James Gmiter played on both the offensive and defensive lines in high school and was recruited on both sides of the ball. But when it came time to pick a college destination, he opted to stay close to home and play defense at West Virginia University.
Gmiter, from Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, just a few miles south of Pittsburgh, arrived in Morgantown as a defensive lineman and that’s where he stayed in 2018 during his redshirt season with the Mountaineers.
Following the season, as you are probably aware by now, West Virginia changed coaches. Neal Brown and his staff started thinking perhaps Gmiter would be better suited on offense. The rumor was floating around the Mountaineer football facilities, so Gmiter went to the staff to see what the plan was.
“There had been some talk in the locker room about it, so I went to the coaches to ask about it and tell them I was for it,” Gmiter said. “Coach [Matt] Moore said they wanted to do it, so we made the move. I wasn’t worried about it. I was accepting the role. I just put my head down and kept working.”
There was plenty of work to do, and not just for Gmiter but for West Virginia’s offensive line as a whole. Gmiter began his journey on offense, as you might expect for someone new to the position, near the bottom of the depth chart.
“I wasn’t too worried about it,” he said. “If I didn’t play, I was fine with it. They just moved me over, I was accepting the role that was given to me. So it really wasn’t anything bad, I just put my head down and kept working.”
That work would pay off pretty quickly. Used primarily as a guard, Gmiter found himself in the mix for some playing time early in the season when the Mountaineers were not getting the desired results from their starters. Then came the North Carolina State game, and when the depth chart came out, Gmiter’s name was at the top as the starter at left guard.
“I was excited but at the same time I was very, very nervous, considering I haven’t played offensive line live against another team since high school,” Gmiter said. “So it was kind of like, ‘How am I going to do? How am I going to react?’ ”
Gmiter was not the only newcomer on the interior offensive line that week. Fellow redshirt freshman Briason Mays was named the starter at center prior to the game against the Wolfpack, which West Virginia would go on to win.
The two had formed a bond in practice as backups, and when it came time for them to both move up to starting roles there were nerves but also some comfort in having that experience together.
“We talked about it Friday night at the hotel about how nervous we were,” Gmiter said. “Friday night, it really didn’t hit us. Then, Saturday morning at the pregame, we both kind of look at each other like, ‘Oh boy, here it is.’
“I think [familiarity with Mays] helps a lot. We know each other’s cadence — Briason has a different cadence than Chase [Behrndt] would or anybody else. Working with Briason as a ‘2,’ I understand how his cadence is going to work and we have somewhat of a chemistry.”
Gmiter has been a fixture on the West Virginia line since that win against North Carolina State. Last week against Texas was the best performance of his young career so far. Mountaineer quarterback Austin Kendall was not sacked at all against a pretty good Texas defense and Gmiter played a large part in that.
Once the coaching staff got a look a the game film, it turned out Gmiter graded out as WVU’s best lineman against the Longhorns.
“Gmiter really came on this week,” said Moore, WVU’s offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. “He actually led the O-line in production points, which is saying a lot for a guy who was a D-lineman last year. He’s getting better every week.”
For Gmiter, the move from defense to offense was not a huge leap to make, but it was a leap nonetheless. He said having been on the other side of the line of scrimmage gave him a good idea of what defensive linemen like to do and perhaps some unique insight in how to slow down or stop them. Gmiter’s move was not as taxing in a physical sense as it was mentally.
“I had to come over from defense learning different blitzes and all that,” Gmiter said. “Blitzes are kind of easy to pick up, but you come over to offensive line and you’ve got to understand where to go to them, how to get to them and then if they switch fronts you’ve got to understand how each front differs your block. Honestly, it’s harder mentally than physically.
“I know what the defensive linemen like to do. I know what I liked to do and I know how to counter it if I ever experience it.”