Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Brandon Yates is determined to hit the ground running as Zach Frazier’s successor at center

MORGANTOWN — Brandon Yates knows he doesn’t have the luxury of easing into his role as WVU’s new starting center.

“We can’t miss a beat,” Yates said after practice on Tuesday. “This is the year we should make a drastic jump and get to 10-plus wins. I don’t have the time to be going backward, I have to be always going forward.”

It’s not like the redshirt senior had much time to ease into his first experience at center, either, replacing an injured Zach Frazier in the final minute of the Mountaineers’ 34-31 win at Baylor last season.

“I wouldn’t say it was a really tough situation, I just went in there like it was practice,” Yates said. “We practiced that all the time.”

Despite playing right guard in all 12 of WVU’s regular-season games in 2023, Yates took reps at center during every practice in preparation for the 2024 season, when Frazier has graduated, and it falls to him to fill those shoes. That paid off in a major way when Yates was thrust into action at Baylor and when he started in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against North Carolina, a 30-10 WVU victory.

Now with exactly one start at center under his belt, Yates is preparing to replace Frazier, a four-year starter and multi-time All-American, and keep WVU’s high-powered offense on track in the process.

“Me and Zach play in completely different ways,” Yates said. “He’s kind of a wrestler, I’m more of an athletic and get-around kind of guy. … Knowing I had to fill those shoes kicked up my game to another level. I had a great off-season just based on that.”

Yates said getting to start even one game at center last year was big for him going into 2024, as it provided a baseline for him to go into the off-season with.

“Coach (Neal Brown) talked about it like that bowl game was the start of the 2024 season,” Yates said. “We went out there and kind of used it for next year and see where I’m at and what I need to work on.”

Moving around is nothing new to Yates, who played 23 games at left tackle between 2020 and 2021, 12 games at right tackle in 2022 and 12 at right guard last year.  That has made it so Yates feels comfortable playing any position on the offensive line. It’s also given him a great perspective on learning the ins and outs of center.

“When I first started doing center, it was more like 100-level classes, just getting in there and general knowledge stuff,” Yates said. “Now it’s time to get into those 300-level classes and really start getting past that and looking at the bigger picture. Outside of just looking at the guy in front of me, looking at the (defensive) ends and understanding the whole picture so I can get everyone on the right guys.”

Learning a new position almost every year takes a lot of work and by putting in that work, Yates believes he has gained the respect of those around him.

“More people respect you if you’re really out here putting in the work,” he said. “If you’re one of those guys who’s one of the loudest guys in the room and don’t do anything, people aren’t going to respect you. You’ve got to build that from day one.”

It’s not just Yates who has worked hard, either. Either with the graduations of multi-year starters Frazier and Doug Nester, the Mountaineers will still have one of the most-experienced offensive lines in the country again this season. Along with Yates, there are redshirt seniors Ja’Quay Hubbard and Nick Malone, senior Wyatt Milum and redshirt junior Tomas Rimac.

“We developed with each other. We’re a close-knit group,” Yates said. “We go out there and work together, do extra workouts together and trust each other more.

“The guy next to me, I trust him to do his job so I should be able to go fast. And if I make a mistake, the guy next to me is going to pick me up.”

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