Lightning in a Bottle

  • August 18, 2009 06:20 PM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
August 18, 2009

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia may have found lightning in a bottle in freshman slot receiver Tavon Austin.

  Tavon Austin has been imrpessive durign the first week and a half of fall camp.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo

At least that’s the impression you get when you talk to some of Austin’s coaches and teammates. Chris Beatty, who handles the slot receivers and running backs, casually remarked this morning that Austin has some of the same qualities Percy Harvin had at Florida. Beatty is qualified to make that remark considering he once coached Harvin in high school.

“He can make you miss in a phone booth,” Beatty said of Austin.

Austin, though slightly built at 5-feet-9 inches and a shade below 165 pounds, brings an impressive list of credentials with him to West Virginia University – two-time Maryland player of the year and three-time Baltimore player of the year with more than 2,600 yards rushing during his senior season, averaging a ridiculous 12.2 yards per carry.

Those accomplishments tend to get people’s attention.

At first it looked like Austin was headed to Penn State. Then, it was Maryland making a big push for him that really didn’t end until signing day. But always hanging in there was West Virginia’s Lonnie Galloway.

“He’s like a second father to me,” Austin said of Galloway. “He’s eaten food at my house. He could come over and my grandmother would cook him something to eat and everything.”

Austin admitted the pressure to remain in Maryland was tremendous. So naturally the Terps took it the hardest when he announced that he was committing to West Virginia.

When Austin picked West Virginia in early January, the Mountaineers had hit a straight trifecta. First it was walk-on fullback Owen Schmitt, who first showed up at Maryland where the Terrapins hardly gave him the time of day. Then it was Steve Slaton, who Maryland dropped at the last minute for another running back. Now it’s Austin, who liked the way West Virginia used Slaton, Schmitt and Devine in its spread offense, so he decided to follow them to Morgantown.

“(Maryland) thought they had me on my official visit, but I just had a love for West Virginia,” Austin said.

When it came time to tell Maryland that he was taking the country roads to college, Austin simply couldn’t do it. “As far as telling them, I let my cousin do that,” he said.

Still, Maryland persisted.

“That’s the one thing about Maryland, they never gave up – all the way through signing day,” he said.

“A lot of my friends from home didn’t want me to go to Maryland,” Austin explained. “They wanted me to go to West Virginia. A lot of other people told me to go to Maryland because they said it would be better for me to get jobs when I finished with school because it was near my hometown. But I based my decision on what I wanted to do.”

West Virginia’s coaches were up front with Austin from the beginning. They told him that Devine was their running back. The best opportunity for him to get on the field early in his career was at slot receiver.

“I knew I was going to do a little slot because Noel and Mark Rodgers are here right now,” Austin said. “I’m just trying to get on the field the best way I can, and the slot is probably the position that I can touch the field faster.”

All indications are pointing toward a September 5th introduction for Austin. No Mountaineer player has the ability to shake a defender in the open field quite like Austin. And that includes Devine, Jock Sanders and the rest of the gang.

“He’s shiftier than them,” admitted Beatty. “He’s quicker than they are, too.”

“Like Coach Stew says, ‘(Make) one move and then head north,’” Austin said. “That’s what I try to do.”

According to Beatty, while Austin’s first week and a half in camp has been impressive, he’s certainly not infallible. There is still plenty of work that needs to be done.

“Before practice and after practice we do a lot of drills pertaining to our hands,” Austin said. “It’s hard because I was never used to putting my hands up and now my hands are always up and always knocking the defender off of me.”

Austin has also taken to some of the agility drills the coaches have introduced to the skill players during training camp.

“One thing that really helps me is the ladder drills,” he said. “I really take the ladder drills serious doing the ‘Icky Shuffle’ and a lot of the footwork things that I do. I used to run a lot of steps at home so I think that’s why my feet are really quick.”

How quick?

“Like Coach Stew says, ‘No one has really gotten a good hit on me so far,’” Austin admitted. “I think I’ve been doing OK.

“When I get the ball in my hands the first thing I’m thinking about is scoring,” he added. “If not, then I just want to make a great play.”

And when he does, you know there will be one certain school a couple hundred miles to the east watching him – and most likely dreading it.