MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen addressed members of the media on Thursday, March 2, 2017, at the Milan Puskar Center Team Room.
Okay, welcome everybody. I guess I have to be on my absolute best behavior, we have all the important administrators in here today, from (Associate Director of Athletics/Football Operations) Alex (Hammond) to (Director of Athletics, Associate Vice President) Shane (Lyons) to (Deputy Athletic Director) Keli (Cunningham), (Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director) Steve (Uryasz) and even our academic girl (Associate Director, Student-Athlete Development) Brittany (O’Dell) is in here, so I guess I’ll be on my best behavior, but welcome. It’s that time of the year where we get to start talking about football a little bit more. It seems like we just finished up recruiting honestly. We’re half way through the spring semester, if you can believe that. We’re eight weeks into it. Next week we’ll take spring break and then when we come back we have eight weeks of school left, so we’re right exactly at our mid-term. I guess that’s what happens when you get old, things happen quick, I’ve always heard that. Is that right Tony (Caridi)? The older you get the quicker things go by. Wow. Okay. Basketball is almost over too I hear. How about that. Want to wish (Men’s Basketball Head Coach) Coach (Bob) Hugs (Huggins) and (Women’s Basketball Head Coach) Coach (Mike) Carey good luck heading into the postseason. They’ve had great seasons, and it’s been fun to watch.
Moving on to spring football when we get back we’re not going to do anything really much different than what we’ve done in the past, but when we come back off spring break we’ll start on, we’ll have Tuesday afternoon, Thursday afternoon practices and then one on the weekend, whether it’s a Saturday or a Sunday. Everything will be here in Morgantown. That’s a little different than what we’ve done in the last couple of years but have loved traveling throughout the state from Charleston to Wheeling down to the Greenbrier to where else have we been, to Shepherdstown. We have traveled everywhere and that’s been good. Probably we’ll continue that at some point but one of the things that’s a real hot topic around student-athletes is player time. So we made the decision that we wanted to have the spring game here April 15th. We like doing that here. Obviously last year everything was under construction, and we couldn’t, but we wanted to have that game here. I don’t want that to take away from being able to travel a little bit if we can, but player time is incredibly important. It’s a big topic within the NCAA, and we’ve made the decision to keep everything here this spring. We also made the decision to give these guys two days off during spring. Once football kicks in, we can go six days a week, we can keep them for 20 hours a week. We won’t even hit that number. Trying to give these guys as much player time as we can. Going Tuesdays and Thursdays, we’ll give them off, completely off from football on Fridays and Saturdays, and then practice Sunday night with the exception of the spring game, it will obviously be on a Saturday. I think that will be good for those guys just trying to get away from it a little bit and focus on academics and be normal kids, I think is important as well.
Pro day is March 31st. I know we have five guys in the Combine, that starts this week. I wish those guys a bunch of luck. It’s been a little bit of a trend here in the last three or four years, we’ve been fortunate to be able to send some guys to the Combine, get some guys drafted and have some success. I don’t think this year is going to be any different. We have the most guys of anybody in the Big 12 in the Combine. I think we’ll have success when the draft rolls around. This time of the year everybody goes, “Oh my God, how are we going to replace these guys?” Well we’ve seemed to do it pretty successfully each and every year. Been improving here over the course of the last three or four years, so I don’t anticipate this year being any different. I wish those guys success moving forward, but we’ve got a good group coming back, and I’m really excited about this group. It’s going to continue to change as we get into spring football. I mean everybody wants a depth chart and everybody wants to know who the man is going to be and who the starters are going to be, I don’t have answers right now. We’ve been very limited, being able to spend time with these guys, and that’s what spring football is all about. We’ve added 10 mid-term guys who are practicing right now. We still have room to add more. There will be some transfers, or some grad transfers who will become available that we’ll be able to add this summer, along with the 11 guys who we signed that will join our team in June. So it will continue to change which is what the process is all about.
