By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
When the spring started, Travis Bell had a whole lot working against him.
Over the winter, he had been arrested on a domestic violence charge, which normally doesn’t sit well with football coaches, who prefer to see their defensive players throwing ball carriers around rather than girlfriends.
Having been disciplined, he had hoped to show what he could do on the field at West Virginia University, but he had a shoulder injury.
“We didn’t think he was able to participate in the spring,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson admitted.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t the subject of some discussion among the coaching staff.
Patterson had watched his cornerbacks perform last year, and it was, to be quite honest, unacceptable as the Mountaineers gave up 39.5 points a game.
To make matters worse, they hadn’t signed any new cornerbacks, believing that since it was a young group that it could be coached to be better.
Travis Bell was a safety, and as they talked about him in the spring, they thought it might not be a waste of time to try him at the corner.
“It was something Brian brought to my attention and Coach Gibson and I talked about it,” Patterson said
Brian is Brian Mitchell, who last year was defensive coordinator at East Carolina and has come over to coach the corners and does so with a clean slate, while Coach Gibson is Tony Gibson, the safeties coach, also in his first year back at WVU after having served under Rich Rodriguez.
This was one of those “what have we got to lose” things. Safety, with Darwin Cook and Karl Joseph, is one of the strongest positions on the team, meaning if Bell could contribute at corner it would be a huge step forward.
He stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 188 pounds, which is not particularly big, but is bigger than most of the corners on the roster.
“We’re trying to get more length out of all our guys. He brings something a little bit different to the table, and that was the topic of discussion,” Patterson said. “He brings size. He’s physical. He’s explosive. He has a chance to break on the football. I’m looking for big things from him.”
All they needed to do was get him on the field, but that looked like it might not come until August.
Then, two practices before the spring game, the word came down that Bell was cleared to play.
“Once he was given the green light, we made the change,” Patterson said.
And so it was with no small amount of surprise to a media that is not allowed to watch practice that Bell showed up at corner for the spring game, and more of a surprise when he made the game’s only interception and one of the biggest hits.
If the untrained eyes of the media or public thought they had discovered something, head coach Dana Holgorsen was not so fast to welcome him as a potential player at the corner.
“We made the switch two days ago. He may be there full time. We’ll evaluate,” Holgorsen said.
But the tackle? The interception?
“He made one play where the receiver just forgot to block him. I probably could have made that play,” said Holgorsen. “On his interception, he undercut it, but the ball was so under-thrown that I’m not saying I could have made that one but I would have been in position.”
Maybe back in the day Holgorsen could have done those things, but now?
“My point is, we will study the film for different things. He’s embraced the change, and he’s excited about it. He’s not a 210-pound kid; he weighs about 180 pounds. He can run fast, and he has great conditioning. It is an experiment that we talked about a week ago, and we moved him. We’ll keep looking into it,” the coach said.
Patterson is hopeful.
“Right now it looks like he could benefit our team,” the coordinator said.
If this doesn’t work out, of course, they could always put Holgorsen back there.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.