WVU football doesn’t have a single Heisman Trophy winner in its storied history. Could a player in 2017 add their name and alter the record books?
I have to admit, I sat down to write this column with every intention of pouring cold water over the Mountaineer fans who are teeming with excitement about the upcoming season, and specifically, the impending debut of Florida transfer and wunderkind quarterback Will Grier.
Call me cynical, but an abundance of pre-season hype is nothing new in recent Mountaineer history, and that has left yours truly cold and jaded.
There was the Pat White and Steve Slaton era, where every August was spent debating who was going to win the Heisman; Slaton finished 4th in 2006, the best for either player.
Then there was the arrival of Noel Devine, a running back so quick and agile he was destined to become the next Barry Sanders – he wasn’t.
And most recently Geno Smith, who broke every passing record in the book for WVU and was expected to lead the ‘Eers to a national title; his ridiculous 42-to-6 TD-to-INT ratio was great in 2012, but the team was dysfunctional and lost 5 in a row mid-year before finishing a disappointing 7-6.
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So lets just say I was proceeding cautiously into the Will Grier-era. There was only one problem with my plan. . .the hype is real.
It all started during the Gold-Blue spring game, where Grier was a sparkling 12 of 18 for 202 yards with two touchdowns. Granted, the game is an exhibition in every sense of the word (the aforementioned Smith came off the sidelines to throw an 85-yard touchdown during the 4th quarter), but Grier’s performance earned glowing praise from head coach Dana Holgorsen, who was quoted after the game, “He is as good as advertised. He has proven he is a winning quarterback.”
Say what you want about the Holgorsen-era in Morgantown, but if he has proven one thing (other than having fantastic hair), it’s that he knows how to get the most out of the quarterback position. So after reading his quote my interest was piqued, and I decided to do a little research. Here is the Reader’s Digest version of what I found…
When Grier takes the field in D.C. for the season opener against Virginia Tech on September 3rd, he will be without a doubt the most highly regarded quarterback prospect to do so in Mountaineer history. According to the ESPN.com recruiting rankings, Grier was the 3rd ranked dual-threat quarterback coming into college in 2014. That put him two spots behind Deshaun Watson – who played in the last two national championship games – and well ahead of names like Pat Mahomes and Deshon Kizer. That trio of signal-callers also happened to be the 11th, 13th and 52nd picks in April’s NFL draft.
While recruiting rankings are at best an inexact science, Grier did more than enough during his brief time at Florida to justify his standing. Despite being in a time-share, he completed almost 68% of his passes, threw 10 touchdowns and was the main player in a week 4 contest that saw the Gators erase a 13-point deficit in the final five minutes against Tennessee.
Which brings us to the reason that Will Grier is now a Mountaineer, a one-year suspension handed out on October 12, 2015 by the NCAA after he tested positive for PED’s. I won’t waste time getting into the minutia of what he took and why it was illegal, mostly because I’m not smart enough to understand it, but it was an over the counter supplement that was banned by the NCAA, and Grier admittedly did not do the appropriate research to see if it was allowed. After discussing his future with the Florida coaching staff he decided his future was somewhere else, and he ultimately settled on West Virginia and the Red Bull-injected Holgerson offense. His decision to come to the Mountaineers is made that much more special by the fact that he chose WVU despite being courted heavily by the legendary Urban Myer at Ohio State.
As successful as the WVU football program has been in the new millennium, it’s been done with3-star recruits, transfers and JuCo players. So when a player like Grier comes onboard, it becomes a potential game-changer. A program like Florida or Ohio State can simply say “bon voyage” to an elite player when he gets suspended for an innocent mistake and turn their attention to the next blue-chipper they have waiting in the wings.
West Virginia doesn’t have that luxury, but at this moment, what they do have is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country playing in an offense bereft of weapons, and a coach who knows how to use them. And try as I might, I won’t be one who keeps you from getting excited about that.