Football, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Spring games are now more about having fun than playing football

There’s not much to see in spring games anymore.

College football coaches are so paranoid about their secrets getting out that they won’t do anything special in 11-on-11 play — if they do any 11-on-11 at all, that is.

West Virginia has been experimenting with more one-on-one drills and competitions in its annual Gold-Blue Game in recent years and fans should expect more of the same today.

“We’ve done a little bit of everything,” WVU coach Neal Brown said two weeks ago. “We didn’t go quite as far as Ole Miss did, but at Troy, we would make it more of a celebration and fun.”

Brown said the team will still play some live football on Saturday (noon, ESPN+), but the main focus of the day will be providing fans with an enjoyable experience.

“To me, the Spring Game is unique — let’s do something fun,” Brown said. “We’ve got a couple of really good ideas, especially around getting our young people involved. Some young fans, getting them down to the field and doing some things.”

Brown said he tries to think about the Spring Game through the eyes of his son, Dax, and what he would want to see.

“I always think Dax is nine, what would make him entertained as the Spring Game,” Brown asked. “If I’m bringing my kids, what’s something that would be like a different experience? Because when we play Penn State (in week one), you’re not going to be able to get on the field. You’re not going to be able to go up to Sean Martin and dap him up.”

Teams have been trending away from the traditional full live scrimmages for years. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin ditched the whole idea last season and turned the Rebels’ Spring Game into more of a state fair, complete with tug-of-war and hot dog-eating-champion Joey Chestnut.

Brown and the Mountaineers aren’t going that far quite yet.

“We’re not going to play four quarters of live football, but we’re going to play some football because our fans deserve to see our players,” he said. And our players like competing, too.”

At the end of the day, Brown said his main focus is giving the fans in the stands at Milan Puskar Stadium the most-enjoyable experience possible. Tickets are free this year.

“How can we make this a special deal, especially here at West Virginia, because we are the state’s team,” Brown wondered. “We’re the state’s team and we need to be accessible.”

When the team does play some live football, here are a few things to watch for:

Battle in the trenches

This is the first season in a while that WVU’s offensive line won’t feature Zach Frazier or Doug Nester. Losing those two bedrocks means the line will look different this season, and it also gives WVU’s defensive line chances to make some plays.

After the team’s first practice in full pads this spring, Brown said the Mountaineers’ defensive line was able to take it to the offensive line for the first time in a while.

“Part of that is they’ve been going against Zach Frazier day in and day out and they lost more than they won,” Brown said back on April 4. “This was the first day post (Frazier) in full pads and they were ready to return the favor.”

Brandon Yates steps in at center for Frazier while Nick Malone will succeed Nester at right tackle. Ja’Quay Hubbard will take over right guard full-time while left guard Tomas Rimac has missed all spring and will not play.

“I think that was a great wake-up call for our offensive line,” Brown said. “We fully expect to be one of the top rushing offenses in the country, we fully expect to have few tackles for loss and be one of the leaders in sacks allowed, but there’s a lot of work that goes into that.”

On the defensive line, Brown called returning starters Sean Martin and Eddie Vesterinen two of the team’s most-improved players this spring. Hammond Russel IV, Fatorma Mulbah and Troy transfer T.J. Jackson are battling for time at nose tackle.

New defensive backs

There are a lot of new faces in WVU’s secondary this season, with Saturday as the first chance to get a look at them.

WVU brought in Northwestern defensive backs Jaheem Joseph and Garnett Hollis, Colorado State’s TJ Crandall and Duquesne’s Ayden Garnes through the portal this offseason. 

Crandall has been dealing with a hamstring issue for the last couple weeks of spring camp so his involvement in the spring game could be limited.

The team is also getting Montre Miller back from injury. Miller, who transferred from Kent State last year, missed all but one game in 2023 and received a medical waiver to play this season.

Miller stood out in the 2023 Gold-Blue game, defending two deep passes and deflecting a short slant.


  • Wide Receiver EJ Horton announced his intention to enter the transfer portal on his social media earlier this week. The senior transferred to WVU last offseason after three years at Marshall. He made 10 receptions for 201 yards and a touchdown in his lone season as a Mountaineer.
  • Backup quarterback Sean Boyle also announced he will be transferring via social media. Boyle, from Charlotte, NC., redshirted as a true freshman last season and did not play. That leaves WVU with just two scholarship quarterbacks on its roster, starter Garrett Greene and backup Nicco Marchiol. Khalil Wilkins from Maryland has signed with the Mountaineers and will join the team as a true freshman over the summer.

The transfer portal window opened on April 16 and will close three days after WVU’s spring game on April 30.

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