MORGANTOWN – They don’t call them growing pains for nothing, as West Virginia’s freshman center Briason Mays has learned.
You can almost feel the pain he is suffering as he tries to get through this thing called youth, which as the playwrite Oscar Wilde once noted “is wasted on the young.”
In a perfect world, Mays would be serving an apprenticeship in the shadows of the public glare that big time college football brings with it, but at WVU this season nothing is perfect.
A new coach, Neal Brown, took over a broken team and the most glaring talent shortage was at center, where in truth there was no real, experienced center on hand.
They tried to find a miracle cure for a position that is undoubtedly the most difficult to command on the offensive line. One guard, Chase Behrndt, was moved in but didn’t adapt well. The veteran guard Josh Sills was the next victim, played briefly there but was returned to guard where he suffered an injury that needed surgical repair, costing him the season.
That left Mays, a still maturing youngster who suddenly found himself being the connection between the quarterback and the ball and the man charged with blocking burly, strong nose guards in a high quality league.
It hasn’t been easy and in last Thursday’s 17-14 loss to No. 11/12 Baylor, the glare of a national television audience watched two of his snaps soar past quarterback Kendall Austin and Kennedy McKoy, in at wildcat. The first sailed far over McKoy’s head, the second a premature snap that whizzed by Kendall when he wasn’t prepared to receive it.
That resulted in 48 negative yards and far more negative thoughts in a mind that needed encouragement.
“It bothers him. It hurts him. And it should,” said Matt Moore, offensive coordinator and line coach. “If you’re invested, it should hurt. And he is.”
It is impossible to imagine just how much of himself Mays invested in the crash course he took and how much of it flew away with each of those snaps.
“You try to speak it into him: ‘We believe in you,’” Moore said. “You want him to know that you believe in him. I think he’s going to be a good player for us. But at the same time, you have to up the competition level and find some guys who can push him a little bit.
“It’s a lot on a young guy when you make mistakes deep in the red zone. But you’ve got to learn from it to become a really good player. That’s part of becoming a man.”
It’s called, as previously noted, growing pains.
Some of them were administered by Baylor nose guard Bravvion Roy. He’d been issuing some lessons of what life in the trenches amounts to before he snapped prematurely and wildly toward McKoy.
“The nose guard was a big, strong dude,” Moore said. “He was trying to get off the ball hard, and that’s what happens. You get your butt up in the air and the ball sailed on him. Unfortunately it happens in games. It happens on Sundays and it happens on Saturdays.”
“There are quality nose guards in our league,” Coach Neal Brown said. “You put on film that you are having trouble with the nose guard, what are you going to find? You will get a head up nose guard. Until we can prove we can handle it, that’s what we will continue to see. We got to play better technique.”
The second snap problem came on first and goal and was a freakish event that had nothing to do with the nose guard. Instead, a linebacker for Baylor clapped his hand — which is the signal to snap the ball in a noisy environment — and Mays reacted.
If it was an attempt to deceive, it is a penalty, however, it did not appear to be that.
“You could see his D-lineman wasn’t in the right spot,” Moore said. “He’s trying to get him to come over and get his attention. It’s loud down there by the end zone. And he claps to get his attention. He’s not even thinking about trying to draw us off.”
But Mays is young and learning and couldn’t distinguish that clap from his quarterback’s.
“I think there’s probably a distinct difference in a clap coming in front of you than behind you,” Brown said.
“Obviously they were costly,” the coach said. “The thing was we had opportunities to overcome both of those. There’s all those opportunities to make a routine play over the course of the game. We just didn’t.”
WVU gets a chance to put an end to the four-game losing streak October brought Saturday when it hosts Texas Tech, a team caught in a three-game losing streak, at Noon on ESPN2.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel