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COLUMN: Who could be WVU’s breakout stars in 2021?


Most know the big names heading into the 2021 football season for WVU, including star Leddie Brown and defensive tackle Dante Stills.

But a lot has also been made of the big names the Mountaineers lost this offseason in potential All-American safety Tykee Smith to Georgia, cornerback Dreshun Miller to Auburn and defensive end Jeffery Pooler to Northwestern.

There are a few who have made contributions the last couple years, but haven’t put all the pieces together. With major opportunities for playing time, here are a few players who could leap onto the scene as we quickly approach football season.

So. defensive tackle Akheem Mesidor

Mesidor earned freshman all-Big 12 and All-American honors for his performance in 2020, finishing with 32 tackles — 6 1/2 for loss — and five sacks.

He did all this without a start, rotating in for Dante Stills at defensive tackle.

Now, with the graduation of Dante’s brother, Darius, there is a hole in the middle of the defensive line at nose tackle, Mesidor made a position change this spring to move inside.

With a bigger frame, a year under his belt and a starting spot that’s his to lose, Mesidor could make his case as the next great WVU defensive lineman.

Jr. wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton

Ford-Wheaton has shown flashes of being a dominant receiver, and he certainly looks the part at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, but consistency has self-admittedly been a problem.

He caught a critical overtime touchdown against Baylor last season and had other games where he was the Mountaineers’ top receiver. He’d then follow that up with games where he didn’t have a catch.

With healthier eating habits and continued growth mentally and physically, as well as the favorite to start at outside receiver, Ford-Wheaton could be the deep-ball threat the Mountaineers lacked last season.

Sr. safety Scottie Young

The loss of Tykee Smith could be Young’s gain this season for the Mountaineers. He transferred to WVU from Arizona after leading the Wildcats in tackles in 2019, but with Smith in the fold at Spear safety, redshirted while also sitting out due to former NCAA transfer rules.

Smith misses the Liberty Bowl against Army with what head coach Neal Brown called an “incident,” so Young got the start and finished with four tackles.

With Smith gone and Young’s past success, he could surprise fans with his on-field production.

Jr. wide receiver Winston Wright

Not since Tavon Austin have the Mountaineers had a slot or kick return threat the likes of Wright. While Wright is far from Austin — not many have come close nationally to what Austin was — he could be an explosive playmaker Brown could have fun with in his offense.

Wright had 47 catches for 553 yards and two touchdowns last season, so finding the end zone more is the next step to his maturation. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 2019 but didn’t in 10 games last season.

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