MORGANTOWN — On the opening day of preseason camp, as West Virginia’s defensive linemen worked in shorts and uppers, Jabril Robinson pointed out a freshman’s awkward footwork.
When a tandem drill found another newbie lacking a partner, Kenny Bigelow barked at the group: “Pay attention! Y’all are messing this up!”
To anyone within earshot, questions about the leadership intentions of the Mountaineers’ newest graduate transfers were
answered. To defensive line coach Bruce Tall, the answers began surfacing weeks earlier.
“This summer, they were diving in full-fledged,” he said. “That’s how close they are with that group, taking the young guys and trying to build them up.
“They sat in my room for two months and I feel like they’ve been here four years.”
The former Clemson backup Robinson and the former USC five-star recruit Bigelow have endured the moments of terminology confusion you’d expect from learning a new system. The unspoken lessons they’ve imparted, however, resonate on a unit that was manhandled throughout 2017.
“We needed that type of leadership in the room,”
defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “Now, Kenny didn’t put his four years in at West Virginia — he put them in at USC — but the guys respect that he’s been through it. Same for what Jabril did at Clemson.”
Bigelow, the nation’s No. 6-rated prospect in 2013 per Rivals, suffered two knee injuries and appeared in only 19 games over five seasons with the Trojans. He left the team midway through last season only to regain the fire once WVU went looking for linemen on college football’s version of the free-agent wire.
At 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, Bigelow’s singular mission is to “plug those A gaps and manhandle centers,” said Gibson, who suddenly feels optimistic about a nose guard platoon with sophomore Darius Stills.
That history of ACL problems made some new teammates wonder how much juice Bigelow had left.
“It was a little slow at first because Kenny was out of shape, and he was still worried about his legs,” defensive end Ezekiel Rose said. “But after we put the pads on, he was a totally different animal. He brings some power with him.”
Robinson was stuck behind so much NFL talent at Clemson he played as a backup in 23 games. Now he’s trying to seize a final-year opening at West Virginia.
“His motor never, ever stops,” Gibson said.
Even during summer workouts, Robinson made a quick impression.
“My first time seeing him out there, we didn’t even have pads on, and he only had one speed — full speed,” Rose recalled. “I was like, ‘Calm down, you’ve got to learn how to practice,’ but he knows what he’s doing.
“I like the intensity he brings. He could be so tired that you can see it in his face, but when that ball snaps, he’s a different person.”
Robinson, along with four-star freshman Dante Stills, has fortified the rotation of defensive ends with Rose and junior Reese Donahue. No longer is WVU concerned about the departure of Adam Shuler, who landed as a grad transfer at Florida.
Rose has been most surprised by Robinson’s ability to spot pre-snap indicators:
“He’ll be yelling stuff from the other side, like ‘We got this coming. Hey, ol’ Zeke, watch out!’ And I’m like, this guy really knows something over here.”