MORGANTOWN — Last year around this time, the news leaked out.
Xavier Preston, projected to be the heir to Nick Kwiatkoski as the strong-side linebacker, would be suspended for the opening game against Missouri.
It proved to be a most significant move.
WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson inserted Justin Arndt, a former walk-on from Martinsburg.
And all Arndt, much smaller than Preston, did was lead the Mountaineers in tackles in 2016 with 84. Preston had 11 in 10 games played. The previous year, 2015, he played in all 13 games and had 18 tackles.
“It’s all about the team now,” Preston said of last season. “Last year is behind me. I wasn’t the guy I should have been. I should have been doing more for the team. But I’m here now working. As a team we’ve been working all off-season. I’m ready for the season to get here.”
Preston, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound true senior from Stuart, Florida, is a vital cog in West Virginia’s defense with weak-side linebacker David Long shelved for now.
“That’s what it is,” Preston said. “I’ll accept the responsibility. I know Coach [Tony Gibson] will have me prepared.”
Preston, in fact, is confident in the Mountaineer linebacking corps as a whole.
“We’re very sound,” he said. “We get coached up by the DC. He makes sure we know what’s going on and we can see the whole field. We don’t get locked in on one thing.
“I’m prepared for the season and I’m confident in our guys.”
As mentioned, Preston brings size. And more. Like confidence.
“I’m something to watch,” Preston said. “Definitely.”
He might have to be if concerns about the defensive line prove to be valid. Preston, though, has seen something there those not in the locker room have not.
“Those guys up front have chips on their shoulders,” he said. “They’ve been hearing that since the season ended last December. Those guys have been working hard. Coach [Bruce] Tall has them coached up with drills. They’re ready to prove themselves.”
Preston’s position, also known as the “Sam,” depends on versatility and speed, but size is a nice bonus. The senior, though, doesn’t see much differentiation between his position and others.
“The name honestly,” he said. “When I’m on the field anything can happen. Same thing with the Will [weak-side]. It just depends on how the offense lines up on who we’ll face.”
Challenges at Sam?
“You have to take away the opponents’ strengths,” he said. “I’m lined up on the strong side of the offense, so you have to be prepared for whatever they throw at you. They are going to come at you though because that’s their strength.”
Preston said he’ll see offensive linemen and more coming his way.
“Offensive tackles,” he said. “Fullbacks. Running backs sometimes will run right at me. And through it I sometimes have to cover receivers. I can see anything at anytime.”
What Preston most wants to see from his own team, by the way, is unity.
Go ahead. Ask him to give you his 2017 Mountaineer prediction.
“I predict we’ll be a team,” he said. “We’ll be a whole unit, not just games in which one side of the ball or the other will do well.
“We’re going to all come together. We’re going to have a good season. We’re going to give the state something to be proud of.”