Newcomers to play a role for WVU
By JIM BUTTA
Special to The Times Leader
MORGANTOWN – It would be hard pressed to find a fan of West Virginia University football who hasn’t heard of Will Grier, David Sills V, Gary Jennings Jr., Yodny Cajuste, David Long Jr. or Dravon Askew-Henry.
But, when it comes to the 2018 Mountaineer football program, it may be the names fans have not heard that much about that will turn the Old Gold and Blue into a team that can challenge for a Big 12 title and a possible berth in the College Football Playoffs.
Offensively, Grier is the headliner after throwing for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns in a little over 11 games. Numbers which have earned the North Carolina native a spot in the preseason talk surrounding the Heisman Trophy.
Sills and Jennings return after combining for more than 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns while Cajuste anchors an offensive front which also returns starters Colton McKivitz, Josh Sills and Matt Jones.
But, the play of newcomers T.J. Simmons, Alec Sinkfield and Michael and Joe Brown could be the difference to an offense fans are hoping will be even more lethal in 2018.
Simmons came to Morgantown via Alabama. The redshirt sophomore saw action in 12 games as a freshman for the Tide but elected to come to WVU where many believe he will be the perfect replacement for the graduated Ka’Raun White.
He did haul in 47 passes for 1,228 yards and 20 touchdowns during his final season at Clay-Chalkville High School in Birmingham.
As for Sinkfield, the Florida native was redshirted last season, but put together a great spring which have many on the coaching staff believing the 187-pounder could be a more than adequate replacement for redshirt sophomores Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway.
None of those numbers mean anything if the five players up front aren’t able to improve on their performances from a year ago.
Martins Ferry graduate and Purdue transfer Emilio Appolloni (6-8, 325) is an offensive tackle candidate.
That’s where the Brown brothers come into play. Both come to Morgantown via Eastern Arizona Community College and each possess the size – Joe is 6-4 and 369 pounds while Michael is 6-3 and 366 pounds – to provide the offensive front with the size and toughness it will need to compete with the likes of N.C. State, TCU, Texas and Oklahoma.
Defensively, the two names that stand out the most among the newcomers are transfers Kenny Bigelow Jr. and Jabril Robinson.
“There’s a reason they were at Clemson and USC – they’re good players,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson stated. “Jabril (Robinson) has a really high motor. That sticks out.
“Kenny (Bigelow Jr.) obviously, is a massive man.
He can play in the gap and hold onto a couple of guys up front for us and let those linebackers run. Our linebackers really like them.”
Two other first year Mountaineers that fans should have a lot to talk about before the season’s end are junior college transfers Charlie Benton and Josh Norwood.
Benton is being counted on to fill in the Sam linebacker position after coming to WVU from Butler Community College where he finished third on the team with 34 tackles, tied for second with 10 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one interception.
Norwood came to Morgantown via Northwest Mississippi Community College where he earned All-NJCAA Region 23 and All-MACJC First Team honors as a safety. Prior to that he played at Ohio State.
“The new guys are coming around,” eighth year head coach Dana Holgorsen explained. “But, they are new. They will have their good days and they will have their bad days. That’s what happens when you are new.
“We believe all of them will help us a lot this year. If we didn’t believe that, then we wouldn’t have brought them in.”