MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Last season, hard-nosed Wendell Smallwood carved his name into WVU’s 1,000-yard rushing book as only a junior. Foregoing his senior season, Smallwood opted for the NFL Draft, leaving the Mountaineers’ starting running back position up for grabs.
Rushel Shell spent most of the 2015-16 season sharing snaps with Smallwood. The former 5-star recruit rushed for more than 700 yards as the No. 2 RB. Now the frontrunner for the starting nod, expectations are much higher.
“Football is easy for him,” RB coach Ja’Juan Seider said earlier this year. “He (Shell) is a really good player… He knows that he can’t coast, because I have people coming in trying to take his job. I told him ‘You still haven’t rushed for 1,000 yards. What can you do to make yourself better?'”
Dana Holgorsen and staff brought three new faces – Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettway, and former JUCO Offensive Player of the Year Justin Crawford – into the mix during the offseason in an effort to fill the gap created by Smallwood’s departure.
McKoy was offered by a handful of ACC schools including Boston College, UNC and Wake Forest, but elected to play Big 12 football at WVU instead. Rushing for nearly 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns as a high school senior, it’s no surprise that he’s already turning heads in Morgantown.
“Kennedy McCoy is way, way better than expected,” Holgorsen said. “He’s wearing No. 4 out there, and it resembles the other No. 4 (Smallwood), so he’s on track. He’s a smart kid and he’s picking things up and he looks good.”
Holgorsen described Pettway as a “shorter, shiftier frontline guy”. Pettway was a 3-star recruit and the No. 1 ranked RB in the state of Michigan coming out of high school. He also dabbled in track and field, earning 100-meter times that took Coach Seider by surprise. In fact, Pettway’s sheer speed may be what ultimately sets him apart from others.
“You can tell he’s been running track,” Seider said. “Just watching the way he moves around, he’s got quick bursts up the field. He’s been timed from 10.6 to 10.7 in the 100 meters. I didn’t know he was that fast. I knew he had some good wheels on him but that exceeded my expectations, especially for the size he is.”
As for Justin Crawford, known for his quick feet and ability to maneuver away from defenders, the decision to become a Mountaineer became simple after Holgorsen, Seider and offensive coordinator Joe Wickline traveled to Georgia to visit him.
“I could see myself in the blue and gold,” Crawford told BlueGoldSports’ Jeremy Simon following his commitment. “It was the opportunity and the situation I was going to be walking into. At WVU, you have a returning quarterback and four out of five lineman returning, and wideouts that have plenty of experience. I only know two things, work hard and ball hard. Everything else will really fall in place.”
Last but certainly not least, you can add William Crest to WVU’s list of expected backfield contributors. Although Crest is still on roster as a QB, the redshirt sophomore possesses the rare ability to successfully play multiple positions, including special teams. He rushed 20 times last season for 107 yards and a touchdown while also seeing action as the second-string QB.
If Holgorsen chooses to exploit a run-heavy offense yet again, there will be plenty of opportunities for Shell, McKoy, Pettway, Crawford and Crest to carry the Mountaineers downfield to victory.
Players listed as RB on current WVU roster:
No. 4 Kennedy McKoy, No. 7 Rushel Shell, No. 23 Jashawn Banks, No. 25 Justin Crawford, No. 32 Martell Pettway, No. 35 Brady Watson
Cover Image Credit: athlonsports.com
Other 2016 position previews: Wide Receivers