MORGANTOWN — It is said that patience is a virtue. This is true both in life and, apparently, college football.
Being patient is the approach WVU likes to take while developing its football players and it was shown to pay off as several youngsters took on big roles as the Mountaineers closed the season with two wins in their final three games.
Quarterback Garrett Greene, running back Jaylen Anderson and offensive lineman Tomas Rimac may not have played much early in the year but by the end, they were key contributors on WVU’s offense. Even true freshman quarterback Nicco Marchiol was able to come in during the season finale and do enough to get a victory.
“I think there’s a trait of that that’s getting lost with the free agency that we have,” head coach Neal Brown said on taking the time to develop young players. “Real development still exists.”
“I’ve never been anywhere where younger guys have gotten as many reps as here,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell offered. “Sunday night, Tuesday after practice, Wednesday after practice, we set time aside to get guys reps who didn’t get reps in the game.”
Such an approach seems archaic as college football has become more and more transactional with the transfer portal and NIL, but it certainly worked for the Mountaineers late in the season.
Greene made his first career start in the penultimate game of the season, Anderson tripled his touches in the last three weeks and Romac became a full-time starter over the last five games. Nowhere was Brown’s patient more rewarded, however, than when Greene went down in the season finale and Marchiol had to step in for his first bit of extended playing time.
“I don’t think, in general, people understand how hard it is to go play as an 18-year-old against grown people,” Brown said. “He wasn’t ready early in the year and it wasn’t until the last three or four weeks that we felt like he’s ready. I thought he showed some real maturity coming in and winning the football game.”
Marchiol didn’t wow anyone with his performance — he completed 2-of-9 passes for 29 yards and ran six times for 32 — but he avoided making any major mistakes and gave the team a chance to win, which they capitalized on.
“I think it’s a credit to what we do from a developmental standpoint of the reps he’s getting,” Brown said. “He’s getting about 60-70 live reps a week where he’s got to make plays and he’s gotten better. I thought he showed some real maturity today coming in and winning the football game.”
“Just being a young guy coming into college football, things are moving a thousand times faster than high school football,” Marchiol admitted. “I think the more the season went on and the more weeks I could just process the games from the sidelines and see how the speed of the game goes and seeing how the quarterbacks ahead of me handled situations, the good and the bad, all helped me for this moment. I think it was beneficial for me to sit back and kind of spectate for a little bit.”
When a team signs an exciting recruit like Marchiol, a highly regarded 4-star prospect, the fan base is inevitably going to want him to play as often and early as possible.
“People are going to watch and go, ‘well, why didn’t you play him earlier?’” Brown said after the season finale. “To me, here’s the problem — and this is some of why we didn’t play Garrett really early too — if you play guys before they’re ready at that position and things don’t go well, you may never get them back from a confidence standpoint.”
Brown said because of all the developmental work Marchiol was able to do throughout the year, he was able to come in against Oklahoma State fully confident in himself and the offense.
“It’s a totally different game when you can start understanding football from the schematic form and reading defenses and understand why defenses are doing what they do. It totally opens up the game for you,” Marchiol explained. “When you learn the more systematic ways of our offense and the way we do things, it makes it a lot easier back there.”
The same was true for Anderson, who ran for more yards in the finale (155) than the rest of the season combined.
“I think I was a little sped up earlier in the year and (running backs) Coach (Chad) Scott did a great job all year of just telling me to stay ready. Everything slowed down (the last few weeks) and I just felt like my old self,” Anderson said. “It just made me more confident on the field because I knew what to do and I just felt like the game slowed down for me and it finally paid off.”
Patience is hard to come by in the new fast-paced landscape of college athletics, but Brown has committed to it and it worked out for a handful of players this season. If that approach can work out in the long term is the real question.