MORGANTOWN — Every week, West Virginia University's football program gives an award to its hardest worker.
It doesn't get much publicity, as it isn't an on the field, game day award but more of a morale award, the kind of thing that goes to someone who may not be playing but is pushing himself to get there.
Only this week, it was different. It went to Zach Frazier, the true freshman who has made his presence felt immediately, starting his first collegiate game, starting two of the first three and then will start again Saturday against Kansas.
"If you didn't know he was a true freshman you would never believe it," Brown said of Frazier, the latest to make the jump from Fairmont Senior High School to WVU.
"I'm just really impressed with the way he prepares. He has done a phenomenal job from the time he got here in the summer. He has been on a single list. He does what's asked of him and much more from a film study, conditioning, he watches his diet.
In making the announcement of the weekly award, Brown noted an usual asset the Frazier has in bag of tricks.
"He's got huge hands," Brown said. "He has long arms. Those are both very, very important. You want to legally hold and those are very important when you are playing center. He has the ability to snap, get your hands out to keep the defender away from you."
His ability to work so well with long arms and hands probably are the benefit of his days as a high school wrestling champion, one of the greatest ever in the state of West Virginia.
"I can't say enough for his support system. His dad played at Fairmont State but a lot of his competitive [nature] comes from his mom. You can tell that if you are around her for a short amount of time. She's a competitor, a fighter and you can tell that feeds over to him as well. He has passion for the game from his dad but his mother is part of a family that has so many successful wrestlers; a tremendous wrestling background."
How good a defense will WVU throw at Kansas this week? Probably better than you thought.
The Mountaineers are No. 4 in red zone defense, No. 8 in total defense passing yards allowed, No. 9 in sacks and No. 10 in first down defense.
WVU faces a big-time back in Kansas' Pooka Williams this week. Last year, he became just the second running back in school history to rush for 1,000 or more yards in consecutive seasons and was only the fourth player to rush for a 1,000 or more yards in a single season.
They him "Pooka Magic" in Kansas because he has ways of getting out of situations where he looks as if he's trapped.
"Last week, we talked about Baylor backs," defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said this week. "To me, Pooka is as good as that and maybe anyone else in the league. He can make a play as it's designed to go or make something on his own. He can go 80 or 90 yards. He's a different type of back. I wouldn't put him in the power category others are in, but he doesn't have to be."
Neal Brown has as much respect for him.
"He's a special talent," Brown said "He has the ability to make you miss. They line him up all over the field. They'll throw it to him. They have creative ways to get him the ball. He's stronger than people think. He has the ability to make yards even when a play isn't blocked well and you don't see that often. It might be a play to the left and next thing you know he's breaking loose to the right."
Zach Frazier isn't the only true freshman making his presence felt on game days. On the defensive side of the ball, Akheem Messidor has come out of the gate making plays.
He is a kid out of Canada who was playing at Clearwater Academy International in Florida when defensive coordinator Brad Lesley came across him.
"I go back to the first time I saw him when we were still able to go out recruiting. We were at one of those mega camps at Mercer University in Macon, Ga.," Lesley said. "Stature-wise, there were some pretty good kids there. His skill set just stood out immediate.
"We knew where he was from and we knew he was extremely raw," Lesley said. "The first rep on the one-on-one pass rush, though, looked like he'd been doing it for 10 years. Some kids got it, some don't. He's got it."
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