On Tuesday, WVU head coach Neal Brown announced that tight end Mike O’Laughlin and cornerback Nicktroy Fortune would miss the remainder of the season with lower body injuries. Both O’Laughlin and Fortune went down in Fort Worth with injuries in WVU’s 29-17 victory over TCU.
Nicktroy Fortune, a junior cornerback, has been a key piece to the Mountaineers’ defense since his freshman year in 2019. Fortune played 11 games in his freshman season, starting in two of those games. Once the 2020 season rolled around, Fortune established himself as a full-time weapon, as he started in all 10 games.
Fortune’s injury doesn’t help WVU’s already thin secondary situation, but Illinois State transfer Charles Woods has shown signs of steadiness since Fortune went down. Woods had a crucial interception against TCU in which he went up and took the ball from the receiver on a jump ball. Woods also recovered a fumble late in the fourth quarter of the TCU game to help seal the victory.
As for O’Laughlin, this is his second injury of 2021, and his second time having to be shut down for a season. When O’Laughlin came into the WVU program in 2018, he tore his ACL, which forced him to take a medical redshirt for that season.
While the loss of O’Laughlin hurts the offense, redshirt junior T.J. Banks has proven that he can get the job done as well. Banks played in all 10 games of the 2020 season, catching four passes and registering a touchdown. Banks has seen the field a good bit during the season, but with O’Laughlin’s absence on Saturday, Banks saw much more playing time. Banks caught three passes for 34 yards and was crucial in protection in WVU’s 38-31 victory against Iowa State.
Head coach Neal Brown gave Banks high praise on Tuesday when he awarded Banks with the program’s weekly Blue-Collar Award. The award gives recognition to the players that do the dirty work that doesn’t always go noticed but is vital to the team’s success.
Here’s what Neal Brown had to say about Banks’s performance on Saturday.
“He had some runs after catches. That was his most productive game, and the best he’s played in his career here,” Brown said.
What did Neal Brown have to say about Banks’s opportunity with O’Laughlin’s season ending injury?
“I think T.J. sees an opportunity. His approach is much more mature than when Mike (O’Laughlin) was out early with the other injury,” Brown said. “He’s always played really hard. The effort piece has never been an issue, it’s been technique issues. Saturday was the first time he combined high effort, (which he always does), with really good concentration and technique.”
As far as the tight end position goes, Banks has already solidified himself as the current starter and someone the WVU offense can count on. The next man up that will see more backup snaps at the position, is Charles Finley. Finley is a redshirt freshman out of Newark, New Jersey. In 2020, Finley got a good number of snaps against Eastern Kentucky and saw the field a little at Iowa State.
What did Neal Brown say about true freshman Finley on Tuesday?
“Charles Finley played the most he’s ever played in his career, and did a really nice job,” Brown said. “I think if he’ll do the right things and make good decisions on and off the field, he’s got the talent that we want for that position. He’s got to gain some weight. He’s put on about fifteen pounds from a year ago, but we’ll continue to use him. He’ll be the second tight end in the game.”
(Top Photo: Ethan Bock)