Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

May 29, 2013

Holgorsen looking for a quarterback to fill Smith’s shoes

BLUEFIELD — Is it the system or the quarterbacks — or perhaps talented receivers — that made Dana Holgorsen such a popular commodity that he wound up as head coach at West Virginia?

We will find out soon, beginning on Aug. 31 when West Virginia opens the season by hosting William & Mary. That will be followed a week later by the Big 12 opener at Oklahoma.

Holgorsen has long been known as an offensive coach, no matter whether it was at Texas Tech (quarterbacks Graham Harrell and Cody Hodges), Houston (Case Keenum), Oklahoma State (Brandon Weeden) or West Virginia (Geno Smith).

The strong-armed Smith was the perfect fit for Holgorsen’s pass-happy offense over the last two seasons, throwing for an amazing 8,590 yards, 73 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions in two years under his tutelage.

Smith is now a member of the New York Jets. Suddenly, Holgorsen has to find a new slinger of the football.

That isn’t anything unusual. That is just part of college football.

“You are going to have to replace a starter periodically, I have not been in this position for about four or five years, back when Case Keenum was a sophomore (at Houston in 2008) was the last time I had a quarterback controversy,” Holgorsen said. “You want an established guy, you want a starter, you want to know who your guy is, you want that guy to take a leadership role and bring the team along, but given the fact that college football has eligibility rules you have got to replace guys at some point.

“When you replace them you are going to do that with a guy that does not have that much experience.”

Who is next? Not even Holgorsen knows as of yet.

His choices heading into the spring after a disappointing 7-6 debut in the Big 12 was junior Paul Millard, who has completed all of 16 passes in limited playing time, and Ford Childress, a highly-touted redshirt-freshman from Texas, who has yet to throw his first college pass.

A third choice is now in the mix. A fourth, incoming freshman Chavas Rawlins, who enrolled in January, has already transferred, largely because Jake Spavital — who recruited him — left West Virginia to become quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

Holgorsen, who was in Princeton for the West Virginia Coaches Caravan on May 22, was asked no questions about Millard or Childress, but answered four inquiries about redshirt junior Clint Trickett, who has transferred from Florida State to play for the Mountaineers.

“I don’t know yet, everybody has asked me that, everybody wants to know about it,” Holgorsen said. “First and foremost we are going to give Paul Millard and Ford Childress a chance to get better this summer and I think they will, they better.

“Being able to add Clint to the equation, you have got a kid that really wants to be in West Virginia. He missed it here, he spent a lot of time here, he has played in some big games, he is a coach’s kid.

“He brings something to the table that the other guys don’t have. They all need to work hard over the 10 next weeks and we will get into camp and see where they are at that time.”

Trickett graduated from Florida State in three years, and will have two years of eligibility with the Mountaineers. He was in a four-way competition to be the signal-caller for the Seminoles, but chose to leave for West Virginia. The son of former WVU offensive line coach Rick Trickett, Clint played in 16 games in three years for the Seminoles — two as a starter — behind current NFL signal-callers Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel,

Trickett, whose father played at West Virginia and is now the offensive line coach at Florida State, decided to transfer, reportedly choosing the Mountaineers over Auburn and South Florida, and wasted no time getting to Morgantown.

“He just actually graduated from school at Florida State two weeks ago and immediately he came to West Virginia right away, he drove up and has been here since,” Holgorsen said. “That just shows his want to be here.”

While Holgorsen and the offensive coaching staff won’t be able to work with Trickett this summer, that doesn’t mean that certain members of the West Virginia football program won’t be spending time with him.

“From what we can do from a coaching standpoint, we can’t do anything, but the strength and conditioning people got ahold of him and will work him out,” Holgorsen said. “Other than that, he has got to learn for himself,.

“He is a smart guy and he will sit in the room, as will Paul and Ford, they will sit in a room and they will learn from spring cut-ups and get out there for some voluntary football that happens in the afternoon.”  

Trickett does bring some physical issues, which has made it difficult in the past for him to gain weight. He suffers from Celiac disease, but has started to add pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame since his diet was changed to avoid foods that contain gluten, which means avoiding most breads.

“I think that is naturally going to happen, I don’t care too much about that,” Holgorsen said. “He is a tough kid, you just watch him play, he gets hit over and over and over again and jumps up and he has never really been hurt.

“He has played through it so the weight thing doesn’t bother me at all, he has to be careful what he eats and if he does that, which he will, then he will naturally gain a little weight.”

While all eyes will be on the quarterback, the key to a better 2013 season could come down to the defense, which was among the worst in America last season. Holgorsen has made some changes to the defensive staff, including the promotion of Keith Patterson to coordinator, and the addition of assistants Tony Gibson and Brian Mitchell to holdover Erik Slaughter.

At least there will be plenty of Mountaineers on defense who do have experience, which is just the opposite of what faced West Virginia last season when most of the offense was back.

“We are happy with where they are at right now,” Holgorsen said. “The cohesiveness of the staff and the players is really good, Coach Patterson has done tremendous job. He has got Coach Mitchell and Coach Slaughter and he has Coach Gibson and they all understand what he wants.

“The players are starting to understand it and with all that cohesiveness, it will get better, plus we have got a lot of experience back. We have got nine starters coming back and a lot of guys that have played which is pretty drastically different than the way it was last year.

“Those 10 true freshmen we played last year are not freshmen anymore, it should show a bunch of improvement.”

Smith is the latest prospect tutored by Holgorsen to be drafted into the NFL. Most of his quarterbacks have had mixed results at the next level, but Holgorsen isn’t worried about Smith, who was a second round pick by the New York Jets.

“He will be fine,” said Holgorsen, who has helped produc such NFL receivers as Wes Welker, Justin Blackmon, Danny Amendola and recent draftees Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. “Just get him to the practice field, and he will probably do pretty good.”  

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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