On Saturday, the WVU football team made its way to Charleston to practice. The good news: This time it stuck around to practice and even had a little fun with the Mountaineer fans.
Unlike the year Don Nehlen told his bus drivers to turn around and head back to Morgantown, WVU went through drills at UC Stadium, scrimmaged, signed autographs and showed about 6,000 Kanawha Valley fans its newest team on a sunny, chilly day.
Hey, who knows? Maybe it will be good karma for a team that, well, needs a turnaround.
“It was fun,” said linebacker Isaiah Bruce. “It was real fun.”
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, a native of Van, smiled.
“It’s always great to be close to home,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get to play a game or scrimmage closer than 60 miles from Boone County. It’s a great opportunity for the kids and me. And it was a great turnout.”
Gibson got an ornery twinkle in his eye.
“A lot of offensive fans, though,” he said. “Every time the offense did something the fans cheered.”
Indeed, many Valley fans no doubt turned out to see new quarterback Skyler Howard or transfer tailback Rushel Shell or, maybe, the home boy, Cody Clay.
But there was that unloved side of the ball of which Gibson kidded.
“I thought the ‘ones’ did really well,” said the defensive coordinator. “We didn’t give up a touchdown with the ‘ones’ so I was happy with that. I thought our kids were flying around and had some big hits. We got a couple turnovers. We’re starting to come together. We’re nowhere near where we need to be, but we’re a week better.”
There is improvement on that side of the ball. Whether that will translate into enough when the season rolls around is yet to be seen. There are, though, some good signs for the team.
“It’s just the mentality Coach Gibson brings,” said safety Karl Joseph. “He expects a lot. He expects us to be disciplined. And we want to be good. We’re trying to get each other better.”
“Effort,” added Bruce. “Effort and mentality. Nobody wants to have a season like we did last year, especially on defense.”
“It’s a very multiple scheme,” said new assistant Tom Bradley. “Coach Gibson has a plan and we’re sticking to it.”
Basically, Gibson is putting out three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. It’s a throwback of sorts to the days of the odd-stack defense. But the DC has flexibility because of one cat: linebacker Brandon Golson.
Oddly, head coach Dana Holgorsen won’t clear the senior starter to speak with the media. The kid’s play, though, speaks volumes.
“He goes and goes all the time,” Bradley said. “He goes 100 miles an hour. He has the ability to be a difference maker.”
Holgorsen pointed to Golson and Edward Muldrow before practice Saturday.
“You talk about being disruptive on defense,” Holgorsen said. “We need sacks. We didn’t have those last season and those guys have been disruptive.”
Golson has also been versatile.
“He’s just very multiple in what he can do,” Gibson said. “He’s athletic enough to go rush the passer. He’ll be at [defensive end] in certain packages. He’s very athletic and strong. We can use him to get after a quarterback a little bit. So we’ll be moving him around some.”
As mentioned, Holgorsen hasn’t allowed Golson the freedom to speak. But Golson’s teammates can’t say enough about the senior.
“He’s going to make some plays for us this year,” Joseph said. “He’s very physical and fast. He’s everything you look for in a linebacker.
“We’re blitzing him from the outside and inside. He’s doing a lot. Pads are dropping also.”
“Instead of him running outside rushing every time, we have him more in the box so he can play both ways,” Bruce said. “[Opposing teams] can’t say ‘Hey, we’ll just run away from Golson.’ ”
Finally, there was this from cornerback Daryl Worley.
“He’s just a freak of nature,” said the sophomore. “He’s a good guy. He does everything right. He works hard every day and goes full speed.”
Maybe it will be part of a turnaround for this WVU team that, thankfully, didn’t turn around on Saturday.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.