MORGANTOWN — Walk-on Evan Staley became West Virginia’s place kicker by default midway through last season when senior Mike Molina developed a hip injury.
Going 6-of-7 on field-goal tries spoke to his readiness, yet Staley figured to face a 50-50 competition this year with transfer Skyler Simcox becoming eligible.
A week into preseason camp — still elated from recently being placed on scholarship — Staley has seized the job.
“Evan is a clear-cut No. 1,” coach Dana Holgorsen said Thursday. “He’s kicking the ball very well.”
Staley’s longest attempt during 2017 was a 36-yarder against Iowa State. Questions about his range evaporated during Wednesday’s practice when he knocked through a 54-yarder.
“And it had some space,” Holgorsen said. “He’s striking the ball really well. He has earned that scholarship.”
The Romney native learned of his elevation to scholarship in April after receiving the spring practice Nickolich Award, granted to the top performing walk-on.
“After that award, coach Holgorsen said I probably wouldn’t be a walk-on any longer,” Staley said. “It was awesome. I’m thankful he recognized something in me.”
Coming out of Hampshire High School where he was a two-time all-state selection, Staley estimated he had never kicked before a crowd larger than a couple thousand. A near sellout of 57,507 fans at Milan Puskar Stadium watched his first college field-goal attempt against Oklahoma State, but the atmosphere wasn’t intimidating.
“Personally, when I go out on that field it’s all blanks. I don’t hear anything other than my holder,” Staley said. “I block it all out, so from high school to now I haven’t noticed much of a difference.”
Except for the surfaces, that is. The flat turf fields have been a welcomed change from his high school experience that was almost exclusively grass.
“A lot of crowns and a lot of holes,” Staley recalled. “At Hedgesville, their field kind of goes a little bit uphill.”
But the worst conditions occurred during his senior season against Keyser, after rains from Hurricane Joaquin and several soccer matches made kicking miserable.
“That field was a mess,” he said.