By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Normally, when an offensive coordinator running Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid West Virginia University offense predicts that a receiver of his will catch 100 passes in the upcoming season, it wouldn’t raise any eyebrows.
That’s like saying there’s corn in Kansas or apples in Washington. Completed passes are natural products of the climate in which the offense is run.
But in this instance, it was in the midst of this past spring practice, and need we remind you that at that particular moment the West Virginia passing game was such a mystery that it seemed more fitting that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle write about it than any of the state’s sports writers.
One must remember that at this time Shannon Dawson had no idea who would be throwing those passes, his quarterback from a season back having gone on to play for the New York Jets, and his top two receivers, each of which had broken school receiving records with more than 100 catches, had moved on to the St. Louis Rams of that same NFL each expected to be an exciting rookie find.
Dawson, being quite honest in his assessment at the moment, admitted he didn’t expect a quarterback to come out of summer workouts and that it would be probably two weeks before the season opener before they could settle on a starter.
Obviously, there was no stick-out in the group, and even with the transfer of Florida State’s Clint Trickett, who on experience alone figures to be the starter, no one is expecting a Geno Smith clone to be in the mix.
The situation at wide receiver was as baffling as quarterback, with the top three pass catchers gone and those waiting in line offering great potential but nothing done on the field to make anyone believe they could become just third receiver in WVU history to catch 100 or more passes in a season.
Since then, though, a couple of things have taken place to make it seem a good bit more likely that Dawson’s bold prediction would come true.
It began, of course, with Trickett’s transfer, which at least put forth a standard at which this year’s quarterback would perform. While no one was ceding him the starting job even before he went through a practice, his presence said that if either Ford Childress or Paul Millard wins the job they will be capable of performing above his level.
But it is highly possible that a player who winds up with 100 catches wasn’t even a part of the football team in the spring. Indeed, it isn’t even 100 percent certain he will be there for the opening game.
However, should Ivan McCartney have learned how much he gave up when he walked away from the team last year, disenchanted and disenfranchised from his playing time, and begin playing as they expected he would when he came to WVU along with Stedman Bailey out of Miramar High in Florida, he could join Jordan Thompson in giving Dawson a Tavon Austin-Bailey combination with which to work.
McCartney has always known he was good and, being related to Chad Ochocinco not afraid to state it.
In fact, coming out of his freshman season in which he caught just one pass, he spoke bravely about his future.
“I don’t doubt myself,” McCartney said. “I don’t regret anything. I just work hard. What happens in the past is in the past.”
McCartney came out and had a big first-half of the next season, then slid into the background.
And when he found himself banished to the sideline last year he reacted badly, which was a highly predictable reaction off what he said following that first season.
“It was a learning process, and it motivates me for this year. I mean, I’m not planning on going through another year of not playing that much and having one catch for just 4 yards. It motivates me to work harder and do what I have to do.”
Big on ego, big on talent but not very big on sitting on the bench; when that happened he withdrew from everything and got himself into a situation where he could not produce.
Now he understands he’s on borrowed time and in a situation where, if he does what is asked of him, he will have an opportunity to save his football career and, along with it, make a good life for himself and his family.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.