Through three games, a few freshmen have played pivotal roles for West Virginia University's football team.
True freshman offensive lineman Zach Frazier and defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor have been paramount on either side of the ball already for the Mountaineers. But behind the game stats – and often away from publicity in practices, several other young Mountaineers are still hard at work to ensure the future of the program. As the Mountaineers begin a stretch of five games in five weeks with a noon tilt in Morgantown against Kansas on Saturday (televised on Fox), depth at all positions could become supremely important.
So how close are some of these guys to making an impact on the field soon?
On Tuesday, during Zoom conference calls, coach Neal Brown, offensive coordinator Gerad Parker and co-defensive coordinators Jordan Lesley and Jahmile Addae gave updates on some of those freshmen including ones Mountaineer fans have seen sparingly and others maybe not at all yet.
n Sam Brown, WR: The youngster from Savannah, Georgia, was thrust into the starting lineup in the Mountaineers’ opener against Eastern Kentucky after suspensions sidelined WVU receivers Isaiah Esdale and T.J. Simmons. Brown responded by making four catches for 43 yards, but didn’t catch a pass or see the field against Oklahoma State or Baylor.
Parker said that early start, brought on largely by circumstance, likely led to some immediate and unfair expectations and while he didn’t give a specific timeline on when Brown may hit the field again, he is pleased with the progress the former three-star recruit is showing.
“Sam Brown is special and he’s going to be a great player, but coaching is good parenting,” Parker said. “He’s got some habits that he’s got to continue to grow upon and be accountable and know what it means to be a great player all the time and not just on game day. That’s all he’s doing. He’s growing like every freshman has to. He’s learning how to practice the right way, he’s learning how to be at lifts at 6 a.m. on time and ready to work and embracing what it really means to be a college football player on a consistent basis.
“Especially the last two weeks, he is embracing learning what that means and understanding that we have his best interests at heart.”
n Sean Martin, DL: Along with Frazier, Martin was one of the most highly-coveted prospects coming out of West Virginia a year ago.
Due to contact tracing, the Bluefield product was shelved for a couple of weeks and the absence put him behind a bit. Lesley, who also serves as the team’s defensive line coach, said Martin is making progress but while Brown is working on maturity, Martin continues to work on his body.
“The thing about Sean is … Sean is – and I don’t know if any of you guys have stood next to him lately – Sean is a big kid. I mean, he’s a big guy,” Lesley said. “Just big as in stature. And when you’re that big of a guy, the one thing that has to catch up is your strength-to-body-weight ratio and I think that’s where Sean is more than anything, is his body catching up weight-room wise to support itself in what we do. But if you watch him with his length and his hands and the stuff he does in practice, he’s coming along and he’ll probably be a guy at some point we’ll have to use.”
n Daryl Porter, CB: Like Brown, Porter saw some action early against the Colonels and also appeared in the Baylor game.
So far, the WVU defensive backfield has played fairly well with more veteran players like Sean Mahone, Tykee Smith and senior transfer Alonzo Addae leading the way among others. But in camp, few if any young players showed up in Neal Brown’s weekly report of standouts. While Porter hasn’t seen consistent time yet, according to Jahmile Addae who also coaches cornerbacks, it has been due to necessity than availability.
“I have no problem playing him if it comes down to that,” Addae said. “Daryl Porter has been a guy that’s impressed from day one. As a freshman, you’d like to have the ability to sit him down and let him mature in a sense, but he’s shown big-play ability, the ability to go get the ball in the air and this week [in practice] was no different. [With the bye week] he got some extended reps and was really able to get in there with the ones and show what he has.”
n David Vincent-Okoli, CB: A four-star recruit out of Gaithersburg, Maryland, Vincent-Okoli was thought by several publications to be the top prospect in Neal Brown’s 2020 class.
Though he split time between wideout and corner in high school, Vincent-Okoli was largely thought of as an offensive player. Addae said that transition to a full-time defensive role, as well as typical freshman growing pains, are the areas of emphasis as of now.
“He just has some maturation that he’s needing to go through as a freshman,” Addae said. “Some guys, they progress a little faster than maybe others, for him, it’s come a little bit slower being that he played nearly all offense in high school. So, while all the tools are there, right now it’s on me to continue to prepare him and get him to where he wants to be. I think the final product will be what we want here at West Virginia University, he’s just not there yet and David knows that. We’ll continue to work until we get there.”