MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–The West Virginia University football team lost numerous members of its defense last season, including several players that were crucial team leaders.
With the loss of Karl Joseph, Nick Kwiatkoski, KJ Dillon and Daryl Worley, the Mountaineers need a new crop of leaders to step forward and that is just what some of the seasoned veterans are planning to do.
Junior safety Dravon Askew-Henry is one of them.
“It’s a little strange,” he said “I used to be the one asking all the questions, but now I have guys asking me and I have to be ready to give them the answers they are needing to hear.”
The 5-foot-11, 198-pound safety has started in all 26 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons, making 59 tackles, including 47 unassisted, a tackle for loss, an interception and four pass breakups last season.
Now all eyes are on him to lead the youthful secondary.
“I just continue to work and do what I got to do and just lead by example,” the Aliquippa, Pa. native said.
His advice to the underclassmen is just to keep working both on the field and off.
“You just tell them to do reps and practice over and over again,” Askew-Henry said. “Work hard in the weight room and everything else will pay off. Film study and everything else will pay off.”
The Mountaineers’ secondary was the most depleted part of the defense. Askew-Henry will team up with redshirt senior Jarrod Harper, who took over the Spur position when Joseph tore his ACL, senior Jeremy Tyler, Nana Kyeremeh, Marvin Gross, Rasul Douglas and Antonio Crawford and Kyzir White to carry on the torch from last season.
“We just got to come in every day, work and be focused,” Tyler said. “No playing around. We just got to have fun with it too. At the end of the day it’s just business. You got to handle your business.”
For redshirt senior Sean Walters, he is ready to assume a leadership role and mentor the newcomers.
“I feel like I am one of the older guys in the group,” the 6-foot-2, 228-pound linebacker said. “So I am just trying to get the younger kids on board of what the coaches ask of them. Just try and be that person that anybody can lean on. I want to be accountable for anything and everything that’s in front of me so I try to instill that in the younger players and just try and go from there.”
In prior years underclassman often didn’t understand what it meant to wear the gold and blue and that is something Walters hopes to instill in his younger teammates.
“The traditions, that blue collar mentality that we have,” he said. “We’re not granted anything so you just got to go and work for it. You got to work for everything that you have. That’s basically what I try to instill into them”
The young WVU defense will have its work cut out when Missouri comes to town in September but strong leadership will help the Mountaineers prepare for the tough task ahead.