Senior Day is always an emotional time for a football team.
The pomp and circumstance of the pre-game festivities, the final time that those players that have poured their blood, sweat and tears into the football program will take the field at home and everything in between.
It’s a bittersweet day for players and coaches alike.
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen will watch 20 seniors take the field for the last time at Mountaineer Field, a mix of high-school prospects and transfers with varying degrees of time invested in the program but all important to the overall cause.
While Holgorsen didn’t want to single anybody out was asked about it during his weekly press conference and couldn’t hold back on a few of the departing seniors. The usual suspects garnered his attention with season-long team captains Al-Rasheed Benton and Elijah Wellman.
“Those two guys have been the main guys with this team,” he said.
But another duo also was mentioned. The duo being brothers, Ka’Raun and Kyzir White, the final two members of the family that spans back to their older brother Kevin playing in Morgantown.
“This is the end of the White era – that is sad,” he said.
Holgorsen said that he has become close with the family and they are expected back for the game this weekend to celebrate the close of the two brothers career at home.
But could it be the end of the White connection altogether? We’ll have to wait and see.
“I do have a good relationship with their dad. He says there are cousins coming. That should get everybody fired up. I don’t know how old they are,” Holgorsen joked.
The Big 12 Conference is known as a passing league.
That much is an accepted fact, but how did it get that way? Well, the answer is two-fold.
Holgorsen credits it to his mentor Mike Leach and his tree of coaches that have spilled out throughout the league as one of the primary reasons for the pass-happy nature across the landscape.
Of course Holgorsen is one of those but there are others at Texas Tech, TCU, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and various other stops throughout the past 20-years.
“Coaches moved on, like myself, and got jobs at other Big 12 universities and just kept doing it,” Holgorsen said. “Just kept recycling it.”
The second part comes from the lifeblood of the majority of programs in the league; recruiting and mining the state of Texas for talent. In the Lone Star State, players develop from a year-round aspect and 7-on-7 is a primary focus of that allowing quarterbacks and their pass catching counterparts to dedicate themselves to it almost year around from the time they’re in the sixth grade.
“Year-round these guys are out there throwing and catching, and their skill level is just off the charts,” Holgorsen said. “That’s the lifeblood.”
The switch has been flipped of late for the West Virginia defense but it wasn’t something that coordinator Tony Gibson knew would happen. In fact, quite the opposite.
“As the weeks went on and the more guys we lost the more worried I got,” he said.
It wasn’t that the defense was bad consistently – it was just busts and blown assignments would cost the unit dearly. He couldn’t put his finger on the reasons but after two consecutive clean games holding Iowa State to 16 points and Kansas State to 23 points things are trending in the right direction.
“If you told me we were going to hold teams to 16 and 23 points in the Big 12. They tell me that on Monday, I wouldn’t even show up Saturday,” Gibson joked.
Now there is still a season to close for the unit, but after consecutive years of losing eight starters, the defensive unit next year could be set up for success.
The Mountaineers will realistically return the bulk of the players from all three levels and while there are key losses on the horizon such as Benton, White and cornerback Mike Daniels there is a lot of room for optimism.
“I’m excited about that. But I don’t want to wish this season away by any means,” he said.
So for now the focus is avoiding things from going sideways for the rest of this year and Gibson plans on riding out the wave of his unit clicking on the field.
Easier said than done but a welcomed change for the future.