MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – During a discussion about his team’s wide receiver corps a couple of Mondays ago, West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez casually made mention of the fact that sophomore Brandon Barrett is getting closer to seeing playing time at slot receiver.
Rodriguez continues to look for a spark from his receiver corps that has just two pass catchers with 10 receptions or more through seven games in senior Brandon Myles (23) and sophomore Darius Reynaud (14). The team’s next three top pass catchers on the stat sheet are all running backs.
“We’re going to try and get more guys into the game,” Rodriguez said. “When people load up the box the guys on the outside have got to make some big plays in the passing game and we’ve got to have them ready to do that.”
“It’s been a real long time coming,” Barrett admitted earlier this week.
Barrett was one of the more highly recruited players in state history two years ago coming out of Martinsburg High School. The 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pound sophomore had one of the most productive careers catching 253 passes for 4,717 yards and 74 touchdowns. His 74 TD catches were second-most in national history and he earned a spot on the prestigious Parade Magazine All-American team.
The two-time Kennedy Award winner as the state’s top player had scholarship offers from Penn State, Syracuse and Ohio State before choosing West Virginia.
Barrett said his choice really boiled down to West Virginia and Ohio State. “I went out there for a one-day camp and they basically took us on a tour and stuff like that,” he said of his trip to Columbus. “We got to compete in some drills.”
Barrett also attended West Virginia’s seven-on-seven camp and ultimately decided that Morgantown was the best place for him.
“West Virginia stuck with me through everything,” Barrett said. “They have helped me get this far.”
But Barrett’s journey to Morgantown hasn’t been without its trials. He had to sit out last year due to academics and was way behind the rest of the team when he arrived for fall camp in August. Barrett said last year was the first time he’s not played since midget-league football.
“I regret it now,” he said. “In high school I should have finished out my grades and played last year. That year (sitting out) felt like two or three not being on the field. It took a lot out of me but it also made me work harder to get back to doing what I like to do.”
Wide receivers coach Butch Jones -- the man who ultimately decides when Barrett gets out on the field -- says he’s making progress.
“He’s working hard,” Jones said. “It’s been a process and it’s a one-day-at-a-time type of thing.”
Barrett finally got off the scout team about a month ago when he made the travel squad for Rutgers. Yet he won’t be totally satisfied until he works his way into the starting lineup.
“I’m improving on different things each day,” Barrett said.
According to Jones, the most important attribute his receivers must possess is what he calls “functional intelligence.”
Jones explains, “You’ve got to understand the system and what we’re trying to accomplish. The big thing is we want competitors – kids that are going to get out there and take one snap at a time and compete; guys that can play in space whether it’s blocking or route running and being able to beat man coverage.”
Barrett admits he came to camp a little rusty and it has taken him a while to shake off that rust. “Once you get back into it after a while it comes back to you,” he said.
Barrett says competing each day against West Virginia’s aggressive and talented group of defensive backs has made him a better player. It was their aggressiveness and speed that initially caught him off guard.
“It’s a lot different here than in high school with guys competing and the speed,” Barrett mentioned. “I really had to pick up on that. Everything else is basically what I expected.”
This week Barrett is listed as Dorrell Jalloh’s backup at slot receiver. There is a very real possibility that he could see his first varsity action this Wednesday night against Connecticut.
“If he continues to work hard and make progress then all of those things will take care of themselves,” Jones said.
“You just have to adapt and move on,” Rodriguez shrugged. “I will be disappointed if our guys are not intense and excited about playing again.”
The coaching staff was able to do some self-scouting during the down time and evaluate personnel and special teams. “We didn’t really make a whole lot of changes; we think we’ve got the right guys in the right spots,” Rodriguez said.
The coach said earlier this week that his team has to improve its execution offensively and eliminate long drives defensively.
“I think our special teams have been solid but we’ve left a few plays out there,” he said. “The effort has been good in all three phases and the guys have made progress. But we haven’t played our best game yet and hopefully we’ll do that.”
“They’ve probably got more options in their playbook with Hernandez because he’s been in the program for two years as opposed to a true freshman in Brown. We’ve got film on both of those guys. I think more than anything it’s just preparing for what they do scheme wise,” Rodriguez mentioned.
“It gets kind of cramped when you get 130 guys running around in there,” he said. The Caperton Indoor Facility was constructed in 1997 at a cost of about $9 million.
“Once we get that turf replaced at the beginning of next year I will be more comfortable going in there,” he said.