Former Mountaineers Make Mark in WVU Practice - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Former Mountaineers Make Mark in WVU Practice

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Tavon Austin joined other former WVU stars at practice prior to the Spring Game. Tavon Austin joined other former WVU stars at practice prior to the Spring Game.
The annual spring game at West Virginia University is not only a chance for fans to get a look at the team that will take the field in the fall, it’s also a who’s who of former Mountaineer stars.

Distinguished football alumni return for the Gold-Blue Game each year to roam around their old stomping ground, reunite with past teammates and reconnect with their university.

This year, head coach Dana Holgorsen had another request of them. He reached out to some Mountaineers who are currently playing professional football and asked them to come be around the squad during their Thursday practice just two days before the spring game.

It was an opportunity for the 2014 WVU football team to learn from those who came to Morgantown before them. Holgorsen pointed out that the majority of the players he will put out on the field this fall were not on the roster when the likes of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey paced WVU’s offense.

So those three came to practice along with Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Will Johnson, Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker J.T. Thomas (and his father, J.T. Thomas, who also played at WVU in the 1990s) and Mortty Ivy, who plays linebacker with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.

“It was definitely a good feeling having those guys back,” WVU senior receiver Kevin White said. “They talked to us, got us excited, pumped us up and told us exactly how it’s going to be at the next level if we are blessed enough to get to the next level.”

White says Austin and Bailey, both preparing for their second season with the St. Louis Rams, spoke with the receivers privately. It was a “heart-to-heart” as he put it, aimed at teaching the Mountaineers what it means to suit up in the gold and blue and how they should carry themselves on and off the field.

“I talked to the younger receivers, a lot of the guys who were here when I was here, giving them little tips and pointers here and there on different things,” Bailey said. “I try to stay in my own lane, but I do try to extend some of my knowledge to those guys.”

Holgorsen can only hope that the message stuck with his players, as he would love to see any of the current Mountaineers receivers follow in the footsteps of the program’s leaders in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. It wasn’t so long ago that Austin and Bailey were bolstering their NFL Draft resumes at Milan Puskar Stadium.

“Basically, you’ve got to keep focused,” Austin told the receivers. “Make sure you run all your routes hard and everything will work out. That’s what they were doing. I told them a key thing is blocking.”

These former players weren’t just there to have quiet talks between drills, either. When the Mountaineers went into 11-on-11 work, Austin, Ivy and Thomas were as vocal as anyone on the practice field.

Austin ran up and down the sideline, rooting on the offense and engaging in playful banter with Ivy, who was backing the defense.

When the offense finally crossed the goal line, Austin was right there in the pile congratulating the running backs and offensive linemen who made the play possible. The Mountaineer alumni were at least as excited as the current players, if not more so.

“It just brought back memories,” WVU running back Dustin Garrison said. “Having Tavon, with all his screaming and motivating he does, he does a great job of making sure the offense is in the right place mentally. Having him back and having all the guys back was exciting.”

Thomas was giving the defense an earful throughout practice, pulling individuals aside and meeting the unit on the field for high-fives after a strong stand.

It was an opportunity to make their mark on the next generation of Mountaineers while feeling connected to the team that provided so many memories and so much success in their own collegiate careers.  

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