CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nose tackle Kenny Bigelow, wearing two bulky knee braises under his West Virginia blue pants, drilled Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano as he dropped back from under center on the first snap of Saturday’s game against the Vols.
The play resulted in a 5-yard loss on a backward pass, but those five yards were miniscule compared to what else that play meant to Bigelow.
“I dreamt about this last night to be honest with you,” he said. “I was so excited to get out here. I’ve been working really hard with these guys. I thank God for the opportunity to allow me to come to West Virginia. I live for what happened on that first play. It told me that I’m here now, I’m healthy, I’m focused and I’m ready to do work.”
Seven months ago, it didn’t seem like Bigelow would even play football again. After tearing his ACL twice at USC, the former 5-star from Elkton, Md., decided to call it quits and move on from the game after playing sparingly as a junior in 2017.
Then, a month later, Bigelow announced he was transferring to West Virginia to try and resurrect his career and fill a void along the Mountaineers’ defensive line.
After enrolling in June, Bigelow worked his way into the starting lineup at nose tackle, a stark difference in the end position he played at USC.
“The transition for me more-so was from end to nose because I never really played nose until now,” he said. “With the scheme [defensive coordinator Tony Gibson] has and coach [Bruce] Tall has done a great job helping me transition into it, it’s a great fit for me.”
At 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, Bigelow caused problems for Tennessee, especially in the first half. He finished with two tackles for loss before heading to the locker room early with an apparent injury, but he returned to start the second half.
Fellow grad transfer Jabril Robinson, from Clemson, finished with three tackles. Both Bigelow and Robinson were part of a defensive line rotation that the Mountaineers used consistently to keep bodies fresh, something that was an issue last year.
“I thought they both played well,” Gibson said. “I think Kenny Bigelow set the tempo right off the bat. Those two were excited all week to play and they’re grateful for the opportunity and we’re grateful to have them. They’re a joy to coach and they play their butts off – I’m really excited about those guys.”
Other defenders to make their Mountaineers debut on defense were cornerbacks Josh Norwood and Keith Washington, linebackers Shea Campbell, Charlie Benton and Exree Loe, and defensive lineman Dante Stills.