Head coach Neal Brown wanted to add depth to West Virginia’s wide receiving corps, which lost an abundance of talent after the 2018 season.
While the Mountaineers did add Florida State graduate transfer George Campbell, they may still get some production from a young player who is following in the footsteps of his grandfather and uncle.
After playing in just one game last season, redshirt freshman Bryce Wheaton has been label by Brown as the offense’s most improved player, and he has kept the attention of his head coach through the first week of fall camp.
“He’s as talented as anybody we have in our program,” Brown said.
Talent runs in his blood: Both his grandfather, Garrett Ford Sr., and his uncle, Garrett Ford Jr., were standout running backs at WVU.
Last year as a true freshman, Wheaton realized he’d rarely see the field while David Sills and Gary Jennings racked up a combined 28 touchdown receptions, the most among any tandem in the Big 12.
“I really just wanted to learn from them,” Wheaton said. “I don’t think I was ready to play last year anyway, physically.”
Now, he’s making the physical progress he needs to be a contributor. Brown thinks Wheaton’s improvement stems from a challenging spring, in which the North Carolina native was pushed by the coaching staff and his teammates.
“He had a lot of adversity in the spring,” Brown said. “Things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. He probably got coached harder than he has been coached before. He got beat a lot. Rather than tucking his tail and being sad about it, he went to work.”
After the spring, wide receivers coach Xavier Dye said he challenged Wheaton to keep improving over the summer.
Wheaton responded by earning a “workout warrior” award during the offseason and adding seven pounds of muscle.
“He’s gotten better,” Dye said. “He’s just got to keep growing. We’ve got to get better each day, being consistent, but he’s done a great job here so far.”
Now, Wheaton said he approaches workouts with a better attitude.
“I adopted a different mentality going into workouts now,” Wheaton said. “Coach Mike [Joseph] and the strength staff have done a really great job developing players, so it was a lot of fun this summer.”
Production from Wheaton could be important for WVU this season. As camp progresses, Dye wants wide receivers to work toward their goals as if they’ll be a starter.
“There’s no ones and twos,” Dye said. “We’ve got to have a group that can go in and play whenever they’re needed.”
It’s still early, but Dye thinks his unit as a whole is making progress.
“Everybody, they’re trending up right now,” Dye said. “The guys have bought in and you can tell they’ve taken the summer and worked hard.”