MORGANTOWN — Briason Mays had been waiting, patiently, for a chance to show off what he can do on the football field for West Virginia University.
That chance came last week as Mays, a redshirt freshman, worked his way up the WVU depth chart to become the Mountaineers’ starting center.
After a pretty good spring football session by Mays, the summer began with Chase Behrndt listed as the starter at center. When that wasn’t working to the coaching staff’s liking during preseason camp, Josh Sills was moved to center and Mays was dropping down the depth chart.
Sills did not produce what WVU coaches were hoping for from the position, so Behrdnt was back in as the starter at Missouri two weeks ago.
Of course, the Mountaineers were on the wrong end of a 38-7 beatdown against the Tigers — with poor offensive line play among several glaring deficiencies for West Virginia — so it was back to the drawing board for WVU coach Neal Brown and his assistants. Mays was the next man up in the carousel of centers.
“I had to go back and re-evaluate how I was holding the ball, my landmarks, when you want to release it, how you want to release it,” Mays said. “I went back and re-evaluated everything I did.”
Last week in practice, all was well for Mays. West Virginia offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Moore said the freshman’s snaps were just fine during the week, but when it came time to warmup for the game against the Wolfpack, something was off.
Mays was missing his targets with snaps in pregame prior to taking on NC State, and considering he was one of three new faces on the WVU offensive line that day it was a cause for concern among the coaches.
“I was trying to reassure him,” Moore said, “but I hope I didn’t have that nervous look on my face.”
Once the game began, however, all was well again with Mays. Some of that can be traced back to his training away from the Mountaineer practice fields. Mays, a former standout offensive tackle at Bolivar Central High in Tennessee, was the high school teammate of WVU redshirt freshman quarterback Trey Lowe. The two are now roommates in Morgantown, and Mays, listed at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, said they fill some of their down time at home by snapping footballs in a narrow hallway at their apartment.
In those at-home drills, the ball either hits one of the walls in the narrow hall or hits the quarterback in the hands. Mays has done more of the latter, and it showed on Saturday as he made his college football debut in a 44-27 win against the Wolfpack.
“When we talk about snaps, we talk about a strike zone, just like a pitcher,” Moore said. “You can’t throw balls. If you’re drop-back passing all the time, you can have one high or low. But we need to throw a strike every time. With that quarterback and his yes, he’s got to catch it and get his eyes somewhere right now. If he’s reaching for that snap, it really slows down your RPO [run-pass option] game. A lot of times, if you have a bad snap, you’ve got to hand it off and can’t read anything.”
Mays played every offensive snap of the game against NC State, dealing with the Wolfpack’s three-man defensive front. That means of NC State’s three defensive linemen, one was likely lining up directly across from Mays on every play. He didn’t mind, he said, because it made life easier for the guards to his left and right. He’ll see more of that this week when West Virginia opens Big 12 Conference play at Kansas (4:30 p.m., streaming only on ESPN+).
“There’s always pressure to do well,” Mays said. “I felt more pressure for myself to do well and for my teammates to not let them down. Other than that, I don’t think there was any added pressure. I had some ups and downs, as with every performance. I’ll definitely get better — a lot better, actually — but for the first start, I’d say it was OK.”