From his first day at West Virginia, Neal Brown has emphasized a “players-first” mentality for his new football program. While he has held for the families and professors of his student-athletes in the spring, he is also attempting to put that mantra into practice as his team rolls into the preseason.
This Mountaineer football squad will feature a lot of new and unfamiliar faces for fans, and that can affect how the players feel in the locker room. In order to combat that, Brown has set up a “big brother” program which allows the more inexperienced players to be mentored by their upperclassman teammates.
“Man, I wish we had that when I was here, let me tell ya,” said Reese Donahue, a senior leader on the defensive line. “When I first came in, they kind of threw us into the fire, especially with the early enrollees…and a lot of the guys now aren’t even on the team.”
The aim of the program is to prevent that baptism by fire by integrating new players into the team not only in a football sense, but in a social sense, as well. Whether they’re going out to lunch or just playing ping pong in the team room, older players are encouraged to forge that connection and bring the new guys in.
Sophomore linebacker Josh Chandler is freshman Tykee Smith’s big brother, and the duo happen to play the same position, which helps Smith on the field.
“We’re in the same position room, so I’ve been able to help him out and just guide him through different things,” Chandler explained. “Maybe some things I didn’t get initially coming in, try to give them little cheat codes so they can be better prepared.”
Donahue’s little brother is Jalen Thornton, a freshman defensive lineman and the son of former Mountaineer John Thornton.
“He’s doing really good, I’m proud of him,” Donahue said with a grin.
Ultimately, the goal is to foster an environment that allows young guys to feel welcome and want to improve. While freshmen players may come in eager to learn, Donahue says it’s important to make sure that veterans have a positive influence on them to help them succeed.
“I think that it’s helped those guys develop because they’re not afraid to express themselves, and now they’re not afraid to make mistakes on the field,” Donahue said. “We’re all human, we’re not perfect. We’re all going to make mistakes, it’s football. So I think it’s allowed these guys to develop at their maximum capacity and it’s also let them trust [the older players].”