MORGANTOWN — Patience has paid off for Kelby Wickline.
Wickline could have left West Virginia University this offseason when his father, Joe, was let go as the Mountaineers’ offensive line coach in the fallout from the departure of Dana Holgorsen for Houston.
He didn’t. Wickline decided to stay in Morgantown, and now he’s become one of the constants along the WVU offensive line.
“This is my last year,” Wickline, a redshirt senior tackle, said Tuesday during a player interview session. “I’m a fifth-year senior. I know all the guys here. Just the relationships. I wanted to stay put. This was the best decision for me. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
Wickline would know about where the grass is green and where it isn’t. After a high school playing career in Oklahoma at Stillwater High, Wickline began life as a college football player in Conference USA at the University of Texas-San Antonio. He said UTSA was not a good fit for him, so after his first season in San Antonio it was off to junior college at Jones County College in Mississippi for a year.
“Juco is fun level to me — it’s like high school, really,” Wickline said. “[It’s] laid back and you just get to play some ball, no pressure.”
From junior college in Mississippi, Wickline elected to move on to West Virginia where his dad was on the staff. As a redshirt sophomore, he saw limited playing time but did see a lot of the field in WVU’s Heart of Texas Bowl loss to Utah. Last season Wickline again played sparingly, but was called into extended action at Texas when starting left tackle Yodny Cajuste was ejected early in the game for allegedly throwing a punch at a Longhorn player. The Mountaineers, of course, went on to beat Texas in dramatic fashion that afternoon.
Fast-forward to the present and the Longhorns are next on WVU’s schedule (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC). Wickline said the experience of playing in the game at Texas last season helped his confidence some, but last year is last year and he is more focused on what the 2019 Longhorns bring to the table this week.
“That game last year was a fun experience and we had a good time, but we’ve moved on to this game this year and we’re thinking about what we can do to win this game,” Wickline said. “It gives me a little bit of confidence, but it’s a whole new ballgame this year with new teams. You’ve got to come in with a different approach and you’ve got to start from ground zero for a new game.”
Starting from ground zero is kind of what first-year WVU coach Neal Brown and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt Moore had to do with the West Virginia offensive line for 2019. There have been lots of moving parts and interchangeable pieces up front for WVU, but Wickline made an early impression on the new staff that stuck.
“From last year to this year, [Wickline is] one of the most improved players on our roster,” Brown said. “He’s been very solid. He played really well against Kansas, played well against North Carolina State.”
Wickline earned the starting job at right tackle for the Mountaineers going into fall camp and has had a firm grip on the position ever since. In four games this season, Wickline has played every offensive snap for West Virginia. There was one play at Missouri where he had to come off the field to deal with a minor injury, but the Tigers called timeout before the snap and when play resumed Wickline was back in his spot at right tackle.
Wickline has been the model of consistency for Moore’s offensive line at West Virginia — never too high or too low.
“He’s been really coachable and he plays hard,” Moore said of Wickline. “He’s been what I wanted him to be this year. That’s the big thing — he hasn’t graded out to a point where he’s won the [player of the week] award, but then again he hasn’t been something that has hurt us. Again, he has been really consistent and that’s the biggest thing I ask of my guys.
“An O-lineman, if they never mention your name all season, you’ve had a pretty good season. If you can go through a whole season and nobody ever brings you up and you just do your job and your guy is never a problem, you may not get a whole bunch of pancake blocks but you can be a successful offense.”