The Times West Virginian

March 3, 2014

Howard out to make believers out of WVU staff

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Getting people to believe in him, that’s what it’s always been about for Skyler Howard and it is what this spring practice that began Sunday comes down to at West Virginia University, where the quarterback job is wide open.

The weather was hardly spring, hardly the kind of weather Howard had come accustomed to as he grew up in Fort Worth, Tex., or during his time at Riverside City College in California last year, a wintery blast sending workouts indoors. But rest assured, as it will be all spring, the focus is on Howard and it is on the quarterback race.

A year ago, when WVU slipped to 4-8, while the defense had to share in the blame, it came down to the fact that three different players couldn’t handle the quarterback spot as it must be handled in Dana Holgorsen’s offense.

All three had chances. Ford Childress, the freshman, is now gone. Paul Millard, who wound up the backup, is back and competing for the job. Clint Trickett, the son of former WVU offensive line coach Rick Trickett, a former quarterback at Florida State, is also back but recovering from shoulder surgery this spring.

The shoulder probably ruined his year last fall but, unable to partake of workouts, that leaves everything on Howard, the new kid on the block with gaudy credentials out of high school and junior college. With top recruit William Crest out of Dunbar in Baltimore not yet on the scene, Howard has a chance to make believers of everyone.

You ask offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson about it and his reply is straight-forward and meaningful.

“I don’t care if it’s a quarterback, left tackle or a receiver … it’s an opportunity,” he said. “What’s an opportunity? I’m going to give you X amount of reps – and we divided them pretty evenly. What do you do with those reps? Is it my problem you didn’t rise up and win the job? Win the job! It’s not kindergarten, you know. You get an opportunity, you take advantage of it. You don’t? Too bad.”

That lays down the gauntlet.

It isn’t kindergarten. Go out and win the job.

Let us, for a moment, take a break here to mention something that is rather important.

You may wonder why someone who, in his first season in junior college passed for 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns, and was even better in a hotbed of high school football, and the answer is because he doesn’t look like a quarterback.

Skyler Howard is 6-foot tall, maybe 5-foot-11, which is why his idol is Russell Wilson, who is also 5-foot-11 or 6-foot and who will be wearing a Super Bowl championship ring as soon as it is presented to him.

Height matters.

“Being 5-11, that hurts you,” Dawson said. “If it’s between that and a guy who’s 6-2, you’re going to go with the 6-2 guy.”

So, you have to get people to believe.

“How much do you want to be the quarterback? “ Dawson asks. “If you want to be the quarterback bad, you’ll be up here a lot and ask a lot of questions and get to know it.

“Then again, it’s up to him. You can learn it, if you take it upon yourself to learn it. It’s like any other profession. It does come down to reps. The real learning, the motor memory of learning the offense comes down reps … and you will get reps. That’s not a question.”

Quarterbacks will be worked this spring … hard. They will work on learning, on leading, on throwing.

They are teammates and they are enemies, competing with each other every day.

“Some are going to be ahead mentally of others, but wherever the unknowns lie, we’re going to make those known,” Dawson said. “What I mean by that is you got a couple of kids right now who haven’t had a lot of reps. Well, we’re going to give them reps and see what they can do.

“If they can do it, great. If they don’t, then we got to find who can.”

The situation is not ideal and head coach Dana Holgorsen knows it.

“Well, we have one guy [Trickett] not going through spring,” Holgorsen said. “If one guy takes it and runs with it this spring, he’s going to have the upper hand. Whenever Clint is ready to compete, we’re going to let him compete. We’re probably not going to name a starter until later on. This spring is going to be a huge advantage for those guys who are practicing, obviously.”

Ironically, Howard’s height allowed him to get to West Virginia for it kept a lot of schools away from offering him while he was at junior college.

Only New Mexico State and Northern Colorado had offered.

“I knew the offers he had,” Dawson said. “The ones that were listed, obviously we were going to beat them regardless. The ones that were showing interest in him—like Utah and Cal … I really wasn’t worried about the West Coast schools. He’s a Texas kid and he wanted to play in the Big 12.”

“I put the plan in front of Dana of what I thought we needed to do, and he agreed. So I went out and tried to find the best midterm guy who can bring competition to that room that I could find. The biggest thing, throughout his background, he’s got a good story. He’s had to fight, and he’s had to fight hard. He’s been an undersized quarterback his whole life,” Dawson said.

Now he’s here and his West Virginia career has begun. We’ll see where it goes from here.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel