Football, Sports, WVU Sports

True freshman CJ Donaldson makes move to running back in WVU backfield

MORGANTOWN — The move is so fresh, it hasn’t even been updated on the WVU official roster, but former tight end CJ Donaldson moved to running back at the start of camp, hoping to alleviate minor depth concerns.

Prior, the Mountaineers were down to three scholarship running backs after Lyn-J Dixon entered the transfer portal before even playing a down. The former Clemson running back announced he was transferring from WVU to Tennessee last week.

Donaldson isn’t expected to immediately jump into the running back rotation with Tony Mathis, Justin Johnson or Jaylen Anderson as a true freshman this season, but his potential as a hybrid H-back has position coach Chad Scott really excited.

“We found a gem,” Scott quipped.

Head coach Neal Brown did say, though, Donaldson will see the field because of his versatility to play tight end, receiver and running back.

Donaldson’s athleticism is what caught the coaching staff’s attention in high school at Gulliver Prep in Miami, Fla.

“When we recruited him, we told him he was a hybrid. He’ll do everything,” Scott said. “But he did a lot in high school with the ball in his hands. Wasn’t sure necessarily how he would respond to it, but he was very open to it. He said, ‘Coach, I’m just a ballplayer, just put the ball in my hands.’ It’s been very impressive to see how he’s picked up on things. He’s done a phenomenal job outside the game, studying the offense. He’ll say ‘Coach, just quiz me, just test me,’ and we’ve thrown him into the fire and he hasn’t been nervous at all. These last two days he’s got a lot of reps and he’s starting to come around. 

“Right now, we don’t want to overload him and teach him everything, but he’d be a kid that we’d love to play at running back and hybrid, be able to flex out wide. Kids like that are hard to find and we got one in him. He’s game ready right now, physically.”

Punting update

On special teams, needing a replacement for Tyler Sumpter at punter is one of the biggest keys of fall camp.

It was expected to be a two-horse race between redshirt-junior Kolton McGhee and true freshman Oliver Straw, but Brown said one of most pleasant surprises in camp is how McGhee has stepped up.

“Kolton McGhee has probably been as surprising as anybody in our camp so far. He hit the ball well,” Brown said. “This is year four for him. He punted a little bit going back to the COVID year in 2020. He beat Sumpter out for a couple games.”

Straw, a native of Melbourne, Australia, is still also kicking well in practice.

“Oliver had a better day [Saturday]. But Kolton has really hit the ball well, so I have been pleased with him.”

Punt returners

Brown pinpointed two muffed punts last season that drastically changed the momentum, especially Winston Wright’s against Maryland last year.

With Wright gone and Brown looking to improve the return game, which has been weak since he took over in 2019, the competition is wide open, with Sam James, Preston Fox and Jeremiah Aaron getting most of the reps.

Fox, a Morgantown High alum, earned a scholarship this spring and was a major threat for the Mohigans in the return game during his tenure, especially his senior year in 2019.

Aaron was an All-American kick returner last season at Navarro Community College, so the coaches are hoping that translates to the Power Five level.