MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Five former Fairmont Senior Polar Bears took the field for West Virginia in the Mountaineers’ 56-10 season-opening win over Eastern Kentucky. Darius and Dante Stills are multi-year starters on the defensive line. Redshirt junior linebacker Jake Abbott has played in fifteen career games. Redshirt freshman Rhett Heston had a solo tackle in his collegiate debut.
And then there is Zach Frazier. The highly-touted recruit won a football state championship in 2018 and claimed four state wrestling championships in his years at Loop Park. With a quartet of offensive linemen suspended for the EKU game, Frazier became the first true freshman to start a season opener at center for West Virginia in over forty years. Head coach Neal Brown says Frazier has been well-schooled in practice going up against a fellow former Polar Bear.
“Our defense is difficult to play against,” Brown said. “He was partnered up and he went against Darius every day. So we had Fairmont on Fairmont every single day. If we kept score, Darius probably won. But Zach won his fair share. Day after day of going against Darius, I think he got better. So he gained some confidence.
“He was going to play today regardless of the suspensions. He wasn’t going to start. But I thought he handled it really well.”
“We better be” (and they were)
That was the three-word response Brown offered early in game week about if his rushing offense can be better than their 2019 output. Competition level not withstanding, the Mountaineers averaged 6.5 yards per tote Saturday, ending the game with 329 yards. Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield each set career-highs with 123 yards apiece and 2 touchdown runs. Tony Mathis, Jr. found the end zone as well.
“You are not going to be a championship program and win at an elite level in the Big 12 unless you can run the ball and stop the run,” Brown said.
“This is just a start. Just because we did it today doesn’t mean that all of a sudden we have arrived running the football. No, we have to go to Stillwater and we have to do it. And we have to do it against Baylor and we have to do it against people that we are going to have to beat to be competitive in our league.”
“We are taking everything personal this season,” said Leddie Brown. “Nobody had faith in us coming into this season so I am here to prove them wrong.”
Saturday’s attendance: 976
As WVU fans await word on if the general public will be allowed inside Milan Puskar Stadium for Big 12 Conference games, Saturday’s crowd of 976 was comprised of families of players and coaches. For WVU’s new starting quarterback Jarret Doege, the experience mirrored his days at Bowling Green.
“In the ‘MACtion’ on Tuesday and Wednesday, my family were the only people in the stands at the time. So it is nothing new to me,” Doege said.
“It was no different for me just because of the love for the game,” said WVU transfer safety Alonzo Addae. “That’s one thing me and my teammates all share is a true passion for football. Obviously it does suck not to have the environment and the atmosphere of all the fans here but regardless we are still suiting up and representing West Virginia as a state. We want to do that proudly.”
Zach Frazier was not the only true freshman to make an immediate impact on Saturday. Wideout Reese Smith caught 4 passes for 32 yards while Sam Brown caught 4 balls for 43 yards as they stake claims for playing time amongst a deep group of receivers.
“Reese has been ultra-competitive since he has been here,” Neal Brown said. “He had some really nice blocks out on the perimeter that don’t get talked about as well. He played on two of the special teams. I have high hopes for him moving forward. He is a going to be a guy we can really build around and be a great program player.”
Game 1 for Gerad Parker as offensive coordinator
Neal Brown’s closest confidant on offense is new offensive coordinator and receivers coach Gerad Parker. One game into his tenure as the OC, Brown has been pleased with Parker’s presence and demeanor.
“Gerad Parker has been a great addition to what we are doing offensively. He has been as big of a benefit to me as anybody. He has done a great job coaching our wideouts. I think we are improved. Being the leader when I am not over there offensively, Gerad did a nice job. He called a bunch of plays today. I have been really pleased with him. I think our players respect him. That has been a positive.”