By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Shawne Alston, the West Virginia University running back, remembers back to his freshman season, that being 2009.
“It definitely goes fast,” he said on Wednesday during one of the summer interview opportunities that are presented to the media. “When you first come to school, coaches and people are telling you ‘It goes fast.’”
But, he admitted, you don’t pay much attention to it.
“You kind of roll your eyes and think ‘He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’ Then, when you sit back and think about it, I remember freshman ball like it was yesterday. It does go pretty fast, and you have to do whatever you can to take advantage of it.
“You can’t sit around and wait on opportunities. It goes a lot faster than you think it does.”
Jeff Braun, the offensive guard who is that rare mix of brains and brawn that gives him an interesting outlook on everything, got to use a redshirt season so he was part of the 2008 recruiting class, an interesting class, indeed.
This was class that was committing as WVU was rolling through a marvelous season, a season in which it stood No. 2 in the nation entering the Pitt game, recruits lining up to share in the success of Rich Rodriguez.
And then came the Pitt game.
“I watched the Pitt game on television. I was committed for over a year at that point,” he recalled. “It was heartbreak, to see all the hype. But the Oklahoma win (that followed in the Fiesta Bowl under interim coach Bill Stewart) helped a lot of the fans and recruits. I wasn’t going to waver on my commitment. I’m not the type of person to do that.”
It proved to be the start of an amazing journey for Braun and the rest of that class, a class that included 27 players, the star turning out to be safety Robert Sands, who has moved on to the NFL. It produced the heart of the offensive line that Dana Holgorsen now enjoys — Braun, Joey Madsen and Josh Jenkins, who was the biggest grab. There was also Ryan Clarke and Tyler Urban and Pitt hero Tyler Bitancurt, the placekicker, and Jorge Wright and Coley White and a player who would become an urban legend … Tevita Finau.
He, of course, would be included in Alston’s class the next year, too, but not come, winding up a couple of years later in Utah.
It is difficult to image all that Braun’s class went through, to say nothing of Braun himself.
Think about it for a moment. He came as a Rodriguez recruit to play defensive tackle. He never played a down for Rodriguez, the coach walking out after the Pitt game, leaving Stewart to save what was left of WVU’s football pride by upsetting Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
Braun came in, was moved to offense, suffered a shoulder injury, saw the school change presidents, change athletic directors, see Stewart lose his job in favor of Holgorsen, see the offense change from one that ran the ball 70 percent of the time to one that threw it 70 percent, and also saw it go from the Big East to the Big 12.
“When it’s over, I definitely want to see how many teams I’ve played in my career,” Braun said. “I feel like I have played about every other team in every other
conference, except for the Pac-12 and the Big Ten.”
It will have been mind-boggling, especially if you count his redshirt season and the upcoming senior year.
That will come to 34 different teams if they face a different bowl opponent this year, including such schools as Colorado, UNLV, Florida State, Clemson, Maryland, North Carolina, LSU and Auburn.
“It’s a lot of stuff,” Braun admitted.
Not that he would change it.
“I’m going into my third year starting. I have a lot of experience under my belt. Even though I came in wanting to play D-tackle, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.
Neither would Jenkins, who was a heralded offensive lineman coming out of Parkersburg High who opted to stay at home, only to have to fight through a serious knee injury to reach this point where he is playing his senior season.
“You got to roll with it,” Jenkins said of the many reversals. “There’s nothing you can do if new coaches come in. You have to adapt to the new coaches, go back to the beginning and work hard. The new coaches are going to play the best guys.”
He’s become almost jaded, which might be too strong a word, but he’s certainly not the wide-eyed kid that showed up as a freshman.
“I understand it’s a business; that’s what this is. I focus on what I can control and what we can control as a team. We’re not ever going to control the conference and we not ever going to control who our coaches are,” he said. “So what we have to focus on is coming in here every day, getting better, bringing the young players along with us and bonding as a team. If we do that, I think we’ll be fine.”
Alston, with a year left to play, admits he hasn’t given the situation much reflection to date.
“I don’t think about it too much,” he said. “Maybe in a couple of years I’ll sit back and reflect on it, but right now I’m so busy I can’t sit around and think too much. You’re always constantly doing something.”
He admits it has had an effect on him.
“At first I didn’t know to think with the coaching change. Coach (Chris) Beatty, he was my running back coach and he was the coach who recruited me. We definitely had a strong relationship. As time went on I got to know Coach (Robert) Gillespie a little bit more and I got comfortable with him,” he said.
“When Coach Holgorsen went from offensive coordinator to head coach, that didn’t have too much effect on me because you are more on one-on-one level with your position coach than your head coach. It changed and was different than it used to be but you have to change and move forward.”
The lesson? Jenkins, who maybe knows the best, put it this way:
“Nothing is guaranteed. It’s something you learn from. I’m used to it.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.