MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The countdown to kickoff has reached a mark where just 70 days separate the WVU football team from its season opener on Sept. 1.
In the most-recent Backyard Brawl, Tavon Austin was West Virginia’s leading receiver. He caught 10 passes for 102 yards in the Mountaineers’ 21-20 victory over Pittsburgh.
Who will be catching passes during this year’s meeting at Heinz Field?
Here’s a closer look at West Virginia’s wide receivers for the 2022 season:
Two veteran returners
Only two of West Virginia’s top six pass catchers from last season are still with the program. Sam James and Bryce Ford-Wheaton, WVU’s lone returners from that group, combined to catch 84 passes for 1,080 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
Each caught 42 total passes, and while Ford-Wheaton was second on the team in receiving yards, James tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns.
All other returning receivers caught a combined 45 balls for 410 yards and one touchdown.
Other wideouts with experience
True sophomore Kaden Prather came on strong towards the end of last season. After stepping up on the road at Kansas State, he had another solid day the following week against Texas. Eight of his 12 catches on the year came in those two games.
New wide receivers coach Tony Washington spoke very highly of the young wideout earlier this spring.
“I think he can be one of the best players I’ve worked with. I think he can be a draft guy,” Washington said. “I mean all of those guys can, but KP has a ton of potential.”
In all, Prather tallied 12 catches for 175 yards in his freshman season.
Ford-Wheaton, James and Prather are the top three receivers on the depth chart.
Only two other returning players listed as wide receivers caught a pass last season: Reese Smith and Preston Fox.
Smith caught 12 passes for 124 yards in 2021. He missed roughly a week of spring ball due to a minor injury. The redshirt freshman caught five passes for 30 yards in the Gold-Blue Spring Game.
Fox, also entering his third season with the program, had a fantastic spring. Coaches consistently talked about his catching ability, with Neal Brown even saying, “I think he’s on the verge of being a special-type player,” in March.
The Morgantown native dazzled during the Gold-Blue Game. He caught five passes for 117 yards, and made a grab that landed him on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays. Fox also earned a scholarship, which was awarded to him following the Mountaineer spring game.
Returning receivers looking for their first catch
Graeson Malashevich, Michael Evans Jr., C.J. Cole, and Nick Maher are all returning receivers. None of the four have caught a pass in a game, though Malashevich did see the field on special teams last year.
The Spring Valley High School product caught one pass during this year’s spring game. Cole also caught one of the two passes that came his way in the Gold-Blue Game.
Wideouts in their first year with the team
One newcomer fans should be on the lookout for in the passing game is true freshman Jarel Williams, a three-star wideout from Saraland, Alabama.
As a high school senior, Williams tallied 60 catches for 883 yards and 13 touchdowns, and earned a trip to the 2021 Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game. He was one of several early enrollees who joined the Mountaineers this spring.
In part due to Smith’s minor injury, and also because of the results and ability he showed, Williams earned more reps than expected on the outside.
“He does things I like from a route running standpoint,” Washington said in March. “I think for him, this spring has been tremendous. I think he’s going to develop a lot over the spring and come back in the fall with a much different mindset and know what’s going on. I think he will have a chance to help us a little bit this year.”
Navarro Community College product Jeremiah Aaron was also part of West Virginia’s 2022 recruiting class. Aaron finished his sophomore season with 1,775 all-purpose yards, including 911 yards receiving and eight touchdowns for the Bulldogs.
Aaron officially joined the team earlier this week.
Three of the top five receivers, statistically, for the Mountaineers last year left the program in the offseason.
Winston Wright Jr. has transferred to Florida State, Sean Ryan is now at Rutgers and Isaiah Esdale is currently at Rice.
All three caught at least 25 passes and at least one touchdown in 2021. Wright led WVU with 63 catches for 688 yards, and tied for the team lead with five receiving touchdowns.
Find more of our 2022 roster reviews here:
From now until the end of June, visit GoldAndBlueNation.com for daily roster analysis. All stories can also be viewed on the free Gold and Blue Nation app, which is available for download on Apple and Android devices.