Senior captains leave mark on WVU football program

DALLAS — Shortly after expressing disappointment in Dec. 26’s 30-14 Heart of Dallas Bowl to Utah, WVU head football coach Dana Holgorsen shifted the focus to the Mountaineers’ 18 seniors.

He was especially pleased with the long-term contributions of WVU co-captains Al-Rasheed Benton and Elijah Wellman.

“You need to have about 20 guys like that,” Holgorsen said. “And it’s my job to make it happen.”

Benton, who hails from the metropolis of Newark, N.J., and Wellman, of Huntington, came to symbolize what Mountaineer Football is all about.

“Being a Mountaineer is hard to put into words,” said Benton, who led the team in tackles with 110, along with three sacks and an interception. “It’s about that blue collar mentality, the fire and the passion.”

Wellman, who could have received more carries at a smaller school, was proud of his time at WVU (7-6). He finished his senior season with five carries for 16 yards, but his blocking ability consistently opened up the Mountaineers’ offense.

“It was a dream come true — I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Wellman said. “It’s not all about the last record or the last game. It’s about the experience, too.”

Benton and Wellman had strong words of encouragement for the WVU Underclassmen in 2018. The Mountaineers return 14 starters — seven on each side of the ball — when they open the 2018 season on Sept. 1 vs. Tennessee at Bank of America Stadium. That includes all-American wide receiver David Sills and quarterback Will Grier.

It will be the first-ever matchup against the Volunteers, who missed a bowl this season but will debut new head coach Jeremy Pruitt (currently the defensive coordinator at Alabama).

“They have to be more of a team and work together more,” Benton said.

Said Wellman, “I have faith in Dana that things will change. We’ll have nothing but greatness next year.”