West Virginia lineman Josh Sills steps out of comfort zone to play center

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Josh Sills was asked to move from guard to center at the start of the week, his reaction was closer to grimace than grin.

“I think it was kind of in line with how I reacted to the move to guard against Oklahoma last year,” said senior left tackle Colton McKivitz, who had to make a brief midgame appearance at the guard position when injuries forced major shuffling on the West Virginia offensive line.

“I know he’s not liking it,” McKivitz continued. “But he’s going to do whatever he can for the team to be the best O-line we can be on Saturdays.”

But much like eating Brussels sprouts, one can recognize when something is for the best even if it’s not necessarily the most enjoyable option.

“I’ll play wherever Coach Moore or Brown puts me,” Sills said. “It doesn’t matter, because the more positions you can play, the better off you are.”

Sills isn’t totally new to the position. He played center as a freshman and sophomore in high school, though he joked that 190 pounds may have been the size of the biggest nose tackle he saw at that age. He said a lesson his dad taught him in high school has helped him embrace the move to center.

“My dad always said, ‘Are you the kid who wants to be up in the bottom of the seventh inning with the bases loaded and a 3-2 count,” Sills recalled, “or do you want to be the kid at the end of the bench hoping he never comes up to bat?’ ”

Sills prefers to have the bat — or in this case, the ball — in his hands. His blocking assignments are different than they were as a guard, but the technique is mostly the same. The biggest change is snapping the ball.

“I just listen for the clap or the cadence and I’m like, ‘Well, [the quarterback] better be paying attention,’ ” Sills said.

Perhaps the hardest aspect of the move is the fact Sills’ best friend on the team was demoted in the process. Chase Behrndt had a hold on the starting center spot after spring practice and carried it into training camp. But a poor performance in West Virginia’s first scrimmage convinced the coaching staff that change was needed.

“It’s pretty hard for a guy,” McKivitz said. “He felt it that first day when he got knocked down.”

The situation has Sills playing center at practice and psychologist at the apartment he shares with Behrndt.

“I’ve been really supportive towards Chase,” Sills said. “He’s going to have to be a guy for us this year. He has to mentally know he could play a lot of snaps. We don’t have a lot of depth. I have to let him know, ‘You should be here, you can play here, you just have to apply yourself and know mentally you can.’ ”

Behrndt has been getting snaps at guard since the switch.

“He’s putting in the work to get back where he was,” McKivitz said. “A big part of being the closest group on the team is you have to be accountable. We’re going to hold each guy accountable for his actions. I got on him during a practice just saying, ‘We’re going to need you.’

“He’s figured out that if he’s going to play, he has to play at a high level.”

It’s partially been the emergence of another player, sophomore John Hughes, which has helped make the coaching staff comfortable enough to move Sills away from his natural position. Hughes has picked up on things quickly after transferring in from Navarro Junior College (Texas) over the summer.

“He kind of shocked us the first day he got in. He showed he could probably play,” McKivitz said. “He’s fast. He’s got good feet.

“He’s still young, but he understands the game more than some of the other guys. That’s a big thing with him. An important thing for him is to not be afraid to make mistakes. Just play hard.”

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