MORGANTOWN - If you're Stedman Bailey or Tavon Austin, it's difficult not to get caught up in your own hype.If you're Shannon Dawson, it's your job not to allow that.Neither can be easy. After all, Bailey and Austin just finished the most productive season by a pair of West Virginia receivers in school history.Austin shattered the mark for catches in a season by a staggering two dozen. Bailey broke the mark for receiving yards in becoming only the third 1,000-yard pass catcher the school has ever produced. Then Austin made it four.
And if you want perspective, try this: David Saunders had nine 100-yard receiving games in his career. He had at least one in each of four different seasons, 1995 through 1998. That's the school record.It's two more than Bailey had in an eight-week span of 2011.Now, throw in the preseason Heisman Trophy talk that surrounds not just quarterback Geno Smith but Austin as well, after his 12-catch, four-touchdown explosion in that 70-33 rout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, and you have all the makings of pair of big-headed superstars.By all accounts, though, neither approaches that potentially messy place. And if ever they are inclined to, well, Dawson is right there to bring them back down to earth."I've always been the type of person who felt there was always room for improvement,'' Bailey said. "And if I ever forget it, [Dawson's] always there to sit us down and let us know there's a lot more that we can do.''
Indeed, Dawson has done that a few times. It's not because he necessarily saw anything about to happen. He didn't get the feeling that his prized pass catchers were getting big-headed or full of themselves, but he does like to keep them grounded, just in case."Sometimes you have to look for the little things,'' West Virginia's receivers coach and newly minted offensive coordinator said. "Both those guys are hard workers. Most of our receivers are. But you can always get better.''Well, if there's another level beyond what Bailey and Austin accomplished last season, it's sure going to be fun watching that. A year ago as a sophomore, Bailey went five straight games without dipping below 100 yards receiving. He caught the single biggest pass of the season, the diving 26-yarder to set up the winning field goal at South Florida and put the Mountaineers in the Orange Bowl.Then he was named to the All-Big East second team.
Really? Seventy-two catches for 1,279 yards and 12 touchdowns and he's on the second team?If Bailey needed another reason not to get a swelled head, that provided it.
"Yeah, a little bit,'' Bailey said when asked if it still bothers him at all. "It makes you feel like maybe some guys are still sleeping on me a little bit. But I was happy with what I accomplished last year and to me that's all that matters, even if nobody notices.''Last year prior to the Orange Bowl, Dawson was asked much the same line of questions regarding how to keep Bailey and Austin grounded. He brought up the Syracuse game in which the Mountaineers were hammered 49-23."Do you remember that game? I remember it,'' Dawson said. "And I make sure they do, too.''That Syracuse game, of course, perfectly illustrates why no one can be complacent. Bailey had a fine game, catching seven passes for 130 yards, including a rather spectacular touchdown in which he leaped for the ball, made a defender miss and streaked down the sidelines.But it wasn't enough."And they were as upset as anyone else,'' Dawson said. "So that's good.''
Bailey and Austin spent the winter in the weight room and throwing and catching with Smith at every opportunity. They appear to have picked up right where they left off last season during spring drills, which conclude with Saturday's Gold-Blue game.They don't seem to have backed off the work ethic part of the game."I think we're very coachable guys,'' Bailey said. "We're not big-headed about the things we were able to accomplish last year. We work on every part of our games. It might be blocking or reading different coverages, sight adjustments - anything we can do better we're trying to do it better.''And if success comes just as easily this season as last?"I think we're smart enough to bring ourselves back down,'' Bailey said. "We never get big-headed about the things that we do. We just look at it as, 'OK, we did that. Now let's double it.' ''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.