By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The other day, as West Virginia University head football coach Dana Holgorsen addressed the media, someone asked him what makes him happiest following a spring workout.
His answer was intriguing.
“There are things you see on tape that confirms some things. Seeing guys take advantage of their opportunity makes me happy,” he began.
His thoughts then turned to one player in particular on that day.
“Dante Campbell is a guy who redshirted and was down in the dumps like all redshirt kids are, was on the scout team all year, and then spring hits, and you’re anxious to see how things will work for you,” he said.
“He’s taken advantage of every single rep that he’s had. He looks good. He’s a big target; Geno will throw to him; he blocks well; he’s a guy we’re thrilled to deal with right now. Seeing guys like that taking advantage of the opportunity is what makes me happy.
“If the effort’s there, you want to see them get better at what we’re doing schematically and technique-wise. If they don’t take advantage of having four or five hours to show what they can do, then there’s something wrong with them. There’s a couple of them that didn’t, but you can tell the guys who did.”
This, of course, sent an inquiring mind off to find one Dante Campbell. Caught up last year in the coaching change, the run to the Orange Bowl, that victory in and of itself and then the turnover of the defensive staff, those covering the team didn’t really have a chance to look into the skills or minds of the secondary players.
Everyone, you see, isn’t front and center on Saturday when the team on the other side of the ball has a different color scheme than your own.
You know about the freshmen like Dustin Garrison or Quinton Spain, but there is a whole group of freshmen who either need a year to grow better and mature or are playing a position that is overstocked with veterans, players chosen to redshirt.
As Holgorsen pointed out, redshirt players are seldom thrilled with their situation. They work hard in practice. They are on the “scout team,” which goes against the varsity running the opponents’ plays, usually getting knocked around because if they were ready to do the knocking, they wouldn’t be where they were.
Campbell, a tall, rangy receiver out of Clermont, Fla., near Orlando, was one such player caught up in being a redshirt.
“There’s times you are going to be down when you redshirt, but you just have to think of the future,” he explained. “There’s going to be better times. They redshirt you for a reason … so you can develop your talent and be better.”
It has reached the point with many players that they flat out leave, head for a school where they believe they can play.
“I never got that far down. I knew I was here for a reason,” Campbell said. “I’d call home and they’d push me through it and there were other people who redshirted besides me. We would all come together and say ‘We’re redshirted, but there’s nothing we can do about it so let’s play hard.’”
It is that attitude that caught Holgorsen’s eye a year ago and that again has caught his eye.
See, Campbell has the ability to be a special player and wasn’t exactly thrilled with the role he wound up accepting last season.
“I felt like I should have been playing, but there was nothing I could do about it but work hard in practice,” he said.
He actually found a good deal of benefit in redshirting.
“I’m glad now I got that extra year. It gives me more time to make plays and be a big part of this team,” he said.
“After the Orange Bowl, I was thinking when the spring comes I gotta go hard, working out, getting my size better, working on speed, doing my routes. I wanted to take advantage of it when my chance came,” he said.
His chance is now here.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.