I want to go through offensively just kind of hit on some of the coaches more than anything. I’ll take questions on position battles after we’re done, but I haven’t really addressed this at this point but just the overall structure of the staff and what I got people doing. Offensively, obviously excited about having (Assistant Coach Offensive Coordinator/Quarterback) Jake (Spavital) back. He’s going to take control of the offense, and we’ve been in a lot of meetings in the last four or five weeks, trying to figure out exactly what direction we’re headed. I think you have to figure out what your strengths are. Which I think is one thing I thought we’ve done a really good job of the last couple of years, is understanding what our strengths are and focusing on those to the point to where it wins football games. So what is our identity going to be offensively? I don’t have that answer right now. I think going through spring and figuring out who the guys are and who needs the ball, I think with what we’re doing offensively, we’re going to have the capabilities to go in a couple of different directions, but Jake has done a great job at taking control of that room, and I trust him to be able to call the plays the way that we want to get things done. A lot of extra time with the quarterbacks, and recruiting wise, he’ll find some quarterbacks who want to be here. He will also recruit up in New Jersey a little bit. Before he left, he reeled in Daryl Worley and Al-(Rasheed) Benton, Kevin White and a couple of those guys up in that Jersey area. So he’ll be able to get up there and do a few things.
(Assistant Coach Offensive Line) Joe Wickline taking over the (offensive) o-line. It’s been fun, he’s like a kid in a candy store right now - just turned him loose with those guys after kind of taking a back seat last year. He’s pretty eager and is doing some great stuff. Seasons of offensive line coaching - you’re going to find in college football, so excited to have him around. His main recruiting deal will be just to go find junior college players. He’s been one, he’s recruited them his whole life, so whether it’s Kansas or Mississippi or Texas or whatever, he’s done that, and he’ll continue to do that.
(Assistant Coach Receivers) Tyron Carrier maintains coaching the receivers. We’re doing different things with him recruiting wise. We don’t have major, major south recruiting areas. We really want to focus on northeast - Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Baltimore, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia. I mean that’s who we are. That’s where we’re going to get the majority of our guys. Junior college has become so important to this program to where we want to hit those extremely hard. Texas and Florida are two of the best states in the country. Everybody recruits Texas and Florida, and we will continue to do that. Tyron will pick and choose where he goes down in Texas like he did last year, and we’ll kind of do that in Florida as well.
(Assistant Coach Running Backs) Tony Dews - great to have Tony back. I’ve had a good time getting to know him. He’s a very outspoken, loud, strong presence individual, and he’s a great football coach. He’s excited about expanding his role from going to where he’s focused on receivers a lot. He was a tight end in college, he’s coached (offensive) o-line, he’s coached tight ends, he’s coached receivers. He gets an opportunity to be able to coach some running backs at this point too, so he’s really excited about that and excited to be back at West Virginia. He’s obviously been here before, he knows what he’s getting. He’ll recruit his home state of Virginia, get into Maryland, which is one area that has been neglected a little bit over the course of the last couple of years and that will change. That’s a great recruiting area that we need to get into and hammer that. He’ll get down into Florida a little bit as well, but glad to have Tony back.
Defensively, obviously (Associate Head Coach Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers) Tony (Gibson), he’s the most tenured coach on the staff now - he reminded me of that this morning. The only coach on our staff who is from West Virginia, he will recruit West Virginia. It’s a hot bed in recruiting right now, right? So have a lot of guys who are in West Virginia and there is nobody better to recruit those kids than Tony, but fourth year as being the defensive coordinator. I think that speaks volumes for where were are continuity wise. Being able to coach the kids the same way on offense and defense I think is incredibly important. You’re always going to have some turnover and that’s nothing that anybody needs to worry about. When you’re switching offenses and defenses and all that stuff each and every year that’s what you need to worry about. So the continuity I think is outstanding, how we work together is great, and I’m excited to have him back and have him doing what he’s been doing such a good job of.
(Assistant Coach Defensive Line) Bruce Tall, defensive line coach, no change there. Recruits Ohio, recruits North Carolina.
(Assistant Coach Safeties) Matt Caponi handling the safeties, did a great job for us last year, no change there. He’s a Western Pa. (Pennsylvania) kid, does a great job of recruiting Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania. I look for that to continue to get better.
