MORGANTOWN — WVU football suffered its first major loss of the offseason on Monday as redshirt-junior running back Tony Mathis Jr. announced he has entered the transfer portal.
“This decision was the toughest because of the guys I had next to me on and off the field,” Mathis wrote in an Instagram post Monday afternoon. “The bond and love I have for y’all is forever and only we know that.”
Mathis enters the portal as a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining.
The Orlando, Fla. native led the Mountaineers with 562 rushing yards last season and tied for second on the team with five rushing touchdowns. He was set to split time in a four-way running back rotation this season with CJ Donaldson, Justin Johnson and Jaylen Anderson, although he and Donaldson appeared to be the top-two options.
The talk all off-season around WVU’s offense has been the desire of head coach Neal Brown and offensive coordinator Chad Scott to extensively use multiple running backs in 2023. That continued to be the plan as recently as the team’s spring game two weeks ago.
“We’re going to have a spot for all of those guys,” WVU head coach Neal Brown affirmed after the Gold-Blue game, referencing all four returning backs.
Speaking to the media in March, Mathis said he was hopeful that Scott, who also serves as WVU’s running backs coach, would be able to give all four running backs enough touches to keep everyone happy.
“With Coach Scott being the OC, that just shows that hopefully, he’s going to use everybody in the right way and get everybody the amount of touches,” Mathis said on March 23. “A lot of schools have a lot of backs — you’ve just got to know how to go with it.”
The oldest of WVU’s running backs, Mathis had become the leader in the room and spoke highly of the relationship they shared.
“Our relationship in the running back room is special,” he said. “The o-line is pretty tight, but outside of them, I feel like we have the tightest group on the team. We’re all on the same page on the field and off the field.”
Mathis’ departure may allow for a more prominent role in the offense for true freshman Jahiem White, who has impressed coaches this spring with his high-end speed and led the spring game with 91 rushing yards.
“He’s just hungry, he wants to get out there on the field and be ready to play,” Donaldson said of White after the spring game. “As the season goes on, he’s going to put on some muscle, build confidence to where he’s going to play his game and I think he’s going to be a great addition to this team.”
Mathis played in 31 games as a Mountaineer and made 11 starts. He received his first real playing time during the 2021 season and ran for 312 yards on 72 carries. He broke out for 562 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Mathis is the fifth Mountaineer to enter the transfer portal since the end of spring practice and he is by far the most impactful. Mathis joins young defensive backs Jaylon Shelton and Caleb Coleman, depth edge rusher Aric Burton and walk-on quarterback Jake Robbins in the portal.