MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s offense as a whole in 2023 will go as far as its offensive line can carry them.
Of course, that’s always the case, be it positive or negative.
“Every year it depends on the o-line, whether you have really good players or not,” explained WVU’s fifth-year offensive line coach Matt Moore. “I feel really good about these guys from a snap standpoint and from a mentality standpoint. We have to keep pushing them and getting better, but I feel really good about where we’re at right now.”
Where the Mountaineers are upfront is talented and extremely experienced. Four of them earned freshmen All-American honors earlier in their careers (Wyatt Milum, Tomas Rimac, Zach Frazier and Doug Nester), and between all of them, the group has played in 184 college games with 133 career starts.
Talent is obviously important, but experience is a huge factor for an offensive lineman as well. Nester, who began his career at Virginia Tech before transferring to WVU in 2021, is heading into his fifth season as a college starter, having benefited from the extra year of eligibility brought about by Covid in 2020. Frazier has been a starter at West Virginia since 2020, and Milum has been a starter since early in the 2021 campaign. Ja’Quay Hubbard and Brandon Yates, who are currently competing for the starting right guard spot, have started 11 and 21 games respectively. The youngest of the bunch, Rimac, a third-year sophomore left guard, moved into the starting lineup midway into last season and started the final five games of ’22.
“What you can do (with experience) is you don’t have to start with the 100-level class,” noted Moore. “We’re now at 300-level classes with a lot of these guys. Instead of just, ‘Hey, what’s the front, and who’s the Mike (linebacker)?’ now we’re talking about d-line stances and we’re talking about having a heavy shade or a light shade. We’re trying to continue to build these guys on to the master’s level classes. That’s the benefit of experience in that you can get more advanced in your teachings and more advanced in your scheme.”
Even the most experienced and highly regard of this year’s offensive linemen still have room to grow, according to their coach.
Nester is expanding his versatility. Mainly a right guard for WVU the past two years, he’s now moved out to right tackle, where he’s expected to start this coming season. He also worked a lot at center this past spring.
“He’s a guy who was an all-conference player at guard, and he will also be an all-conference player at tackle,” predicted Moore of Nester, a 6-foot-7, 320-pound fifth-year senior from Spring Valley (W.Va.) High School. “He can play center as well. All that will help him at the next level.
“Frazier has to continue to work on his knock-back,” noted the coach of the 6-foot-3, 311-pound junior center from Fairmont, West Virginia, who has earned preseason All-American honors. “He’s really good at manipulating people because he has all that torqueing in him from his wrestling days. He’s survived on that, but for him to be where we want him to be, he’s got to start knocking people backward, getting vertical movement off the ball. He also has to be able to handle one-on-one pass pro against nose guards by himself. That’s what we’re working on with him.
“With Wyatt, he’s not blessed with Zach’s strength, so that’s something he worked hard at in the offseason, changing his body and getting stronger,” added the Moore of the 6-foot-6, 310-pound junior left tackle from Spring Valley (W.Va.) High School. “He’s lived off athleticism, and now he’s got to put that together with his strength. He’s gotten way better with his hands and his striking on his pass pro. He’s playing with better pad level in the run game and being super aggressive.”
Moore is also trying to build depth.
A 6-foot-4, 316-pound junior, Yates is capable of playing each of the three interior offensive line positions. Nick Malone, a 6-foot-5, 298-pound junior, has played in 27 games in the past three seasons, and he can play tackle or guard. Bryce Biggs, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound sophomore from Spring Valley (W.Va.), is pushing to be part of the picture at left guard behind Rimac.
After that, West Virginia has a number of young linemen who possess promise, says their position coach, and now they are in need of experience.
“We’re trying to build that depth with quality players,” explained Moore.
“I really need Sully (Weidman, 6-5, 323 lbs., RFr.) to come along. He’s a big guy with pretty good feet. He needs to play with better body position, but that should come with more reps,” said Moore, who is in his 18th year as a college coach. “Mo Hamilton (6-3, 321 lbs., RFr.) is a super twitchy kid. He’s probably a little further behind in terms of knowing what to do and the way I want it done, but he’s showing strides. Landen Livingston (6-4, 294 lbs., RFr.) is coming along at center, doing a really good job there. Charlie (Katarincic, 6-4, 293 lbs., RFr.) is a high-intelligence guy. He can play all five positions right now. He’s got to keep getting stronger, but he’s developing.
“I’m really fired up about my young guys (true freshmen),” continued the o-line coach. “Johnny Williams (6-7, 308 lbs., Fr.) was here in the spring. He’s having a really good camp. He’s continuing to develop his body. He’s got a chance to be a really special player. Nick Krahe (6-6, 297 lbs., Fr.) is a super athletic kid. He played his senior year at like 245, and now he’s 297. He was an all-conference basketball player and threw the shot and disc in track, so he’s super athletic, which has us excited. Cooper Young (6-5, 319 lbs., Fr) has great body control. He was a two-sport kid, too, playing baseball in high school. He has athletic movement. I’m really excited about those three young guys. I feel good about the future.”
The future in terms of seeing significant game action for most of the young linemen is likely a year or two away. As for the veteran group, the expectations for it heading into the 2023 season, which opens at No. 7 Penn State on Sept. 2, are extremely high.
“They can be dominant, and I feel they have that mentality, but we have to go up against a top three or four defense in the nation in week one, so there is no better way to figure out if you’re going to be dominant or not,” said Moore of his o-line. “We’re going to get tested early, and we’ll see if we are who we say we are.”