MORGANTOWN — WVU defensive end Ezekiel Rose will have a different look to him next season — a look you don’t see very often.
The senior defensive lineman will wear a No. 5 on the front and back of his jersey, a change from the No. 91 he wore last season. A single-digit uniform is a rarity for a 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive lineman. It’s usually reserved for the stars on offense and playmakers in the back end of the defense.
“Us big boys don’t usually get to wear the small numbers, but I think it’s one of the best looks we can have,” Rose said.
But the number change means a lot more to Rose than just a better look. He’s honoring a fallen teammate from his days at Clarksdale High, in Mississippi.
“When I was in high school, I had a friend named Dayeveon Hill,” Rose said. “We played football together, and right before he was about to graduate, he died. So back in my hometown, it’s ‘Long live Dayeveon 5,’ so that’s why I’m wearing No. 5 this season.”
According to WREP, in Memphis, Hill, 18, was shot and killed during a dispute Feb. 7, 2017, in Clarksdale. He was one of Clarksdale High’s best players and had signed a letter of intent to play at Pearl River Community College, in Mississippi, the week before the incident.
Hill, also known as “Smooth,” wore No. 5 as a running back and team captain for the Wildcats, so Rose took it upon himself to remember his old friend by donning it at the college level — something Hill wasn’t able to achieve. Rose has been through difficult times of his own, getting to where he is now, going the junior-college route and needing time to develop into the physically gifted lineman we know today.
Spending two years at East Mississippi Community College and surrounded by cameras for Netflix’s “Last Chance U,” Rose finally had an out when he was offered to play at WVU.
Since arriving to Morgantown, Rose has fully embraced the life of a full-time college student. He can be seen at the Coliseum and other athletic venues all the time.
“I actually like to socialize with the other sports,” Rose said, “So, I go to their meets. I like to meet the athletes that play other sports, because I also play a lot of other sports. I play tennis, I play basketball and I actually played volleyball. I’m just willing to see what they have going.”
As for Rose’s impact on the football field, he’s become one of the most important players on the Mountaineers’ defense. With the attrition along the defensive line, Rose went from a newcomer last year to one of the few veterans this season.
Rose overtook Adam Shuler, who announced his transfer in February, toward the end of last season. Settling in and getting comfortable as the season wore on, Rose learned one lesson in particular that accelerated his performance.
“I would say that it would have to be taking coaching,” he said. “That is one of the hardest parts for most guys here, because it’s hard to take coaching, taking what they say and how they are saying it. It’s getting better for me.”
According to defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, Rose has done a good job of being coachable and has stepped up as one of the few experienced players in the unit.
“He is definitely a leader up front,” Gibson said. “He is a very vocal guy, high energy guy, always smiling and always doing stuff the right way. We look to him for leadership and just play-making. By the end of the year last year, he was one of our most productive guys up front.”
Rose finished last season with 23 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception.