There’s a lot of ingredients that go into a great football player — strength, speed, agility, awareness.
There’s another one out there, too — actually wanting to be on the practice field.
As much as he’s looking for all those other attributes, new West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown is making doubly sure he has players on the practice field who exhibit that last trait.
Brown calls it “juice,” and he wants it flowing in WVU’s locker room.
“These are guys that show up, man, and they’re smiling, every single day,” Brown said Friday. “They’re the guys that when the weight room opens up and [strength coach Mike Joseph] lets them in, they’re the first ones there. They set the tone.”
Brown said the best roster is a mix of personalities, but made a point to say that personality was extremely important. Not every player has to bounce around the field, but there must be some guys there who can lift some of the quieter guys on the roster.
They were crucial in a couple of position rooms. Former Florida State player George Campbell is that guy in the receiver room. Former Michigan player Reuben Jones is that guy with the defensive linemen.
Age isn’t a requirement. A freshman could take on that role as easily as a fifth-year senior. It’s about the personality, and Brown said it’s something he looks for in the recruiting process.
“We want guys who are relational, guys who have a passion not only for the game of football, but has a passion for being around their teammates,” Brown said. “We don’t want people to fake it.”
It’s a tale as old as time and something I’ve seen in college programs I’ve covered from Morgantown to Tallahassee to all points in between. Coaches will become infatuated by how fast a guy can run or how much he can bench press. His highlight reels are stuff of legend.
Then they sign those guys and the real personalities emerge. They’re playing college sports because they have the talent and they can, not necessarily because they want to. They think they can get away with out-athleting the competition because, hey, it’s worked at every level so far.
So they can’t get dragged out of bed with a mule team for morning lifts. They don’t pay attention in the classroom or the position room. Maybe they make more appearances on a police blotter on early Sunday mornings than they do the stat sheet on Saturday afternoons.
Then there’s the guy on the other side of the practice field, the one who walked onto campus with a recruiting rating one or two stars smaller than the blue-chipper. He might be a little short or a little light. His knees might ache with every cut he makes. Yet he’s still out there because he wants to be.
I’ve seen those three-star guys become NFL draft picks. I’ve seen five-star guys flame out. The difference is the desire.
Take Campbell, for instance. He was one of those blue-chippers out of high school, one of the top 10 recruits not just at his position, but at any position. Injuries limited his Seminole career. He came to WVU still owning that height and speed and skill, but there’s one more thing Brown believes will set him apart.
“He’s really hungry to rewrite his college football story,” Brown said.
Campbell doesn’t want to go out as a coulda-been. So he’ll work his tail off to make a difference on the field in Morgantown.
Those are the guys that help programs rebuild after regime changes. And those are the guys Brown seeks to add to his roster.
The intangibles, he believes, will lead to tangible improvement.