(Assistant Coach Cornerbacks) Doug Belk is an interesting young man. He’s coming in, was a great player from South Georgia, coached in Georgia, went to Alabama for three years, which heavily recruits Georgia. He’s a really sharp, sharp young man, and I’m excited to have him here to coach the corners. He came highly recommended from a lot of different people. He’s bright and is going to get into Georgia, and I think make a difference for us in Georgia. Georgia is one of the best recruiting states in the country. If you look at the kids who we’ve had from Georgia, they’ve been top-notch players, so hopefully we can get a few more of those guys who make a difference in this program.
(Assistant Coach Defense/Special Teams) Mark Scott, moving on to what our plan is with Mark and special teams wise, Mark is going to kind of transition a little bit onto the defensive side of the ball, which is what his expertise is. He’s been here, going on five years now as a (graduate assistant) GA and a full-time coach. (Associate Head Coach Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers) (Tony) Gibby (Gibson) trusts him a ton on game day and what he sees. He needs to get back into that roll, because that helps Gibby as much as anything. So he’s going to be helping Gibby with the linebackers, be more involved with linebackers, be more involved with defense on game day and day-to-day stuff. Also recruit you eastern Pennsylvania, which he’s done a great job of that but that gets into what our plan is special teams wise. I’m excited about this. He will still be very valuable with what we do special teams wise. He’s got a great relationship with all the specialists which won’t change, but we’re going to go to where we’re splitting special teams up a little bit. To me, kickoff and punt coverage, field goal block, onside kick, those are all defensive snaps, so defense is going to handle those four areas. I’m going to oversee it. I’m going to have a little bit more time on my hands to be able to do some different things, so I’m going to oversee all special teams, but the defense is really going to do the day-to-day stuff, the hard coaching technique stuff when it comes to kickoff, punt return, field goal block and onside kick where offense, punt is an offensive snap. Offense will handle punt. Offense will handle kickoff return, it’s the first snap offensively of the drive, PAT field goal, and then hands team the offensive side will handle all of that.
Last little tidbit, and I do want to give Shane (Lyons) and Keli (Cunningham) a lot of credit for this because we’ve worked together getting this staff together. They’ve been outstanding, but we’re entering the analyst word just a little bit, and this has been a big topic across the country. Everybody has them, and the fact that we haven’t had them, it’s time to get those guys involved. We’ve hired (Senior Football Analyst) Dan Gerberry as an (senior) analyst. Really excited to have Dan back. He was a graduate assistant here, coached the heck out of the tight ends, worked with the offensive line, he’s an NFL offensive lineman. He has strong recruiting Ohio ties but glad to have him back after his one-year stunt at that school an hour north. He’s back to being on the good side down here in West Virginia. Just getting into the analyst as far as how we do things with them obviously it’s an off the field coaching job, but just being able to have extra help here I think is really important. A lot of talk, a lot of chatter on the 10th assistant. We don’t know where that is going yet but having some guys that, and I think our graduate assistants have done a great job. We’ve got great continuity with those guys. (Offensive Graduate Assistant, Quarterbacks) Michael Burchett, (Offensive Graduate Assistant, Offensive Line) Dalton Williams and (Defensive Graduate Assistant, Defensive Line) Logan Williams and (Defensive Graduate Assistant, Linebackers) Casey Vance, (Offensive Quality Control) Patrick Doherty, all guys who were here a year ago and want to stay. I think everybody is kind of waiting to see what happens with that, sometime later in the spring whether that happens or not, but if so, then we have a lot of options when it comes to that, so that’s going to be fluid moving forward.
