Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Neal Brown announces JoVanni Stewart is no longer on the team ‘this fall’; receivers Sean Ryan, Sam James suffer injuries

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia coach Neal Brown announced during Tuesday’s news conference that safety JoVanni Stewart is “no longer a member of the team this fall” after deciding to sit out of the Texas game last Saturday.

Brown said it was Stewart’s decision to miss the game against the Longhorns, but did not dive any further as to why that decision was made. It is assumed Stewart took advantage of the rule that allowed him to play four games but still take a redshirt, which he’s done this season. Whether or not he plays at West Virginia in 2020 remains to be seen, though it’s likely we’ve seen the last of Stewart in a Mountaineers uniform.

“I don’t think it’s best to really speak on it in the middle of the season,” Brown said. “I think any rule as unintended consequences — I think that’s all I really want to say about it.”

Defensive end Reese Donahue, who was part of the 2016 recruiting class with Stewart, still thinks the new redshirt rule, introduced in 2018, is beneficial to the player and doesn’t have hard feeling toward Stewart.

It’s a trend that’s going to continue and it’s the way college football is headed.

“Guys get a chance for a better degree and get a chance to play later while still getting experience,” Donahue said. “I think it’s a good thing, and I think anybody in [Stewart’s] situation in the right mind would do the same thing. I would never harp on that and I have no disrespect toward JoVanni. I think the way that he did it was really respectful, too, so there’s no hard feelings or anything like that.”

Tykee Smith will likely fill the void at “spear” safety for the foreseeable future after earning the start there last week and playing well.

Ailing receivers

Brown also announced that receivers Sam James and Sean Ryan are battling injuries, but Ryan’s is a bit more serious. Ryan had surgery Tuesday morning because of an “upper-body injury,” and will miss a few games. He made a catch along the sideline against Texas but fell awkwardly on his shoulder and needed help off the field.

However, Brown is confident Ryan will be able to play again this season.

“I hate it for Sean because he was playing really well,” Brown said. “He’ll come back — I feel like he’ll be able to play at some point this season, I just don’t know when.”

James also had an upper-body injury and had to leave the Texas game early, but Brown didn’t specify what the exact issue is. He is questionable heading into the Iowa State game, which would be a big blow to the Mountaineers offense if he cannot go. He leads the team in receptions (32) and receiving yards (329).

Bryce Wheaton stepped in to replace Ryan and made two crucial catches on a third down and fourth down, with the latter going for a touchdown. Brown said Wheaton likely earned the right for more playing time.

“We talk about as a staff when someone goes down, we feel really bad for that and we hate that, but it does provide an opportunity,” Brown said. “That opportunity is what you make out of it, and I thought Bryce Wheaton did a great job. He really set himself up to be a guy for us this year.”

Wheaton, 6-foot-3, 215-pound a redshirt freshman, didn’t play much last season, only appearing in one game. Even this year, he was buried on the depth chart through the first month, but will get his chance Saturday against Iowa State.

“It feels good to have all your hard work pay off, especially after all these years of being around the program,” Wheaton said. “I feel like I’ve been ready, but I had to prove to the coaches first. I definitely feel like I’m ready for what’s next.”