the job done.”

One of those players is Josh Norwood, who is practicing with the safeties now after spending last season as a cornerback. Norwood played as a safety at Northwest Mississippi Junior College after beginning his college career as a corner at Ohio State.

Teammates are also impressed with freshman Kerry Martin, an early enrollee from Charleston’s Capital High.

Coaches cannot run the summer workouts, which actually ends up being helpful in the context of developing player leadership before preseason camp begins.

“It gives you a sense that more of the responsibility falls on you to lead the group, but also to make plays and to work harder,” Donahue said. “It ultimately brings more responsibility on us.”

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