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Mike Casazza: Freshman quarterback Rawlins not ready, but could alter future for WVU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Not yet a year ago, Jake Spavital told me something I'd never heard before.

We were talking about football after a spring practice at West Virginia, hardly a shocking situation to be in with who was then the quarterbacks coach for the Mountaineers.

Spavital was, and is, a bright and innovative guy, so much so that he wound up being wooed all the way to the Southeastern Conference in January.

On that day, though, we talked about what might happen at Texas A&M. The Aggies were new to the SEC and getting to know their new coaching staff, folks Spavital knew well after working for Coach Kevin Sumlin and quarterbacks coach Kliff Kingsbury at Houston when Spavital was a graduate assistant.

The rest of us were still getting to know Dana Holgorsen's offense, the one shaped as much by Sumlin as Sumlin was shaped by Holgorsen, and I wondered aloud about similarities and differences in the ways the coaches might install and adjust what they do.

WVU, of course, had Geno Smith. Texas A&M had a promising prospect named with a big arm. His name was Jameill Showers and the word was he could be quite good.

Then Spavital said the words we won't soon forget: Johnny Manziel.

He spoke both with fondness and interest, suggesting Manziel was a wild card who could change the way Air Raid offenses attack defenses, but speculating how it might look with a mobile, running quarterback throwing the passes.

No one knew then what we know now. No one expected Manziel to literally run away with the Heisman Trophy. No one saw the Aggies hiring Spavital to further mentor Manziel.

And nobody knew much about Chavas Rawlins. He's WVU's commodity now and he committed to the Mountaineers a few weeks after Spavital first introduced Johnny Football to these ears. Rawlins enrolled in January and is one third of the way through his first spring football session with the Mountaineers. He might be the future, but no one knows.

True, he has a younger brother, a talented linebacker named Justice, who could serve WVU well in the recruiting class of 2014. Schools have arranged similar deals in the past.

But what if Chavas Rawlins can play? He's not ready now. Not mentally and not physically. He's been on campus fewer than three months and been in the playbook for an even shorter amount of time. His passes go nose down and are not yet particularly tight. In the limited drills open to the media, it's pretty clear his footwork needs improvement.

Still, suppose he's here for a reason, that he was recruited as a genuine prospect and not as bait for another - and by the way, Justice has not yet been offered a scholarship by the Mountaineers, surely a side effect of a serious knee injury from more than a year ago.

It all makes this spring very interesting for the Mountaineers. Sure, they're looking longest at Paul Millard and Ford Childress to be the starter next season, but picking one may cost WVU the other.

That's the nature of the quarterback position, where players transfer because they want to play. There aren't quarterback committees like at running back. There is no daily need for depth like at cornerback. No one is aiming to provide depth at quarterback.

Both Millard and Childress are from Texas, where there are many FCS colleges that could give them the ball as soon as possible.  

Rawlins may be in the right place at the right time. Millard and Childress are stationary and they are what defenses have seen in a Holgorsen offense for years. Rawlins is different in that he's mobile. He gives the defense something different for which to prepare.

He passed for 2,372 yards and rushed for 1,328 yards in his final two years at Pennsylvania's Monessen High. That his skills, unique at the position on the roster, are nevertheless on the roster is not a coincidence. Spavital would sign one quarterback a year in the best available way to avoid attrition. Rawlins was his pick for 2013.

A Manziel comparison is unfair. His high school numbers were prolific, never mind superior, but the two are about the same height and weight and the WVU biography will tell you Rawlins can run a 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds.

Their offenses are comparable and Holgorsen has been spotlighted and studied, complimented and copied so much now that he must know well the value in developing and diversifying. It is not happening at Mountaineer Field right now and the safest available bet for 2013 is that, barring injury, Rawlins sits out and the coaching staff stews for another year.

At the same time, though, friends and foes will get a better look at what WVU does and a better idea of how to stop it.

There is room for a more mobile Mountaineer without having to reconstruct Holgorsen's offense.

This isn't changing philosophies, but rather adding features, some that are already built in, but not put to use. It's about a passer, but also a player who can use his feet to facilitate his arm and then run power plays behind guards for first downs and scramble for touchdowns.

His time is not now, not with two more experienced quarterbacks in place and new ideas in an infant stage, if they're even hatched. Rawlins isn't ready. WVU isn't ready. Yet if the ideas mature and Rawlins proves capable, if the Mountaineers maintain a greater depth of talent at running back than at receiver, if the offensive line finds starters and depth before experience and confidence, the future can look much different than the present.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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