MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - When Dana Holgorsen talks about West Virginia's talent and depth at running back, he does so in glowing terms.And why not? Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie return as the leading rushers from 2011 and 2012, respectively. Junior college transfer Dreamius Smith is 215 pounds of power and skill and true freshman Wendell Smallwood is already on campus and getting a jump in spring drills.All in all, that's a pretty good position into which JuJuan Seider has stepped. Hired just days before the beginning of spring drills last month, Seider is the running backs coach who has inherited a crop that Holgorsen insists is "probably our strength.''Why, then, when Seider is asked his thoughts on his group midway through the spring, he mentions those four hurriedly, as if he can't wait to get to the real point he wants to make?"The guy I like right now who's competing his butt off is Cody Clay,'' Seider said. "That's the guy that excites me the most. He's doing a lot of stuff.''A lot of stuff, indeed. Talk to Seider and he'll tell you how Clay has impressed him with his blocking and toughness. Switch gears and talk to receivers coach Lonnie Galloway and he can't get through a discussion about his group without throwing out the name."And don't forget about Cody Clay,'' Galloway said. "He's a guy we can use in a lot of ways.''The common thread between the two coaches, of course, extends beyond working with Clay. They are also two of West Virginia's five first-year coaches - a couple of guys who, although neither is a stranger to WVU, are complete strangers where Clay is concerned. In other words, he's managed to impress them sight unseen prior to just the past month or so.
Well, in Seider's case that's not exactly true."I tried to recruit him at Marshall,'' Seider said.That Seider didn't succeed while he was the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at Marshall is now not only West Virginia's gain, but his, as well. He tried in vain to get the 6-foot-3, 252-pounder to Huntington, even though Clay and some of his teammates at George Washington spent a lot of time there."Those guys were so close down there that they were always coming around,'' Seider said. "And he's the same player I saw in those seven-on-seven camps. He always wanted to win, going a hundred miles an hour, giving you everything he's got. He's doing the same thing now.''Well, Clay isn't exactly the same player. Or, to be more precise, he's not the player Seider thought he would be. Truth be told, he's not the player now that anyone thought he would be.
"Everybody knew what Cody was going to be,'' Seider said. "Everybody presumed he was going to grow into being an offensive lineman.''That Clay did not grow into an offensive lineman wasn't because West Virginia's coaches didn't try to turn him into one. He was on campus only a few months, working as a very atypically sized slot receiver, when WVU's then-new offensive coaches tried to make him a center.
That experiment only lasted until it became obvious that Clay wasn't suited to being a 320-pounder and they moved him back to the slot. From there he morphed into a combination slot receiver, fullback and even a tight end on the rare occasions Holgorsen decided he needed one.Rather than experiment with Clay at all those positions to see which fit him best, the Mountaineers have pretty much decided to utilize him at all of them. Judging by last season - when he was a regular in the lineup - it has become a huge success. He was particularly useful as a blocking back."The kid is just doing everything,'' Seider said. "We've got him blocking, catching the ball out of the backfield, catching the ball at receiver. I'm really impressed with what he's doing.''A blocking back might not sound necessarily glamorous, and it isn't. But it's necessary."To me, if you don't block, you're not playing,'' Seider said. "That quarterback position is too important, especially in this offense. So if you don't block, you're not getting in. I don't care how good you are running the ball.''Clay is not just blocking for the quarterback. He's also leading Garrison and Buie into the line and, perhaps more importantly, pushing them.
"He makes the running backs room better because those guys see him competing and laying it on the line every day,'' Seider said. "It's easy when I can say, 'Look at Cody. Do you understand how privileged you are to have a guy in front of you laying his body on the line for you like that?' It's making them want to work hard.''Clay might never find himself actually taking a handoff because that's not his job. But the Mountaineers think so highly of the need for a guy with Clay's skills they are already planning for the next wave. And who knows? He might carry the ball eventually, too."Let's put it this way: I have no problem putting the ball in his hands,'' Seider said. "And I'm hoping [incoming freshman] Elijah Wellman will be that same type of kid. You need those kids. Those kids build a program, the blue-collar kids who do everything you want them to do. You need those kids in your program.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.