WVU receiver Ivan McCartney (5) caught 49 passes as a sophomore in 2011, but played in only eight games last season.
MORGANTOWN - In so many ways, Ivan McCartney is no different now than he was during his first tour of duty with West Virginia's football team.He was an enigma then and he is an enigma now.For three seasons - well, 21/2 as it turned out - he was the guy with all the tools. He had the size and the speed and the athleticism. He even had the connections, having been spawned from the same Miramar program in Florida that had delivered Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey.For some reason, though, he just never lived up to his four-star hype as a wide receiver.
Sure, he had his moments. As a sophomore in 2011 he caught 49 passes. No, those weren't exactly Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey numbers, but it was a start, especially after he'd caught just one pass in 12 games as a freshman.His junior season last year was a step back. Through the first eight games, he'd caught all of nine passes. And it wasn't as if there were no passes out there to be caught. Smith, after all, was on pace to throw more completions and more touchdowns in a season than any quarterback in school history.And then McCartney was gone, pretty much without explanation. One day he was starting his first game of the season against TCU last November. The next day, literally, he was on his way out. It would take a week before he actually left, but then he was gone - out of sight, out of mind, out of school and out of the program.It wasn't particularly earth-shaking news because, well, McCartney hadn't been an earth-shaking player.And now McCartney is back. He explained that his absence and withdrawal from school were necessary because of the health of his grandfather back in Florida. It didn't seem as if he had much trouble gaining his way back onto the team, so give McCartney the benefit of the doubt on that one."A lot of people hear different things and don't really know what's going on," McCartney said over the weekend. "There were things I was dealing with I didn't want to put out. I never took myself away from the West Virginia team.''Indeed, during his absence McCartney apparently kept in touch first with Austin and Bailey and then others in the program. He also worked out back at home in Florida, hoping that there would be another chance.That the chance came again at West Virginia was a bit surprising. Most figured McCartney would finish out his career elsewhere. But in May he asked for permission to return to Morgantown and got it from coach Dana Holgorsen.So what is it Holgorsen is looking for from McCartney now?"Improvement,'' he said, without elaborating.Of course, the receiving corps that McCartney returns to now is far different than the one he left last November. In truth, this one might be harder to crack than last year's, which was dominated by Austin and Bailey and then included bit players like McCartney and J.D. Woods.
Now that receiving corps is populated by younger players with potential. Guys like junior college transfers Kevin White, Ronald Carswell and Mario Alford will get long looks, as will freshmen Daikiel Shorts and Shelton Gibson. There are holdovers like Jordan Thompson, Dante Campbell and K.J. Myers, along with redshirt freshmen Devonte Mathis and Vernon Davis.And then there is McCartney, who is more experienced in the system than any of the others, but also might have less room for growth because he has just one year of eligibility remaining."I don't really know how those guys look at me, but I try to be that leader with the experience that I have,'' McCartney said. "I try to let those guys know this is how it's going to be, this and that. For the most part we bond well.''BRIEFLY: To the surprise of almost no one, it appears as if IMG and Tony Caridi have all but put the finishing touches on his return to the WVU broadcast booth. Caridi said over the weekend that something official will likely be announced this week.There never really seemed any doubt that IMG - which now handles West Virginia's radio broadcasts, among other things - would want Caridi back in the booth. To dismiss the now-iconic play-by-play voice as its first order of business would not have gotten the company off to a good start from a public relations standpoint. But Caridi also works for West Virginia Radio Corporation and the main sticking point always seemed to be how that company - which still is in the process of suing WVU over its contract with IMG - would react to Caridi also working for IMG.Apparently that has been worked out so that Caridi will still host the nightly Sportsline show on WVRC's MetroNews.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.