Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Tight ends, once forgotten, continue to evolve in West Virginia’s offense

MORGANTOWN — Tight ends have been an afterthought for most of Dana Holgorsen’s tenure at West Virginia, used about as frequently as semicolons.
Senior Trevon Wesco and sophomore Jovani Haskins are making the position impossible to ignore this season. West Virginia’s tight ends combined for six catches (Wesco: 3-52 yards, Haskins: 3-21 yards) against Baylor. The figure is monumental considering that West Virginia tight ends caught a combined six passes in all of 2017, accounting for only 37 yards.
The single-game total was better than any single-season total since 2014, when Cody Clay and Eli Wellman combined for 76 yards on 11 catches.
Surprisingly, Dana Holgorsen’s philosophy on getting tight ends more involved this season doesn’t come from the likes of Jim Harbaugh or Mike Ditka. It’s a twist on the beliefs of Air Raid guru Mike Leach, king of four- and five-wide sets.
“This is kind of a Mike Leach thing, but balance is how many different people touch the ball,” Holgorsen said. “We had like 14 people touch the ball last week, so everybody that goes out there is a threat to be able to touch the ball. And that makes people hard to defend.”
It was a painstakingly long process for Wesco to have that opportunity. The Martinsburg native could have gone to a program that was more known for using tight ends, but loyalty to his home state led him to commit to the Mountaineers despite the lack of usage.
“Everyone was saying it wasn’t a tight end offense, but that didn’t matter,” Wesco said. “This is home to me.”
As a high school star, Wesco usually had the ball in his hands. But in order to get on the field in college, he had to learn how to do the gritty work.
“I really had to buy into blocking,” Wesco said. “Nobody wants to block. Everyone wants to catch touchdowns. But since I bought into blocking, it’s been easy for me. Coach [Dan] Gerberry puts it in my head every week to be the most physical player that I can be. That’s what I try to do.”
It’s probably no coincidence that Wesco and Haskins are starting to break out with Gerberry on staff. When the NCAA approved the addition of a 10th assistant coach this January, the role of tight ends and fullbacks coach was created for him.
Wesco’s ability as a blocker is forcing teams to counter him with more physical defenders. The advantage for the Mountaineers is that it becomes difficult for most of those players to cover him when he becomes a receiver.
“His skills as a tight end are continuously developing,” Holgorsen said. “He has really started to do some good things in the pass game. That wasn’t a quality that he possessed a year ago. He’s just really starting to come into his own.”
It’s not just the receiving aspect where Wesco is proving to be dangerous. Once he catches the ball, the poor sap assigned to tackling the 6-foot-4, 274-pound Wesco is typically dragged along the ground until help arrives.
“I just don’t want to go down,” Wesco said. “Every time I get it, I try to score, basically. I don’t care if it’s 60 yards out. I try to see the paint and try to get there.”
“I love when he catches it and starts rumbling down the field and guys start falling off of him,” said quarterback Will Grier. “He’s a different type of weapon.”
Wesco’s will to score may be explained by the fact it hasn’t actually happened yet this season. Granted, he has accepted that as being part of the process when surrounded by weapons like David Sills, Marcus Simms and Gary Jennings. That trio has accounted for 19 touchdowns this year.
“Like I tell everybody, I play with the best receivers in the country,” Wesco said. “So when I get the ball, I try to make the most of it.”
With 139 yards this year, Wesco is the first West Virginia tight end to eclipse the 100-yard mark in a season since Tyler Urban had 226 yards on 20 catches in 2011. And the way Wesco sees it, this is just the start of a tight end renaissance that will long outlast his career.
“I’m really glad I could change the culture a little bit,” he said. “The future looks bright, too.”