WVU football: Kwiatoski gaining notice for Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Pardon Nick Kwiatoski if he feels a touch of an identity crisis.
He's had a bunch of identities in his time on campus at West Virginia.
Begin at the end - his last name. It's not pronounced the way it looks.
It's not pronounced the way WVU offers with a guide on the online roster, that being kee-wuh-CAH-skee.
It's the sort of trouble perhaps only defensive end Noble Nwachukwu can understand. Maybe cornerback Nana Kyeremeh.
The name WVU hopes to hear coming out of the speakers at Mountaineer Field and road stadiums throughout the season is actually quit-COW-skee, something Kwiatoski is lucky to hear once in a while.
"People around here at least get it close," he said. "I've gotten it all my life. The biggest thing was when I was playing baseball when I was younger and I'd go to tournaments and hear it every time I was up. People would totally butcher it. But I'm used to it now. It doesn't bother me."
Credit the sophomore from Bethel Park, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh, for raising awareness during spring football with the Mountaineers. Observers are learning not only who he is, but where he's playing, too.
That's not insignificant. Recruited as a defensive back and first recognized as a noticeable player on special teams in 2012, Kwiatoski is now a Will linebacker playing inside in the 3-4 defense.
Kwiatoski never really thought he'd be banging into guards and the center instead of chasing running backs and receivers.
"I was always thinking safety and maybe - maybe - an outside linebacker position," said Kwiatoski, who played in high school for West Virginia native and former WVU graduate assistant Jeff Metheny. "I knew I could play in the old (3-3-5) stack, for sure as a safety, probably a spur or maybe a bandit. That's what they told me."
The 6-foot-2 Kwiatoski, who committed in July 2010, showed up a year later at 210 pounds and immediately rose to close to 220. He redshirted, but kept adding constructive weight throughout his season with his diet and his workouts.
He was a spur safety, the one that would hover around the line of scrimmage and make use of some linebacker skills.
That preceded a change at defensive coordinator and a move from the 3-3-5 Kwiatoski seemed to fit to the 3-4 that developed and featured linebackers in a new way. Accustomed to playing in the defensive backfield, or at least in space on the outside, Kwiatoski found himself last spring playing middle linebacker at the Sam spot - the one that lines up inside on the side of the offense with the most personnel.
It's a demanding spot responsible for combating linemen, tight ends or a fullback - or sometimes a combination - to play the run or to cover the pass.
"My first day at linebacker from safety, I was sore," Kwiatoski said. "My ankles, my upper body, everything."
The mind was taxed, too. Safeties have to make decisions against the pass based on coverage and against the run based on whether it goes inside or outside. A linebacker's keys and duties can change with every defensive front and every defensive grouping. The action comes quicker and the reactions have to be as immediate.
Kwiatoski managed some playing time last year, especially as the season progressed and WVU looked for answers. Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Keith Patterson thought enough of Kwiatoski to move him once again, this time to the Will spot in the middle.
He's still an inside linebacker, but he's now on the side of the line that has fewer offensive players. Kwiatoski has similar responsibilities. He has to play the run, but will often do so in pursuit, and he has to cover the pass, though more inside than outside now and against a variety of players.
For now, it's just junior Jared Barber ahead of Kwiatoski. More players will arrive in the summer, but Kwiatoski, now 230 pounds with a thought to add five or so more before the start of the regular season, feels like this is something he's known for a while.
"They're different, but they do relate to each other," he said. "You can apply a lot of Will concepts to Sam and vice versa. I feel like I'm comfortable with what I'm doing."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.