MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In recent years, WVU has become a football program known for producing NFL caliber players. A handful of those, including Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Kevin White, paved the way via the wide receiver position. Taking a look at this year’s roster, that trend may very well continue in the near future.
Among this year’s wideout squad is a collection of experienced pass catchers – senior Daikiel Shorts, Jr., and redshirt juniors Ka’Raun White and Shelton Gibson – who have high expectations for the upcoming season.
“I feel really good about all the guys we have right now,” said Shorts. “We have a lot of talent. We just gotta get on the same page with (QB) Skyler (Howard) and hopefully put something together and have a great season.”
Shorts added that his personal goal for 2016-17 is to reach the 1,000-yard mark as well as earn All-Big 12 honors. The New Jersey native finished last season with 525 yards and five touchdowns.
White, who has now broken away from his brother Kevin’s shadow, capped off his first season at WVU with 15 receptions and 275 yards. Now, he’s ready to contribute even more.
“The light is on,” said White. “It’s bright. This season should be a great season. This year, I am conditioned a lot better and I am more motivated. I understand things I have to do as far as helping out the team and being a leader so it (the offseason) has been good.”
As for Gibson, NFL.com recently tabbed him as one of 2016’s “Best Homerun Threats”. The list, comprised of both receivers and running backs, consisted of players “who can break huge plays from anywhere on the field, and keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night,” per writer Chase Goodbread. Gibson ranked sixth on the list.
Sophomore phenom Jovon Durante is back for his sophomore campaign. As a freshman, Durante faced multiple academic-related penalties, including suspension from the Cactus Bowl and this springs’ football activities. Durante is expected to be in full swing vying for a starting spot come September. The Miami native recorded 24 receptions for 378 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Freshmen Marcus Simms and Steven Smothers are a new, raw addition to the offense. Smothers is often referred to as ‘the next Tavon Austin’. Not only do both reside from Maryland, but Smothers mirrors the quickness and footwork skills that Austin portrayed when he arrived at WVU.
“It’s a matter of me being comfortable with their offense and knowing I’m going to be used well and my skill is going to be shown and I’m comfortable with the coaching staff,” said Smothers in an interview with the Baltimore Sun following his commitment to WVU. “You’ve got to be comfortable with the school, but you’ve got to be comfortable with the people you’re going to be around like I was comfortable with West Virginia.”
Marcus Simms, also from Maryland, has already gotten off to a productive start in a WVU uniform. He caught five passes for 59 yards and a set of touchdowns to propel the offense to victory at this year’s annual Gold-Blue Spring Game, which both surprised and impressed head coach Dana Holgorsen.
“Simms has no clue what he’s doing right now and it’s actually fun to watch because he doesn’t know what he’s doing and all he does is score touchdowns,” said Holgorsen. “He’s got a long way to go but he can start, he can stop, he’s got great hand-eye coordination and he can stretch the field. He’s going to be a contributor for us next year.”
Other wideouts with experience in the offense (Devonte Mathis, Gary Jennings and Ricky Rogers) are also competing for playing time. As the WVU receiving corps has proven in the past, Mountaineer fans never know who may emerge as the next best member of ‘Wide Receiver U’.
Full list of players listed as WR on WVU’s current roster:
No. 1 Shelton Gibson, No. 2 Ka’Raun White, No. 6 Daikiel Shorts, Jr., No. 5 Jovon Durante, No. 8 Marcus Simms, No. 9 Steven Smothers, No. 12 Gary Jennings, No. 20 Seth Aungst, No. 27 Chris Parry, No. 80 Connor Watts, No. 82 Devonte Mathis, No. 85 Ricky Rogers
Cover Image Credit: Charles LeClaire/USATODAY Sports