Tavon Austin riddled Clemson with four touchdown catches in WVU's romp in the Orange Bowl.
WEST VIRGINIA University's football program has had electric receivers in its past. Names like Danny Buggs, Chris Henry and Reggie Rembert spring to mind.Perhaps none, however, have the wattage of Tavon Austin. Currently fourth among WVU's all-time receiving yardage leaders (2,124), he's 484 behind David Saunders.Saunders, however, didn't grab the nation's attention like Austin. Saunders wasn't compared to Percy Harvin, as is Austin. He was never mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate, as is Austin.In fact, talk to WVU quarterback Geno Smith about the Heisman and he points to Austin. Smith is rooting for his team's most lethal weapon."I'm thankful," Austin said. "I feel the same for him. At the end of the day, I hope both of us come out on top. I hope we both go [to the Heisman ceremony] and one of our names are called. If his name is called, I'll be happy for him. If mine is called, I'll be happy. I know it's the same for him. I'm happy he puts my name in the race."It's easy because Austin knows how to win a race. Last season, using his uncommon speed, the senior was one of the nation's best. He was No. 8 nationally in receptions per game (7.8) and set a school record with 101 catches for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns.Many of those catches were via adjustments. All, however, were made because of one adjustment."I thought I'd play [running back] behind Noel [Devine] and we'd compete for the starting job," Austin said. "Coach [Lonnie] Galloway told me, 'You can either sit for two years or you can play.' I made the smart decision to play."Austin left Dunbar High in Baltimore convinced he'd be a tailback. As for being a receiver?"It never entered my mind," Austin said. "I had this running back dream to play [the position]. Coach Galloway and Coach [Chris] Beatty told me the first day that I was going to play slot. It's probably the best thing to happen in my life. I'm thankful for that. I'm competing to be one of the best wide receivers in the country and in history here. I'm thankful for what happened."
Austin admits recruiters mentioned the possibility of switching from running back to receiver."People always said it, but being young you don't listen to it," said the senior. "You want to play what you really want to play. I'm thankful every day now, though."That's because Austin dreams of playing in the NFL. At his smallish size and stature, taking the pounding at running back in the league is near impossible. Making it as a wideout is a different story.He's considered one of the top 100 overall NFL draft prospects and a top-10 receiver prospect, and he's working to improve on that stock.For instance, he's worked on his size.
"I'm at 176 pounds," Austin said. "I've beefed up a little bit. [Strength coach] Mike Joseph had a good workout plan for me this summer. I'm thankful for that. I'm finally filling out a little bit."
He's worked on his strength."I feel a lot stronger in my legs," Austin said. "It's going to show in one of these games. It will show in my speed."He's worked on his handle."I want to lower my dropped passes from last year," Austin said. "I think I had nine. This year, I'm trying to have none. That's my No. 1 focus. It's just being focused."And he's worked on his repertoire.
"In the summer I really worked on catching punts," Austin said. "That was my main thing. Last year I really didn't do a good job. I muffed punts."Understand, though, he ranked No. 6 nationally and No. 1 in the Big East in punt returns with a 14.1-yard average. He was No. 20 nationally in kickoff returns (26.6)."My personal goals are, one, to get through the season healthy; two, a national championship; and, three, to make the NFL and make my dream come true," Austin said.Barring injury, Austin's dream should come true.OK, at least one of them.His favorite playing position nowadays?"Running back, still," Austin said with a grin. "Get the ball in my hands fast."And the current will flow.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.