By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It came across moments after Tavon Austin had taken a Maryland punt in at his 20-yard line and wiggled and waggled, moved in one direction then the other, made some moves that even Michael Jackson had never thought of before finally stepping out of bounds with a a string of fallen defenders behind him and smile on his face after a 17-yard return.
That was when the Tweet went off into cyberspace, the author being someone who knew something about the game of football.
“Tavon Austin truly plays the game of football like it’s a game. Makes it look soo fun!!!
The observation really caught the essence of the game of football as played by Tavon Austin, the West Virginia slot receiver who is inventive a player be it running the ball, catching the ball or returning kicks as there is in the game, one who may eventually wind up being compared in style, if not in accomplishments, to a fellow was pretty good at the game himself, a player named Barry Sanders.
On this day Austin simply set the WVU single-game record for receptions with 13, a record which went all the way back a week to the James Madison game when teammate Stedman Bailey set it. He scored three touchdowns among those receptions, one of 44 yards, one of 24 and one of 34 yards, giving his scoring plays some symmetry.
When the finished tallying up his yardage it came to 179 yards, which passed Shawn Foreman on the career yardage chart at 2,469, and the three touchdowns tied him with Chris Henry for the No. 2 spot in that department with 22, passing the aforementioned Bailey.
But fear not, Bailey is only a junior and should he return next season chances are he will have a firm grasp of that record.
We are not here today to talk, though, about the skills Austin possesses, for the Tweet in question was not about his accomplishments on the field but instead about his demeanor.
“His demeanor on the sideline was fantastic,” said Coach Dana Holgorsen. “When things weren’t going very good he was the guy bouncing around trying to pick everyone up. That’s what team leaders do. That’s what team captains do. He stepped up and played well in adversity.”
So it was that Austin was cornered and asked how he came to be a person who plays the game of football, something that is taken so seriously by so many coaches, players and fans — to say nothing of parents of young children in the sandlot game — like he is having a ball.
“My family always told me, ‘Tavon, go do what you do best. Have fun and don’t stress nothing. I just try to be a kid out there and make plays, jump up and down because at the end of the day it’s what I love to do,” he said.
What makes that important is that such an attitude is contagious. For most of the game you had Randy Edsall, the Maryland coach, ranting and raving on the Terrapins’ sideline while Austin was bouncing up and down, encouraging the defense, encouraging the fans to enjoy themselves.
That scoring touchdowns is so enjoyable … well, that’s part of it, of course.
“Everyone needs encouragement. The defense was having troubles, that’s why I ran up there and gave them a little encouragement,” he said.
And the offensive line … and the running backs, who were managed to gain just 25 yards all day, the lowest rushing total since 1996.
Even Geno Smith, the quarterback who is involved in the Heisman Trophy chase, needed some kind of pick me on this day … and not just after a Maryland blitzer had nearly taken him apart not once, but twice, his first two sacks of the season.
In fact, Smith might have had a rough day were it not for Austin, for he caught 13 passes while the next three top receivers combined for just 14.
“He put on his back and carried us to victory,” is the way Smith characterized Austin’s performance.
And now the Mountaineers are 3-0 heading for Big 12 play, all of them wearing the same kind of smile Austin has on his face thanks to the victory.
Oh, by the way, you are probably wondering who it was who sent that Tweet about Austin.
It was someone who knew a whole lot about making football game fun … a guy who played some here at West Virginia himself in the mid-2000s.
His name is Patrick White.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.