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WVU football: Freshman Thompson feels he can be next Austin for Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's football offense will be dealing with convenience and consequence in 2012.

The Mountaineers have one of the more gifted players going in receiver Tavon Austin and they figure to rely on him more than anyone else not named Geno Smith next season.

And yet Austin, with all of his talent, is a senior. When he's done, he takes his speed and his moves and all the Austin-specific plays with him.

"Tavon runs plays we've run for a long time, but he's just really good at them," said receivers coach and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. "When Tavon's gone, we're going to continue running those plays, which is why we're trying to develop another guy like him.

"Some guys when they run those plays, it doesn't look the same as when Tavon runs them, but we're going to need that."

The Mountaineers believe they might have that in true freshman Jordan Thompson. Better yet, Thompson believes that, as well.

"We're going to need a guy like that next year. That's the way I see it," he said. "Right now, they actually have me running plays that are his plays."

WVU has plays for inside receivers and WVU has plays for Austin, the teams' best inside receiver. They're not necessarily the same.

That hot potato pass the Mountaineers mastered last season? The one where Austin is in motion before the play and catches a fingertip pass from Smith just after Smith gets the snap? It's a wrinkle in the offense and specific to Austin.

Thompson is running it in spring practice at WVU.

"Pretty high honor," Dawson said.

The results, of course, are different. Thompson, who will never lack reasoned confidence in his abilities, admits as much.

"Tavon's the real deal," he said. "Usually when he gets the ball it's a touchdown. He's repped it so many times he knows what's going to happen. Right now I'm getting a chance to get as many reps as I can just so I get familiar with things."

Austin is a unique talent, a high school running and one of the best prep players to ever come out of Maryland, but he's sharp enough to transition to receiver and last year shatter the school record with 101 receptions - 24 more than the mark David Saunders (1998) and Shaun Foreman (1997) shared.

All Thompson has right now is potential, though he's a natural receiver. He finished ranked ninth in the Houston area in receiving yards and fifth in receiving touchdowns for powerhouse Katy High last season

"The thing is they were No. 1 in the country for like eight weeks last year," Dawson said. "Look at their schedule and they only played one close game 0- and they lost it. They started 12-0 and every game was 43-0, 65-7, 38-0. It was all blowouts. Then at the end they got beat by LaPorte. It was a 9-7 game the game before the state championship."

Thompson still had 66 receptions for 1,117 yards and 17 touchdowns in Class 5A Division II, but he wasn't a highly coveted college prospect.

Never mind his progress through the program that won state titles in 2007 and 2008 and played for the state title in 2009 and was No. 1 in the state most of last season. Never mind the statistics that could have been better.

There were other numbers that mattered. Thompson is 5-foot-7 and weighs about 165 pounds.

"Some colleges won't give you a chance," Thompson said. "I think if you can play football, you can play football. I always knew being that small that I had to be tough."

Dawson saw the physical shortcoming, but he saw a playmaker on offense and special teams and spotted some similarities with Austin.

He's 5-9 and 175 pounds, but it's sometimes hard to tell. Dawson believes the same is true about Thompson.

"One thing about him is he's tough," Dawson said. "Does he get the you-know-what knocked out of him every now and again? Yeah. It happens every day in practice. But he's fearless. He goes over the middle. He goes through the middle. He gets knocked down but he pops right back up.

"He's a fearless player for his size and that's one thing we were hoping because he is so small. We don't want a small and scared kid."

Dawson talked Coach Dana Holgorsen into paying Thompson a visit - and so popular was Thompson at Katy High that his teachers had no problem letting him answer his cell phone during class when Dawson or Holgorsen called.

They explained to Thompson that he was the same size as Austin and that they believed he could play the same position. With time and with effort, perhaps he could he as good.

And then Holgorsen said he'd be down for that week's game.  

"That was a game-changer," Thompson said, noting it was the first big-time program to pay serious attention.

Holgorsen was in the stands as Katy blew out another overmatched opponent.

"I only played the first half of the game," Thompson said, "but I caught five passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns."

The Mountaineers were hooked and soon learned Thompson would enroll early and be in spring practice. WVU was then able to get a head start on finding Austin's replacement.

"Jordan's pretty good," Austin said. "He's quick and small, like I was, but I always tell him to go out and try his hardest. He's definitely got a little wiggle in him and he's a little fast. But you have to think he's a freshman, too. He's got years to get better and better."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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