MORGANTOWN — Seven practices into his college career, University High graduate Noah Braham is making an impression on WVU head coach Neal Brown.
“He’s done a nice job,” Brown said after the team’s seventh fall practice on Wednesday. “We always start our team meeting right before practice with what we call ‘good football,’ which is just really good, fundamental plays, as he’s been on there the last two days.”
When Braham, son of WVU hall-of-famer Rich Braham, signed with the Mountaineers last winter, Brown initially said he could play either tight end or linebacker, both of which he played at UHS. After a few practices, however, Braham has established himself as a tight end.
“We’ve done some in-line blocking the last two days, which is something he didn’t have to do at University, and he’s a natural at it,” Brown said.
With seven tight ends on WVU’s roster, Braham does not have a clear path to any early playing time as a freshman. Brown said upperclassmen Kole Taylor and Treylan Davis are separating themselves from the rest of the tight ends Wednesday, and they should be first and second on the team’s depth chart to open the season.
In addition to Taylor and Davis, Brown mentioned several players who have stood out through the first half of fall camp and are getting a leg up in their respective position battles. Brown started with Georgia Southern transfer Anthony Wilson, who he said has become the starter at cat safety.
At cornerback, Brown mentioned Minnesota transfer Beanie Bishop and sophomore Jacolby Spells.
“I think Jacolby Spells has looked really good through seven practices,” Brown continued. “My expectation was for him to be better. He’s made plays, not only on defense but special teams.”
Spells played in nine games at cornerback as a true freshman last season.
At defensive tackle, Brown said second-year transfer Mike Lockhart is starting to pull away from redshirt-sophomore Hammond Russel. Also along the defensive line, Finish defensive end Edward Vesterinen continues to draw high praise from coaches.
Besides the tight ends, Brown mentions transfer receiver Devin Carter and EJ Horton on offense. Carter, from NC State, will be the team’s top option but Horton, a transfer from Marshall, is slowly playing himself into a role.
“EJ Horton made a couple of plays downfield (Wednesday),” Brown said. “He’s giving himself an opportunity to play.”
Freshman running back Jaheim White also continues to impress and push for early playing time.
The most wide-open battle in camp is at will linebacker, and Brown said he’s waiting until after the team’s first scrimmage on Saturday to see any developments.
The other battle Brown declined to give an update on is at quarterback, where junior Garrett Greene and redshirt-freshman Nicco Marchiol continue to compete. Starting with Marchiol, Brown said he’s made growth through his second fall camp.
“(Tuesday) about halfway through practice was probably as poor decision making as he’s made,” Brown said. “And then he was able to correct it, which is a sign of mental toughness. He went through a stretch where he made some bad decisions and then four out of the next six plays were explosive plays.
“We’ve got to clean up some of those decisions, but I’m encouraged with how he handled adversity. As coaches, you try to create that and that kind of happened naturally.”
Greene, the presumed frontrunner, also flashed on some plays.
“Garrett had a couple of big runs today in a team period,” Brown said, “and then he made a really tight throw down in the red zone. We’re going to continue to rotate those guys. When we’re going to name a starter, I don’t really have an answer for you.”
Doak Walker watchlist
Sophomore running back CJ Donaldson was named to the Doak Walker Award preseason watchlist, given to the nation’s top running back each season.
Donaldson was one of 75 players named to the watchlist Wednesday after rushing for 526 yards and eight touchdowns in seven games as a freshman last season. The 2022 season was Donaldson’s first at the position after being recruited to WVU as a tight end and making the position switch in fall camp.
“I definitely recognize a lot of things fast just being a year into this position,” Donaldson said last week. “I’m starting to play a little more loose, having fun with it. I know I’m a good running back and I know how to identify front so I’m playing more loose, more comfortable back there now.”
Former WVU running back Tony Mathis, now with Houston, was also named to the watchlist.