MORGANTOWN — With the likes of Darius and Dante Stills roaming the WVU defensive line last season, then-true freshman Akheem Mesidor wasn’t on opposing teams’ radars, at least early on.
The Ottawa, Ontario, native was simply a rotational player, subbing in for Dante Stills at defensive tackle, but it quickly became apparent Mesidor wasn’t just a body to roll out.
He finished the 2020 season with 32 tackles — 6 1/2 for loss — and five sacks, earning freshman All-America honors. Mesidor was so good, he even caught himself off guard.
“I didn’t think I was going to have as much success as I did when I got here,” he said. “Coming into college, I was expecting to be a practice player or have a small role on special teams. Once I got here, I realized that I could be a good college lineman. Once I got in the game and started making a few plays, it just felt normal. It was a good feeling. It was definitely a boost of confidence. It felt like I was playing the game I loved again.”
The WVU coaching staff wasn’t surprised at what Mesidor could do. During a recruiting trip, head coach Neal Brown and assistants met with Mesidor at Clearwater Academy International in Florida, then immediately after, hopped on a plane to visit his mother, Carole, in Canada.
Mesidor remembers playing as the Mountaineers on the old EA Sports college football game and watching WVU on TV, and with what coach Jordan Lesley likes to do along the defensive line, Mesidor was sold.
After his big freshman year, it was clear Mesidor worked his way into earning a starting spot, but with Dante Stills back for his senior year, it would have to be somewhere other than defensive tackle. Darius Stills’ departure, though, left a major void at nose tackle, and after discussing it with his coaches last spring, Mesidor was the best fit to slide inside.
It’s not as easy a transition as it seems either, as nose tackles typically take the brunt of collisions with offensive lineman, trying to take up as many blockers as possible for other linemen and the linebackers to get to the ball.
“Coach told me that I was ready for nose, and he asked me if I wanted to play inside, and I told him I was ready for the challenge. I said, ‘Put me on the field wherever you want, and I will execute,’ ” Mesidor said. “It’s a little more challenging due to the fact that I am inside and have a lot less space to work with, but I’m getting used to it. Defeating the double team is definitely the hardest thing. The center gets a lot of help from the guards.”
It’s not impossible for the nose tackle to become a dominant pass rusher, as Darius Stills proved the last two seasons when he combined for 22 tackles for loss and 10 1/2 sacks.
To get ready for his position change was to not only add weight, but healthy weight. Brown said, along with quarterback Jarret Doege, Mesidor is one of the most improved players on the team when it comes to his physique.
Body change is not unusual for him, either — as a 10th-grader in Canada, Mesidor weighed about 205 pounds and played safety. When he moved to Florida, he kept growing, eventually swelling up to 260 pounds while maintaining his height at 6-foot-2.
Mesidor arrived at WVU weighing 260 and played at that weight as a freshman last season, but is now up to 275 with the hope of getting to 285.
“It’s definitely a process,” he said.
Nose tackle depth was a concern after last season ended, but Mesidor’s move wasn’t the only key this off-season. In July, Tennessee transfer Darel Middleton announced he was joining the Mountaineers after having 43 tackles with the Volunteers the last two seasons.
Jordan Jefferson is a redshirt sophomore who has played in 16 games in his career and will provide depth with his 295-pound frame.