The Times West Virginian


June 22, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU has young talent waiting to burst onto scene

MORGANTOWN — Over the years, West Virginia University has turned out star players of national renown on the athletic fields, be it Sam Huff, Major Harris or Pat White in football, or Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley or Rod Thorn in basketball, but last year there were no WVU stars flashing across the horizon.

The closest was basketball’s Juwan Staten, who challenged for Big 12 Player of the Year honors, and perhaps football’s Charles Sims, but neither had the national impact that others in the past have had.

Now we are going into the midst of a summer that precedes a new year for Mountaineer athletics and it appears that it well may be a breakout year for a number of young, talented athletes who could burst upon the national scene in a big way.

Since Staten already resides in the national spotlight, we will not focus on him, but instead on five athletes who are likely to draw national attention to themselves and their teams in the coming year:

Football cornerback Daryl Worley

Worley was introduced to us a year ago as a true freshman who not only had to learn how to play college football, but also who never was settled into one position so that he could maximize his obvious talents.

This year he will be used at right cornerback, a tall (6-foot-1), strong (200-pound) hard hitter who proved himself to be a potentially great cover corner.

“He played every position in the secondary from nickel to dime corner, free safety to bandit safety and even played a backer position. If we allow him just to be a corner, which we’re going to do, he’ll be great,” cornerback coach Brian Mitchell said. “He’s a versatile kid (and) a great field general, but we’re going to leave him at corner to make him the best corner he can be.”

How good is he?

“Darryl Worley is as good as anybody I’ve ever had at this age,” said new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “When we talked at the beginning of the spring, our goal was to keep him in one spot and let him grow in that position. I think he’s done a great job. He’s a team leader, and it helps when you make plays.

“Last year when I got here, he was one of the first kids I went to recruit and get to know. From that point on, I knew he was a kid that had it. He’s very focused, and he comes from a great family and great high school program. He’s got everything you want in a player.”

This spring he did nothing to make anyone think he wouldn’t grow into a great player.

“Daryl Worley has had a phenomenal spring,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Mario’s (Alford) confidence is a little down, because he’s had to go against (Worley) so much. (The) kid makes play after play after play.”

Wide receiver Mario Alford

Worley may have made his life miserable this spring, but it’s expected he will make opposing cornerbacks’ life miserable in the fall.

Alford is something of a Tavon Austin clone at 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds and, like Worley, he took a while to find his role last year. He arrived from Georgia Military College in the summer and was soon after injured. What’s more, he was used as a slot receiver early on and was ineffective.

But when they moved him outside, he caught 18 passes for 450 yards and two touchdowns of 72 and 76 yards in the final four games of the season, including scorching Iowa State for 215 receiving yards.

And that was not just a fluke that won’t carry over, as he showed by opening the spring game with an electrifying 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

The key will be getting the ball into his hands enough, something Holgorsen has proven himself to be quite adept at doing during his years as an offensive coordinator and first couple of years at WVU.

Getting away from Worley may help.

Women’s basketball swing player Bria Holmes

This is an All-American waiting to happen.

An aggressive 6-foot-1 guard/forward who blossomed as a sophomore, she was the highest ranked player ever recruited by WVU Coach Mike Carey and the first player from Connecticut — where they know something about women’s basketball — to play in the McDonald’s All-American game.

“Without a doubt, we knew she was going to be a great player when we recruited her,” Carey told her hometown paper. “She got used to the system here and has been a main cog in the program this year. She’s met every expectation I’ve had for her. We’re very excited about Bria. She’s going to have a lot of success the next two years.”

And whatever she does won’t surprise her high school coach, Catrina Hawley-Stewart.

“I think she’s going to get better and better each year,” Hawley-Stewart said. “She’s going to continue to develop. She can be an All-American. She can be the best player to come out of Connecticut.”

Last year she was a unanimous All-Big 12 first team choice and a member for the Big 12 All-Tournament team as she became the 14th player in WVU history to have 500 points in a season with 516, averaging 15.2 points a game.

Men’s basketball forward Jonathan Holton

Holton transferred to WVU last year after playing as a freshman at Rhode Island and playing a year at Palm Beach State junior college, but was forced to sit out the season because he failed to qualify. He was, however, allowed to practice with the team and the word was he might have been the best player on the court, including Staten.

“We know how bad he wants to play,” Staten said during the season. “He’s been a part of everything, except for the games and the road trips, so just to have him on the court will lift our spirits, along with the way he plays. He’s a great player, he’s active, he has a motor like no player I’ve ever been around and he’s able to do a lot of things.”

Holton is a double-double waiting to happen. At Rhode Island, while being named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team, he averaged 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds, and at Palm Beach State he averaged 17.5 points and 14.1 rebounds.

“I played mid-major, I played JUCO and now I’m at high-major. It’s more competitive here and dealing with a more competitive coach, he stays on you and makes sure you’re doing the right things all the time,” he said. “I can definitely guarantee myself a double-double.”

Men’s basketball forward Devin Williams

Speaking of double-doubles, Williams proved as a freshman that he would be manufacturing them throughout his career, a solid rebounder whose scoring figures to improve this year with help from Holton and another newcomer, Elijah Macon, taking pressure off in the front court.

Williams averaged 8.4 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, the points being down because WVU’s scoring was coming from the outside with Staten, Eron Harris and Terry Henderson supplying the offense and with Williams not used to playing with his back to the basket.

“Devin never played much with his back to the basket,” coach Bob Huggins said. “He has better ball skills than Danny (Fortson, a Huggins All-American at Cincinnati) had, better than K.J. (WVU’s Kevin Jones) had. He can shoot more consistent from mid-range,” Huggins said.

“He has a chance to be a very good player. He’s getting almost eight rebounds a game as a freshman. If that continues to improve, he’ll have big rebounding numbers. I think Devin (Williams) is conceivably a guy who could average a double-double. He needs to be a little more consistent, just from an effort standpoint.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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