MCT REGIONAL NEWS
By Ed Owens
The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.
Jan. 05--Six weeks ago, Brian Athey was a typical high school senior. He had just guided his Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School football team to the quarterfinals of the state tournament and was looking forward to helping the Eagles' baseball team capture a second consecutive state championship. But Eden Prairie will have to chase that title without him.
Six days from now, Athey will be a full-time student at WVU and could be the Mountaineers' No. 1 quarterback when spring football practice officially opens, in March or April.
The WVU coaching staff put a rush order on Athey's delivery back in November, more than a month after freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson left the program, but well before fellow backup Barry Brunetti publicly announced his plan to transfer at the end of the fall semester. Before then, Athey had no intention of enrolling at WVU in January and was planning to graduate on schedule in the spring.
The news of starting quarterback Geno Smith's left foot surgery, scheduled for Jan. 14, only amplified the need for Athey's accelerated arrival. According to WVU head football trainer Dave Kerns, Smith will be out a minimum of eight weeks while recovering from the procedure.
Depending on Smith's recovery rate, it could mean that Athey, the only incoming quarterback who has verbally committed to WVU so far, could be the Mountaineers' top option under center when it comes to spring practice.
Coley White and Brad Starks were recruited to WVU as quarterbacks, but both players spent all of this past season playing wide receiver.
"This definitely wasn't something I was planning," Athey said. "At the beginning of the year, I had talked to my guidance counselor about 1/8enrolling early3/8 just in case something like this happened but, when I hadn't heard anything 1/8from WVU3/8, I figured it wasn't happening.
"Then coach 1/8David3/8 Lockwood and coach 1/8Jeff3/8 Mullen called me back in November and let me know that it would be nice if I could get there in January. Mullen gave me a little motivational speech to try and convince me, but I already knew I was going to do whatever I could to help the team. It didn't give me a lot of time, but I was really excited for the opportunity."
Athey struggled to catch his breath over the next six weeks, a span in which he celebrated both Thanksgiving and Christmas, graduated high school, threw an impromptu graduation party and did his best to prepare himself for college life.
"Luckily, all of my credits were lined up already," Athey said. "That was the biggest thing. Then I've been doing a lot of packing and trying to get ready. It's going to be hard leaving my family and friends six months earlier than I thought, but I'm ready for this challenge."
One of Athey's biggest challenges has already been taken care of. His primary mode of transportation had been an old minivan with more than 200,000 miles on it and, according to Athey, "absolutely no traction." For Christmas, Athey's parents gave him a blue 2009 Chevy Impala to help him make the trip to West Virginia.
"That was really, really nice," Athey said. "I have no idea how I ever would have gotten around the hills of Morgantown in that minivan."
Athey will arrive later this week in order to settle in before classes start, on Monday. But things have been moving so quickly that, as of this week, Athey still didn't know the first thing about his class schedule for the semester.
"I'm enrolled, but I'm not sure what classes I'm going to be taking," Athey said. "I want to major in business, so I'm sure I'll have a few business classes plus whatever courses freshmen have to take. I'm a little anxious to hear how heavy my workload will be."
Into the fire
If Athey is anxious about his class schedule, adding football to the mix should be enough to make his head spin.