MORGANTOWN — Dana Holgorsen finally answered the burning question in West Virginia’s preseason camp Thursday.
Well, sort of.
A day after special teams coordinator Joe DeForest and wide receivers/punt return coach Lonnie Galloway both insisted that it was way above their pay grade to decide whether William Crest was really a legitimate option as a returner, Holgorsen at first smiled and suggested what most had already considered.
“I was just doing that to mess with you guys,’’ Holgorsen said.
In truth, there are far more pressing issues with which Holgorsen and the Mountaineers must deal between now and the end of preseason camp next week and then on to the Aug. 30 opener against Alabama. For sheer intrigue, though, perhaps none approach the Crest question.
Holgorsen said it wasn’t his idea to station Crest, his four-star freshman quarterback recruit, under punts. It just happened.
“The first practice, I looked and he was down there catching punts,’’ Holgorsen said. “I was watching him and I’ll be darned if he didn’t look pretty good. So I said, ‘Keep catching them. We need a punt returner, so let’s see what you can do.’
“He likes doing it, so I [told him to] go do it. I don’t care.’’
The fact is, Crest seems like a natural. He has large hands and handles the ball well. The only thing that separates him from most punt returners is his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame, larger than the prototypical waterbug type of punt returner.
That Crest did it once or twice was interesting. That he has continued to stand under punts through the first full week of practice makes it slightly more than interesting.
So Holgorsen was asked if, beyond messing with the media, there might actually be more to it. Could it simply be an exercise to help Crest adjust to the speed of the game or work on his ball skills?
“Well, he did that in high school just to stay in shape,’’ Holgorsen said. “Ball skills for a quarterback are important. Just try catching snaps from [last year’s center, converted guard] Pat Eger. It could be here, here, here or here. I mean, it’s all over.’’
But that still didn’t answer the question.
“Would it be an option? If he’s the best one, absolutely,’’ Holgorsen said. “Now if he was an every-down quarterback right now — our starting, every-down quarterback — that’d be pretty silly. You’d obviously want him honing in on being the starting quarterback.
“If he’s not the starting quarterback and you’ve got the luxury of a little bit of depth [at quarterback], then if he’s the best one, why not?’’
While Crest dabbling as a punt returner is intriguing, far more pertinent is his progress as a quarterback. Holgorsen said Crest is like all freshmen in that after just a week he’s confused by all that’s being thrown at him.
“I’ve got receivers and running backs whose heads are spinning, too. And you can’t even coach offensive linemen as freshmen,’’ Holgorsen said. “But he goes in there and at times just doesn’t know what he’s doing and still looks good.
“The biggest challenge with William is that his expectations are really high and he’s extremely competitive and he wants to please and he wants to learn and wants to do good. But it just doesn’t look good at times.’’
At this stage, however, it’s not supposed to look good for a freshman. There’s no real pressure on Crest to advance quickly because Holgorsen is committed to Clint Trickett as his starting quarterback. He again on Thursday praised Trickett as being light years ahead of where he was at this point last year, when he’d just arrived as a transfer from Florida State.
But while Holgorsen attempted to somewhat temper any overboard enthusiasm toward Crest, he didn’t entirely douse it.
“He’s ahead of the curve as a freshman quarterback. He’s way ahead of the curve mentally and physically,’’ Holgorsen said. “With that said, he’s still got a long ways to go. I don’t want people to get too excited about it right now. I’ve said it before, there’s a reason why the two previous Heisman Trophy winners redshirted.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.