By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It would not be surprising if West Virginia University’s scintillating slot receiver and kick returner Tavon Austin has risen to the level of being a first-round pick in next month’s NFL draft and, to be honest, if he were to go ahead of quarterback Geno Smith that would not be a heart-stopping shock.
What he did at the NFL Combine and at his Pro Day were dazzling, and one can only imagine that he’s done the same in his individual workouts for teams. What’s more, his off-the-field demeanor and history of having avoided any trouble while being a leader work only for him.
On a recent podcast ESPN’s top draft experts, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, stated his case in the highest terms.
“Tavon Austin is a flat-out stud. I know he’s small ... but man is he a player. I watched him in the Pro Day. He barely broke a sweat,” McShay said.
“What you worry about in terms of him being small and holding up and durability, you get that concern eased a little bit when you watch the way he works and you hear guys around him talk about his work ethic and his toughness and his background and what he’s been through. The fact that he’s coachable.”
These are things that add immeasurable value to him as a draft choice.
Kiper’s comments may have done even more to endear him to the NFL talent judges.
“He’s a we and us guy. He’s not me and I. He’s not about flash. He’s not about highlight films and worrying about ‘hey talk about me,’ ‘look at this great thing I did,’ ‘watch this great move in the open field’. He’s serious. He’s one of those guys who’s got that ... game face.
“Wherever he’s been, high school, college and now the NFL, he has been spectacular. In this day and age of the NFL ... he is built for what the NFL is right now,” Kiper concluded.
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WVU brought in JaJuan Seider as running backs coach just days before opening spring practice, which led to an interesting situation where the players had more experience with the system than their position coach … and they loved it.
“It is great to be able to coach a coach. It’s a tough job, but at the same time, it is great I am able to teach him the offense, because I’m able to learn it more,” said junior running back Dustin Garrison.
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An update on Pat White:
Word circulating is that San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh – the Harbaugh who did not win the Super Bowl – is interested in Pat White as a potential backup to Colin Kaepernick, the thinking being that if the former West Virginia University quarterback can throw well enough he would have a backup where he didn’t have to change his offensive system should he have to play.
White worked out this week with the 49ers and they seem interested.
Who wouldn’t be?
“I pay attention to how his players react to Coach Harbaugh,” White told USA Today. “They all want to win for him. And he seems to treat them how they want to be treated. I’m excited to get to know him on that level — if I do get that opportunity. I’m very optimistic about making it back to the NFL.”
Hard as it is to believe, Pat White is 27 now and running out of time. It’s been three years since he was released by the Miami Dolphins after a rookie season in which he failed to complete any of his five passes while rushing for 81 yards, getting only a concussion and his release for his effort.
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Sometimes the best recruits are the ones who don’t make it to your school.
Deon Long was a five-star recruit that WVU had committed a few years back, only to wind up at Hargrave Military Academy.
He wound up spending some time at New Mexico and then Iowa Western Community College, where he led them to a national championship, before he landed at Maryland this year as one of their top recruits.
Well, guess what?
He’s been suspended for a couple of weeks for violating university policy after enrolling early so he could compete for a starting job this year out of spring practice.
Long is a former high school teammate of WVU’s Tavon Austin and they were just envisioning him, Austin and Stedman Bailey out wide before he failed to make it academically here.
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Seldom, on Twitter, do I turn to the “Discoveries” queue, but on a Sunday night following some NCAA action I opted to see just what was brewing there.
It began with an phrase far more apt than anyone could have imagine, for it describes itself as “What’s happening now, tailored for you.”
How fitting, so to speak, to use the word tailored for the first tweet was a close-up picture of the Florida Gold Coast University coach being interviewed on CBS, which pointed out in the first row in the background, right next to a terribly irritating sort of person wearing a “Cameron Crazies” T-shirt was … a straight-shooter gentleman wearing a wearing a spanking new West Virginia University rifle team NCAA championship T-shirt.
This is not exactly what you would expect to see at the NCAA basketball tournament, but considering how this year went in basketball, both men and women, it was a shirt he could wear with a great deal of pride.
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You didn’t see him play but as Temple went two games into the NCAA Tournament the Owls had a familiar face riding their bench.
Dalton Pepper, who put in some time at WVU and was expected to be a scoring guard, is now at Temple and finished this season averaging just 2.9 points a game after playing in 29 of 32 games.
The high point of his season with an 11-point, second-half performance against UNC-Charlotte, a game Temple won, 89-88.
“I’m not really frustrated,” Pepper said at the time. “Our team has been playing up and down. I’ve been playing up and down. I mean, everyone has their ups and downs. It happens to every athlete. You’ve just got to wait your turn, go play when you’re ready. Once you get the feel for it and get comfortable out there, everything changes. You’re not thinking of making a mistake here. You’ve just got to get on to the next play and play as hard as you can.”
He waited, but come tournament time, coach Fran Dunphy used only two reserves in each game.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.