MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The countdown to kick-off has reached a mark with just 70 days separating the WVU football team from their September 1st season opener.
In the recent Backyard Brawl, Tavon was Austin West Virginia’s lead receiver. He caught 10 passes for 102 yards in the Mountaineers’ 21-20 win over Pittsburgh.
Who will be catching passes at this year’s meet at Heinz Field?
Here’s a closer look at West Virginia’s wide receivers for the 2022 season:
Two Veteran Returnees
Only two of West Virginia’s top six passcatchers from last season remain in the program. Sam James and Bryce Ford-Wheaton, WVU’s only returnees from that group, caught a combined 84 passes for 1,080 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
Each caught 42 total passes, and while Ford-Wheaton was second on the team in receiving yards, James took the team’s lead in receiving touchdowns.
All other returning receivers collectively caught 45 balls for 410 yards and a touchdown.
Other wideouts with experience
True second division side Kaden Prather developed strongly towards the end of last season. After hitting the road at Kansas State, he had another solid day the following week against Texas. Eight of his 12 catches that year came in those two games.
New wide receiver coach Tony Washington spoke very highly of the young wideout earlier this spring.
“I think he can be one of the best players I’ve worked with. I think he can be a draftee,” Washington said. “I mean, all of these guys can do it, but KP has a lot of potential.”
Overall, Prather had 12 catches for 175 yards in his freshman season.
Ford-Wheaton, James and Prather are the top three receivers on the depth chart.
Only two other returning players listed as wide receivers caught a pass last season: Reese Smith and Preston Fox.
Smith caught 12 passes for 124 yards in 2021. He missed about a week of jumping ball due to a minor injury. The redshirt freshman caught five passes for 30 yards in the gold-blue spring game.
Fox, also entering his third season with the program, has had a fantastic spring. Coaches kept talking about his catching skills, with Neal Brown even saying in March: “I think he’s on the verge of becoming a special player”.
The Morgantown native dazzled during the Gold-Blue game. He caught five passes for 117 yards and made a grab that put him in the SportsCenter top 10. Fox also received a scholarship awarded after the Mountaineer Spring Game.
Returning recipients looking for their first catch
Graeson Malashevich, Michael Evans Jr., CJ Cole and Nick Maher are all repeat recipients. None of the four have caught a pass in a game, though Malashevich saw the field on special teams last year.
Spring Valley High School’s product caught a pass during this year’s spring game. Cole also caught one of the two passes that got in his way in the gold-blue game.
Wideouts in their first year with the team
One newcomer that fans should be on the lookout for in the passing game is true freshman Jarel Williams, a three-star wideout from Saraland, Alabama.
As a high school senior, Williams hauled in 60 catches for 883 yards and 13 touchdowns and earned a trip to the 2021 Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. He was one of several early enlistments to join the Mountaineers this spring.
Partly due to Smith’s minor injury and also due to the results and skills he displayed, Williams earned more off-duty reps than expected.
“He’s doing things that I like from a distance running standpoint,” Washington said in March. “I think this spring has been tremendous for him. I think he will develop a lot in the spring and come back in the fall with a completely different attitude and knowing what’s going on. I think he’ll have a chance this year to help us a bit.”
Jeremiah Aaron of Navarro Community College was also part of the West Virginia recruiting class of 2022. Aaron finished his sophomore season with 1,775 all-purpose yards, including 911 yards receiving and eight touchdowns for the Bulldogs.
Aaron officially joined the team earlier this week.
Three of the top five receivers, statistically, for the Mountaineers last year left the program during the offseason.
Winston Wright Jr. has moved to Florida State, Sean Ryan is now with Rutgers and Isaiah Esdale is currently with Rice.
All three caught at least 25 passes and at least one touchdown in 2021. Wright led WVU with 63 catches for 688 yards and tied with the team’s lead with five touchdowns.
See more of our roster reviews for 2022 here:
Head coach and offensive assistants
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