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WVU’s McKivitz soaking up every minute of final collegiate season

West Virginia's Colton McKivitz speaks during Big 12 Conference NCAA college football media day Tuesday, July 16, 2019, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David Kent)

MORGANTOWN — Where does the time go?

That’s one of the many questions that Colton McKivitz has found himself pondering as he prepares for his final season at West Virginia University.

“It sure went by pretty quickly,” McKivitz, who will start Saturday at left tackle when the Mountaineers open their season against James Madison at 2 p.m. at Milan Puskar Stadium.

McKivitz’s journey is well documented. He spent his freshman year of high school at East Richland Christian before transferring to Union Local and beginning his football career.

He was a long-haired basketball player who had good footwork. Throw in a 6-7 frame and room to add more weight and McKivitz had some Division I college coaches salivating.

The Union Local product gives a lot of the credit for his high school development to Brian Schapa, who was the Jets’ offensive line coach at the time. He also pointed out the endless support and guidance he’s received from now UL Superintendent of Schools Ben Porter, who was McKivitz’s basketball coach.

“Those guys kind of got me going and have been close to me throughout this whole journey,” McKivitz explained. “The support I’ve received from the entire UL community and the Ohio Valley has been incredible. I am definitely thankful for all of that.”

Originally, he committed to Miami of Ohio. However, when WVU got involved late in the process the opportunity to play Power 5 football relatively close to home was simply too much to turn down.

“Every so often, you have to take a few moments and kind of reminisce and think about where you came from,” McKivitz said. “For me, I guess it came down to hard work and then being able to capitalize on the opportunities that came from it.”

McKivitz actually began that reflection process in late July when he and a few of his teammates and head coach Neal Brown made the trip to Dallas for Big 12 Media Days. McKivitz has been named pre-season all Big 12 and is on the Outland Trophy watch list.

“The accolades and everything are nice, but they’ve come because of the hard work,” McKivitz said. “Counting this year, I’ve played for three different offensive line coaches, so I’ve been exposed to different ideas and styles. The constant has been hard work. It’s allowed these different opportunities to come to fruition.”

One huge opportunity — playing professional football — could still lie ahead in McKivitz’s future. Already with his degree in wildlife and fisheries, McKivitz flirted with the idea of entering his name into the draft.

However, he continually kept coming back to the fact that he had unfinished business with the Mountaineers — both individually and collectively.

“I am not at all a finished product,” McKivitz said. “I have a ton of room for growth and that was a big reason in my decision to come back. I’m always looking to learn something.”

McKivitz — though he’s a seasoned veteran with 35 starts under his belt — will be shifting to a new position this season. He’s moving to the other side of the line and will line up at left tackle. That’s the spot previously occupied by Yodny Cajuste, who was drafted 101st overall by the New England Patriots.

“I am excited to move and excited for the new challenge,” McKivitz said. “I played some guard last year and that’s big for my growth to show that I can play multiple positions. You want to show (coaches and scouts) that you have a bigger tool box, so I am excited for that challenge.”

As is the case for most college athletes, the summer was a blur for McKivitz. Workouts commenced in early June and other than a few days off around the Fourth of July and just before camp opened on Aug. 1, the Mountaineers have been working.

Because of that, McKivitz really hasn’t even had a chance yet to do any reflecting. But, to hear him tell it, that’s OK because there’s still a lot to focus on ahead.

“There just hasn’t been time to soak anything in,” McKivitz said. “I did reflect (last month) when we completed our conditioning that we ran the (law school) hill (behind the stadium) for the last time. It’s just a crazy moment because when you get here as a freshmen, you think it’s going to last forever.”

Other than that sort of pinch-me-moment, McKivitz has been all business in helping to lead the Mountaineers who begin the season with calm aspirations. They were picked to finish seventh in the 10-team Big 12 and received just a handful of votes in the initial coaches poll released several weeks ago.

Again, that’s okay with McKivitz.

“Every player thinks about those types of things and uses chips on their shoulder as a way to motivate themselves,” McKivitz said. “I am trying to leave this place and end this season on a better note than what we did last year.”

The Mountaineers, who were in the thick of the Big 12 chase, ended with a thud in 2018. They lost their final three games, including a 34-18 game to Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl.

Since then, many key players — including Will Grier, David Sills, Gary Jennings, Cajuste and more — have moved on to the NFL. Also gone is Dana Holgorsen, who accepted the job at Houston. That opened the door for Brown, who had been highly successful at Troy.

McKivitz is actually the elder statesman on the team. He’s appeared in 38 games and of those he’s started 35. That’s by far and away the most on the team.

That role of leader is something that McKivitz doesn’t — and won’t — take for granted.

“We’re going to surprise some people,” McKivitz said. “We lost a lot, so we’re not getting the pre-season hype like some other teams, but I think when the end of the season rolls around we’re going to be a team you don’t want to play. We’re going to get better as the season goes on.”

Looking ahead to the schedule, McKivitz has circled the road trip to Missouri, the home game with Texas and then the two Oklahoma schools — Oklahoma and Oklahoma State — has the games he’s most looking forward to.

“We played Missouri my red-shirt freshman year, Texas is one that you always mark on the schedule because it’s such a crazy atmosphere in Austin, and I’ve yet to get a win over either of the schools in Oklahoma, so they definitely jump out at me,” McKivitz said.

McKivitz, his parents — Matt and Wendy — and the other Mountaineer seniors and families will be recognized prior to their final game at Mountaineer Field on Nov. 23 against, ironically, Oklahoma State.

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