I think that’s everything I have. (Director, Strength and Conditioning) Mike Joseph and his guys have done great. These last seven, eight weeks, they’ve been in Mike’s world more than anybody’s. You know, we get them for two hours a week to be able to watch some video, but they’ve been down with Mike, and they have spent more time with Mike over the last seven, eight weeks than we have in the past, and he says we’re bigger, faster, and stronger than we ever have been. We said this before, and it’s never more true than it is right now, I think we’ve have the best strength coach in the country and excited that he is a part of our program, and I think it’s paying off. So that is a ton of information. I’m not getting into personnel wise other than this, because everybody wants to know this. It’s going to be your first question (points to media member). Right? When it comes to injuries and who is healthy and who is not right? Okay. Well, there are four guys who have been long term. (Redshirt junior offensive lineman) Yodny (Cajuste), (redshirt senior wide receiver) Ka’Raun White, (redshirt freshman linebacker) Brendan Ferns
and (redshirt junior safety) Dravon Askew-Henry
. Those four guys are doing well, and they will be a part of spring football. Now, those four guys are potential starters for us, obviously. Have been starters, potential starters, difference makers, didn’t have their services either all of last year or toward the end of the year. Those four guys have done everything we’ve asked them to do. Now whether they are full go in the spring or we got to ease them into it, that’s going to be kind of a day to day thing. They’ve all done good and you’ll see them out in some version of spring practice whether it’s just drills or whether it’s full go stuff. Other than that we’re pretty healthy. You’re going to have some little things here and there but everybody else is cleared and expected to participate a week from next Tuesday. With that I’ll take some other questions.
On splitting up drills for quarterbacks
Well, we only have three, which is a problem. We need to add some bodies at quarterback. Those guys will have lots of opportunities to be able to show what they have. It’s obviously an open competition since we lost our starting quarterback for the last two years. All three of those guys were here all last year, and so we have a good idea of what they can do. Really excited about (redshirt junior quarterback) Will Grier
and where he is. He’s a proven guy. Then (redshirt sophomore quarterback) (Chris) Chugs (Chugunov) is getting older, and (redshirt freshman quarterback) Cody (Saunders) is getting to the point to where we can rep him seriously at this point too, so you know, just play them all. We have 15 bodies at (offensive) o-line which means we’re going to be able to play a lot of football. Our receiver numbers are kind of down right now, but we have some good walk ons that we can rep and practice on. Running backs, we have a ton of bodies. The more snaps we can get, the better those guys are going to get, and so I’m excited to see how that plays out.
On having analysts
Well I think what you’re asking is different than what the job is. These analysts don’t necessarily sit there and just crunch numbers and do studies, that’s part of their job. I would have added analysts a couple years ago if we could have, we just weren’t in the position to be able to do that at this point. This is becoming to where everyone is doing them now. The majority of what they are doing is just getting to know who we are and who we’re playing. Of all the different conversations I’ve had with what these analysts do, they help you in getting forward toward the next game. They can be a part of all the off-season studies, and we have all of these studies how did we do on third and short, how did we do on fourth and long, how did we do on pooch punts compared to regular punts. There’s all kinds of those studies, where they can sit in a room and self-scout and watch you watch you all off season which is really important. Moving forward for the fall, I think it’s really good to have someone who doesn’t have to worry about the day-to-day coaching, but they can sit there, and they can get ahead and just gather information on who opponents are, and then basically give the information to the coaches, because there’s only so many hours in the day when it comes to getting ready for the next opponent. That’s where I see where it’s really important. To me the advantage is going to be in season. If you’re Alabama and you hire these high-profile coaches who you hire them to be your next coach, and then there’s just a very easy transition. I think there is going to be some value to that too. You hire these people as analysts and you lose coaches, you may already have a coach who’s already on campus who you can slide in there right now. It’s new to me when it comes to that, but just gathering information that doesn’t have to have the day-to-day duties of taking care of student-athletes. I think it’s pretty important.
On any position moves and who is competing at center
Yeah I mean, if you ask (Assistant Coach (Offensive Line) (Joe) Wick (Wickline) he’s going to give you seven answers. Position wise there is really nothing to talk about. We’re going to continue to move people around. You recruit guys as defensive guys who might become offensive guys, you recruit offensive guys who might become defensive guys, there’s nothing to read into that. Center is something that is going to be interesting to watch. Obviously, (Tyler) Orlosky was our guy for three years, three and a half years. You didn’t have to worry about the calls, you didn’t have to worry about the snaps, all that was going to be a given, but you’re going to see upwards of about five people rep center. The one thing that (coach Joe Wickline) Wick does different then what Ron (Crook) did is there is going to be moving parts left and right. He’s going to have tackles playing guard, he’s going to have guards playing center, centers playing tackles, I mean he just constantly moves all these guys around, getting an overall knowledge of what he’s asking them to do. (Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman) Matt Jones
has snapped, (redshirt sophomore offensive lineman) (Kelby) Wickline is snapping, (redshirt junior offensive lineman) Ray (Raulerson) has been a center in the past, (redshirt senior offensive lineman) Grant (Lingafelter) is trying to snap, (redshirt freshman defensive lineman) Chase Behrndt
was recruited as a center, (redshirt freshman offensive lineman) (Jacob) Buccigrossi was recruited as a center. There are bodies there we just have to coach them hard in the spring, to see who’s going to end up stepping up and being that guy.
