MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–At times last season West Virginia’s young receiving corps looked brilliant and at other times, they made simple mistakes.
With a year under their belts, the Mountaineer wide outs are a talented group that are expected to big things.
“Well, as I’ll tell them we have the potential to be a good unit,” WVU offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said. “We have scored zero touchdowns and have caught for zero yards to start this year. We still have plenty to prove. Potential is a great thing and it’s a gated room. We’ve grown together a lot but as of now, we’ve really not had any production just as nobody has that has not played a game. And I mean it we really have the promise of a lot great things. But as of now we have a lot to prove to ourselves. We’ve got a lot of maturity to gain, a lot of trust to gain.”
Redshirt senior T.J. Simmons returns to lead the receiving corps on and off the field. The 6-foot-2, 198-pounder was third on the team last season with 35 catches for 455 yards and four touchdowns.
This year Simmons is asserting himself both as a leader on the field as well as using his voice off the field to stand up to social injustice.
Behind Simmons is junior Sean Ryan, redshirt junior Isiaiah Esdale, sophomores Sam James, Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Winston Wright Jr., Ali Jennings and true freshmen Sam Brown and Reese Smith.
As a freshman, James showed so much promise but he also dropped several big passes last year.
In 2019, the Richmond Hill, Georgia native started in all 12 games for the Mountaineers and finished first on the team in receptions (69) and receiving yards (677), had two touchdowns and had a long catch of 51 yards. Against Texas Tech. James caught a career-high 14 passes for 223 yards.
The 6-foot, 184-pound star is one of the fastest athletes on the roster and he spent the summer working with starting quarterback and becoming more consistent at catching passes and hanging onto the ball.
Temple transfer Ryan was granted immediate eligibility last year and played in eight games. Injuries sidelined him for four games.
The 6-foot-3, 194-pound receiver was tied for fourth on the team with 19 catches for 219 yards and a long of 39 yards. As a freshman with the Owls, he finished with 12 catches for 162 yards, a touchdown and a long reception of 27 yards.
Both Ford-Wheaton and Wright had stellar camps and earned starting spots at the H and X position.
The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Ford-Wheaton appeared in 11 games and started two last season. He had 2 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns with a long reception of 50 yards against Kansas State.
Parker has been impressed with Ford-Wheaton this season.
“Bryce has done what a starter should do,” he said. “We got a great room but their is certain guys you got to put out there first and we are going to put Bryce out there to start the game because he’s earned it. He’s been highly productive, explosive playwise. He’s been off the charts, pushes the ball vertically down the field. As I’ve spoke very openly about him to him, he’s starting to develop real confidence because he’s realizing what it takes to get real results on and off the field.”
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Wright saw action on special teams and wide receiver last year. He was tied for fourth on the team with 19 catches.
Jennings saw action in 11 games last season and made three starts. He was tied for fourth on the team with 19 catches for 192 yards and a touchdown.
Newcomers Smith and Brown are two freshman that could see significant playing time. The 6-foot-2, 197-pound Brown was named the 5A-Region 2 Player of the Year in high school.
As a senior, he finished with 40 catches for 731 yards, an average of 18.2 yards per catch and 11 touchdowns and Brown has been impressing this fall.
“He’s exciting as a freshman that I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach at the wide out position,” Parker said. “Coach (Clint) Trickett and those guys that went down and recruited him last year did a great job. Sam has a lot of promise. Like any freshman, he’s maturing, learning how to do things the right way on and off the field. As far a human being and a player, he’s as exciting as the guys we’ve had here. He really meets the standard of what West Virginia wide receiver play has been. He will continue to add as long as we continue to help guide him along. The older guys in the room help bring him along. He’s got a lot of promise and a bright future.”
Smith was a four-year starter at Boyle County High School in kentucky. The 5-foot-10, 186-pound wide receiver ended his high school career as the only player in the history of Kentucky high school football to finish in the top five in career interceptions (26) and career touchdown receptions (64). He averaged 90.5 yards per game for his four-year career.
Esdale played in 10 games last season and had 15 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown with a long of 36 yard.
Other players that round out WVU’s receiving corps are Devell Washington, Preston Fox, Zack Dobson, Keion Wakefield, CJ Cole, Freddie Brown, Randy Fields Jr. and Graeson Malashevich.
The Mountaineers have a talented pool of help at receiver if they can mature and hang on to the ball.
WVU opens the season on Saturday at noon against Eastern Kentucky.
Cover Photo Credit: Caleb Saunders- WVU Football