MORGANTOWN - I went to see William Crest play last Friday afternoon in Baltimore.If you don't know who that is, well, he's to date the gem of West Virginia's 2014 football recruiting class. He's rated a four-star recruit according to Rivals and a three-star as judged by Scout. He's a 6-foot-3, 190-pound quarterback who can run and throw.And given the total ineptitude of West Virginia's current offense he's, well, perhaps the brightest light on the horizon. No, we're not writing off Ford Childress or anyone else. Who knows? Perhaps by this time a year from now he'll have taken his lumps and be a star in the making.But if the backup quarterback on an offensively struggling team is always the most popular guy on the roster where fans are concerned - and he always is, right? - then can the guy who hasn't even arrived on campus yet be far behind? Or perhaps even ahead?
And so with that in mind, I wanted to see Crest for myself. Had West Virginia not been playing Maryland a day later just a few miles down the road, he never would have been on my radar. After all, I consider hype over recruits to be way overdone. And Crest isn't even signed, merely committed.It would be like going to see Tajh Boyd play in high school five years ago. He was committed, too. He and Deon Long and Logan Heastie. Remember how that worked out?Still, I went. I saw. And I came away, well, only slightly more informed than when I arrived."Oh yeah, he has it all,'' said his coach at Baltimore Dunbar, Lawrence Smith. "He's like Cam Newton. That's who we compare him to.''I saw a little bit of that, not a lot. But that had nothing to do with Crest. It had everything to do with the game itself.Now don't get the wrong idea here. Dunbar plays good football. Really good football. The Poets are nine-time state champions in Maryland. Tavon Austin came from there. Dunbar has athletes and size and skill and coaching.Reginald F. Lewis High? Not so much."You could call it a workout,'' Crest said. "We call these types of games practice.''
Well, it wasn't much of a workout for Crest. He played perhaps half the offensive snaps in the first half, none in the second. There were times - many times - when Smith sent his offense on the field without a quarterback. He would line up a running back who would take a direct snap. It wasn't even the same running back from one series to the next. The favorite play out of that set was something that looked like a jet sweep option, where the tailback would take the snap, immediately hand off to the motioning receiver or keep.The only time it didn't work was when Dunbar would commit a penalty orperhaps drop the ball. That happened once and Dunbar wound up with a third-and-9. So then Crest trotted on and threw a 39-yard touchdown pass.
Problem solved. He could just as easily have run for the first down, but why? In a lot of ways he seems like Geno Smith in that regard - athletic enough to run, but invariably opting not to do so."I'd rather throw the ball, but if I have to run I'll run,'' Crest said. "I'm always going to look to throw the ball first, but if I have to get out of there I will.''Crest didn't actually have to do anything in this road game, which was played in front of a couple hundred people at Lewis without the benefit of a working clock or scoreboard. The final score seems to have been 58-0, although an audit might dispute that. The second half was played with a running clock.
How bad was Lewis? Once, the Falcons went for a first down on their own 30 because that seemed far more likely than actually getting a punt off. Another time, Lewis was forced to punt because it was fourth and about 25 from about the 2-yard line. I promise this happened because I can't make it up: The Dunbar returner fielded the ball at the 10-yard line.The Lewis 10.But hey, you'd better believe the coverage was good.
"I'm going to be honest with you. We've got at least two [opponents the quality of Lewis] left,'' Crest said. "But you still never underestimate an opponent. As soon as that game starts and as soon as that whistle blows, then you'll find out what's going on. And everybody plays their best against us.''Crest didn't play much at all. If Dunbar had 30 snaps, he was probably on the field for 15. He throws darts and moves well. Against better competition he's tested, but on this day he just did whatever he wanted to do. Two weeks earlier, Dunbar lost 29-26 to Massachusetts power Mansfield, 29-26, in great part because Dunbar can't figure out how to kick extra points, not because of Crest."He was unbelievable," Mansfield coach Mike Redding said of Crest. "He was the complete package - tall, big arm, athletic."Which, of course, bodes well when - and these days, the way recruiting goes, if - he arrives at West Virginia.Crest would like to do that in January. Whether that happens remains to be seen. He said he pretty much has everything he needs to graduate in December, but it might be out of his hands."I'm on track, but there are some things with the city that are going to take some time to figure out,'' Crest said, meaning he doesn't know if he'll be allowed by the school system to graduate early. "It all comes down to them. If it was up to me, I'm all for it.''Crest seems secure in his commitment to West Virginia, but admits that he's still playing the recruiting game to an extent and might still take a visit or two."I'm taking visits, but I'm not sure about my official [visits] yet,'' Crest said. "If I don't go in January I'm probably going to take my visits [in January].''There are no obvious suitors, though."Nobody, really,'' Crest said when asked if other schools were hounding him. "After I did what I did with West Virginia, it kind of slowed down.''A day later, Crest didn't make the tiny trip to M&T Bank Stadium to watch West Virginia play Maryland. He said he prefers to just watch from a distance. He can't do anything now but watch, anyway, so until the time comes he won't worry about what's going on at West Virginia.But when the time does come?"I just want to do what I've got to do - go there and work hard, learn the system, practice hard and show them that I can start,'' Crest said. "That's my goal.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1