West Virginia seniors still embracing roles in likely rebuilding season

ARLINGTON, Texas – West Virginia enters the 2019 season facing an entirely different set of expectations than it did a year ago.

Last season the Mountaineers were one of the favorites at Big 12 media days, picked to finish second in the preseason poll. With the bulk of the players who were responsible for those lofty expectations now preparing for NFL training camps, this West Virginia team is simply looking for some respect.

After seeing that the Mountaineers are picked eighth in the preseason poll, senior cornerback Keith Washington thinks they are getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment.

“It’s going to help us play with a chip on our shoulder. It’s motivated a lot of guys even more,” Washington said. “We’re working even harder. The thing we’re telling ourselves is it’s about how you finish and not how you start.”

Senior left tackle Colton McKivitz is a realist about the season ahead. He knows his best opportunity to play in the Big 12 championship may have come a year ago before slipping away in heartbreaking losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

“Obviously, we had a pretty good chance last year,” he said. “And in ’16 we were pretty good also.”

His goal is to make sure none of his younger teammates had to feel that disappointment of coming up one win short of playing for a title.

“If you’re not learning from the disappointment from last season, it’s your fault for not teaching them that,” McKivitz said. “If that’s instilled in them, they won’t have to worry about that also.”

McKivitz pondered leaving early to enter the NFL Draft. Given the exodus of offensive talent, no one would have begrudged such a decision. But too much of him saw a chance to be part of something meaningful under first-year coach Neal Brown.

“As a senior you want your year to be THE year,” McKivitz said. “That’s every senior’s wish. But part of the decision in coming back is I want to leave it in a good direction. If I came back I wanted to leave the team in a better direction and helping to start that direction.”

For this season, that might be accomplished by merely finishing higher than the predicted eighth and creating a culture that the underclassmen might build into a championship run one day.

“It’s that mindset of if it’s not me, then it should be someone else,” McKivitz said. “Getting those young guys to learn from our mistakes now and from last season and preparing them for something better.”

Reese Donahue is another senior who embraces his leadership role and what it could mean for the program’s long-term success.

“It’s all about buy-in. It’s all about what it means to you,” Donahue said. “This is the hand that I’m dealt. What am I going to do? I’m not transferring. This is my state and this is my school. Am I going to lay down and quit, or gut-up and do it?

“I’ve done my best to lead. I know what it means to be a Mountaineer. So I’m going to carry that tradition through. You just have to understand you’re here for this purpose and playing for the state.”

Like any path in West Virginia, potholes loom ahead for Brown’s first team. For the seniors, the goal is to make sure those challenges are not what defines their team.

McKivitz looks forward to seeing how his teammates handle the learning curve.

“I’m pretty excited to figure out what the younger guys can bring, and how good we can be,” McKivitz said.

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