On redshirt freshman defensive lineman Chase Behrndt being on offense
Yeah we moved him. We had zero (defensive) d-line scout team bodies last year, so he did us a solid job and just moved so we could have a body to block. He was recruited as an (offensive) O lineman and those wrestlers are pretty good o-lineman. (Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman) Alec Shriner
, too, he’s another wrestler, he’s been at nose guard due to necessity, but having (redshirt junior defensive lineman) Jaleel Fields
back, recruited (junior defensive lineman) Jalen Harvey
, (redshirt senior defensive lineman) (Xavier) Pegues is back and healthy, so you have more nose bodies now, which means you don’t have to have those guys who really have to be O-lineman, but we’ll continue to move those guys and if they find a role offensively then we’ll play them and it not, then we’ll move them back. That’s going to be fluid.
On him stepping away from the in-game play calling
You want to live. Want to live a long, happy, healthy, life. I had (WVU athletics photographer) Dale Sparks, he dropped off some pictures for me of my family pictures, I have a line of them in my house now. It’s the first time I looked at them over six years, I look different now than I did six years ago. No, but it’s just the right time, it makes sense, more of a CEO type guy. You have to spend as much time recruiting as you possibly can, fundraising is a big part of what we do, the game management aspect of it although I don’t think it’s been bad, and I think (Tony) Gibby (Gibson) will be the first to tell you that we’ve done some things offensively that have helped win 10 games, it’s hard to do. Just being able to oversee everything and live a happy life. I’m not nearly as grey as what (George W.) Bush turned over the course of eight years, but I still have two more years to get there.
On taking in more quarterbacks
Yeah, I mean we have five slotted and we’re at three, so we have to catch up. Obviously, with William and the two kids that have left voluntarily. Michael Ferns and William Crest I mean just wonderful, wonderful kids. Love them to death. Leaving for different reasons. Will wants to go play quarterback somewhere, he’s going to drop down and go play quarterback, and I wish him nothing but success and will probably stay in touch with William for the rest of my life, and then Ferns wants to be an engineer so he’s burned out, and he wants to focus on what’s going to be a big part of his life moving forward, so I wish those guys luck. When you lose guys like that then you have to go replace them and our number is five at quarterback right now, and we only have three, so we have to go add two. We’re looking right now.
On adding grad transfers and regular transfers
Yeah, it’s always the best ones. We’ve already added one in Corey Winfield. We added him after signing day, I haven’t talked about him, but he’s another long corner who fits the mold of what Rasul (Douglas) and Daryl (Worley) were like. He has a lot of experience from Syracuse. I mean that was a good get I thought. I’m excited about him joining us in May. We still have room to add more. I’m not going to tell you exactly what we’re targeting, because everyone else is targeting these guys as well, but we have room to add guys who could make us better next year. Always going to look for a four-year guy like we have with (Rushel) Shell, and we got with (Will) Grier. If you can get a guy who has to sit and you have room with him then take him. We have room for those guys right now, but also to be able to find some grad transfers or some laid out junior college guys, we have room to add some of those guys as well. I like where we are.
On healthy tight ends
Not really. You know, I can’t tell you that either because we’re going to do some different things offensively. Me and (Assistant Coach/Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks) Jake (Spavital) are very similar, but you know I’m going to try to keep some secrets from you guys between now and when’s the game in D.C? September 2nd. It’s a long ways from now, but we have to start planning now. I think we’re going to try to figure out who we are and have some surprises for that first game. It’ll be a big one. I’m looking forward to it. Buy some tickets.
Alright, see y’all.