If you’ve followed the Mountaineers at all this season, or at any point during the last two decades, you’ve no doubt noticed that West Virginia is something of a prolific offensive force in college football. Under Rich Rodriguez, the Mountaineers were an unstoppable read-option ground attack headlined by Pat White, Steve Slaton and Noel Devine. Now, during the eight-year reign of Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia is a fully-blooded member of the Air Raid family, whose trademark is a spread passing attack utilizing multiple receiver sets and downfield throws.
If there has been any consistent thread interconnecting the Mountaineers’ distinctly different offensive identities since the early 2000s, it’s that the tight end position has largely been an afterthought.
That might finally be a thing of the past.
Senior Trevon Wesco, an Inwood, West Virginia native, has birthed something of a renaissance at the tight end position this season. While the senior’s raw receiving numbers won’t hold a candle to those of David Sills or Gary Jennings, the difference in his production from this season to years past is exponential. Chew on this for a second: Wesco has posted 252 yards on 18 receptions this year for one score, while his positional counterpart Jovanni Haskins has also collected 115 yards on 13 receptions for a score. Meanwhile, from 2011-17, tight ends under Dana Holgorsen collectively posted 37 receptions for 343 yards and six touchdowns.
Starting to make sense?
The huge uptick in production by tight ends in 2018 is due to several factors. First, Jake Spavital has the necessary talent to add tight ends into Grier’s route trees. We’re not talking about h-backs masquerading as tight ends, as we’ve seen frequently in recent years, either. Guys like Tyler Urban and Cody Clay were capable football players, but the Wesco/Haskins tandem is too potent of a one-two punch to not trot out as much as possible, given how well Haskins’ speed complements Wesco’s bruising aggression.
Second, on a more conceptual level, the offense needed to expand in scope. There are only so many deep balls and zone draws a team can run before defenses begin to figure solve the Rubiks Cube. In a league where nearly everyone runs some version of the Air Raid, adding contrarian dimensions to the playbook is critical. That, coupled with West Virginia’s issues with sustaining drives in 2017 (particularly on 3rd down), forced the offensive staff back into the lab to reconfigure their philosophy. If you don’t think injecting tight ends into the mixture hasn’t helped the overall unit, consider that WVU currently ranks 32nd nationally in third down conversion percentage (44.1%). They’re also 10th in points (40.9 per game), despite ranking 83rd in plays run (68.3 per game). In summary, this offense is drastically more efficient than it was even a year ago.
Third, Wesco is simply a load of a player.
Even at the P5 level, tight ends in excess of 270 pounds are the exception, not the rule. A 275-pound tight end that possesses the athleticism to run free downfield and rack up yards after the catch is an even rarer sight. Even prior to the season opener against Tennessee, Wesco was drawing rave reviews from players and coaches alike for the giant leaps he made in getting game-ready. No. 88 might as well be an Appalachian foothill come to life in muscled, diesel-fuelled proportions. Wesco’s ascension is no accident.
There’s still a lot of time between now and the NFL Draft, but even now, the on-field output isn’t lost on NFL talking heads. Respected pro scout Jim Nagy didn’t shy away from musing about Wesco’s chances at the next level; there’s also this play from last Saturday that sent one Horned Frog to the body shop. Seeing visible paint chips fly off a would-be tacklers lid isn’t an every-play occurrence.
Size and receiving ability alone do not make a great pro tight end, but the combination of the two, alongside competent blocking skills, puts Trevon Wesco in a great position to turn some heads here at the end of his career as a Mountaineer.
If nothing else, Wesco will be remembered for lighting the fuse on the tight end renaissance in Morgantown and making an already-dangerous offense into a damn-near panic-inducing experience for opposing defenses.
Wesco isn’t yet a household name, and he still has considerable ground to cover in terms of being regarded as a bona fide pro football player, but the results are starting to show. With big moments still ahead for West Virginia in 2018, the Musselman High School product has an enormous stage set for him to prove that he’s built for football on Sundays.