By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
As West Virginia’s brain trust went to work building toward the future last year, a strong emphasis was on bringing in receivers.
With Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey leaving for the National Football League, there was going to be a huge void and Dana Holgorsen and his coaching staff knew that a passing attack isn’t worth the paper the plays are drawn up on if it doesn’t have receivers who can get free and catch passes, no matter how strong an arm the quarterback may possess.
And so it was they scoured junior colleges and high schools, looking behind trees and under rocks to bring in talent they could mold into players within their system. They even accepted back Ivan McCartney, who had left in the middle of last season unhappy with his role and facing personal problems.
All this is now starting to pay huge dividends, for McCartney is looking as though he may be the player Bill Stewart thought he was when he was recruited following a high school career catching Geno Smith passes in Florida, and a group of other receivers are also beginning to show a flair.
Unhappy with his receivers at Oklahoma, Holgorsen decided to use Mario Alford, Ronald Carswell and Kevin White as his starters.
The shakeup produced the intended results, as no fewer than nine different players caught passes, led by KJ Myers, who lost his starting job from a week ago, with 6 grabs for 64 yards; Daikiel Shorts, who had been benched from the previous game, with 5 for 88 yards and a pair of touchdowns; Alford with 4 for 33 yards; Carswell with 3 but for an average of 22.3 yards per catch; and McCartney, 2 for 66 yards, one of them a 45-yard touchdown.
Shorts was a player on the spot, for his talent was obvious but Holgorsen was very unhappy with his Oklahoma performance, so his ability to bounce back showed the coach something about his character that he could like.
“He made a couple of big catches across the middle and I was excited about him getting lit up like that and jumping right back up and playing football,” said Holgorsen. “He’s been a good player for us. He had a bad game for us last week and he knew it, but he didn’t pout. We named Mario (Alford) the starter and he worked hard and got himself into position to play.”
All of a sudden, danger lurks for the defense on pass plays, maybe not as if it were Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey catching passes, but with big play ability nonetheless.
And then there was McCartney, who came with promise but was bypassed by Austin and Bailey and never quite reached his potential.
“It felt overwhelming to contribute to the team,” McCartney said.
And the fact that shuffling the starting receivers worked didn’t surprise McCartney at all.
“We go through this in practice,” he said. “We all are competitive and we all feed off one another. We just love to play for one another. I couldn’t be any happier playing with any other guys.
“We have a lot of guys and everyone is talented,” he continued. “We have a lot more guys than in any of my other years here.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.