Alexandre Dumas gave us “The Three Musketeers.”
Dana Holgorsen has gone the French author one step further and is giving us “The Four Mountaineers.”
Like the fictional trio, today’s all-too-real quartet of West Virginia University receivers lives by the motto, “All for one, one for all!”
Dumas named his Musketeers Athos, Aramis and Porthos, while the Mountaineers go by the names of Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Ivan McCartney and Devon Brown.
The four of them, working in conjunction with quarterback Geno Smith, have swashbuckled their way through three opponents but now take on the No. 2 team in America in the Bayou Tigers of LSU, a stingy defensive group of superior athletes.
The challenge for the LSU defense will be unlike any it has seen, to be sure, facing a group of four receivers who gained 100 receiving yards individually over the past two games. Think about that for a moment, how the passes have to be distributed, how four individuals have to be capable of making big plays, how you really can’t find a way to do very much double teaming.
They are talented and eager, as the sophomore McCartney let on.
“We’re ready to come and show everyone what we’re made of because we’re being doubted so much,” he said. “We’re ready to go and prove what we have.”
And what, he was asked, do you have?
“We’ll show you on Saturday,” he promised with what could only be described as a winning smile.
The truth is it all begins with Austin in the slot, for he is certainly the most dangerous of the receivers, the most likely one to take a quick little pass all the way.
And, it comes to light, he is as tough as he is quick, something he proved last week when he played despite having surgery on his right pinky early in the week, a two-inch pin having been placed in there with a couple of screws.
He played with the hand wrapped and caught 11 balls, second most in WVU history, good for 122 yards.
“Tavon is a very tough guy,” Bailey said. “For a guy to go out after having surgery and still catch 11 balls and play his game without anyone noticing anything wrong with him, I tip my hat to him. He’s very tough.”
Austin downplayed his courage.
“I had surgery. It was broken, but I’m good now. There are a couple of screws in there, but I’m a fast healer,” he said. “I can tolerate a lot of pain.”
If he could catch 11 balls with one good hand, how many might he have caught if both were perfect?
“I caught everything that was thrown at me. If I had X more passes thrown to me, I guess I’d have had X more catches,” he said, not really joking.
He also can inflict a lot on the pride of a cornerback or safety. And linebacker? Forget it; you will not cover Tavon Austin out of the slot with a linebacker.
But Austin in only one of the options. Indeed, there is a subculture within the group, sort of the three musketeers in lower case, for Bailey, McCartney and quarterback Smith were high school teammates under former Mountaineer linebacker Damon Cogdell at Miramar High in Florida.
Smith is extremely close with Bailey, a classmate of his, McCartney being a year behind.
“Stedman is like a brother. I take care of him; he takes care of me,” Smith said.
Sometimes when players get to college, they fall into different groups, move away from each other. Not these three.
“We haven’t gone our separate ways,” Smith said. “We’re still bonded, close. We hang out.
“We do it because our parents would want us to do that, and Coach Cogdell as well.”
And McCartney said nothing has changed with Smith, either.
“He’s the same Geno from high school,” he said. “It’s crazy. I never thought we’d be playing on the same team again. I feel great about it. We stay with a tight bond. Ever since we were in high school, we always had a tight family, a tight team.”
If there is a difference, they have all grown in their ability to perform under the creative eye of Holgorsen, who also added Brown as a fifth-year senior transfer from Wake Forest. Brown surpassed 100 yards against Norfolk State in the season’s second game and plays in the slot opposite Austin.
“Having that kind of talent definitely helps each one of us out, knowing a defense can’t just key on one specific person. That’s what we need in an offense like this. We throw the ball around a lot,” Bailey said.
And perhaps the most frightening thing is that they haven’t come near peaking yet, having spent so little time in the system.
“There’s a lot more things we can do on offense and put up even bigger numbers,” Bailey said. “I wouldn’t say we’re still getting a feel for things, but if we can go four quarters playing smoothly and doing our part, playing relaxed, we can be really dangerous.”
Their position coach, Shannon Dawson, knows how much work they all put in to get where they are.
“You have to understand, all through the spring and all through camp these kids have been repping and repping and repping. If you take kids who are talented and stress repetition that much, they are going to get better and better,” he said.
Facing the LSU defense is a challenge unlike any other they have had this year and probably will be the toughest they face in the entire season.
“Obviously, these guys are faster than the guys we played against. They’ll eat up more ground. In turn, we have to play faster,” Dawson said. “There will be less space than we’re used to, but the bottom line is you have to be fired up with the chance to play. I told our guys, ‘If they’re the best defense in America, who else would you want to play? Let’s see how good you are.’”
“The receivers know where they are going. The corners don’t, but they have great corners. They are physical, they press you up, they’re great corners. We accept that challenge and we want to challenge those guys,” Austin said.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.
Alexandre Dumas gave us “The Three Musketeers.”
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