Neal Brown wants his team to be more physical in the trenches this year. He believes both groups up front have the ability to play with that grit due to having more bodies available at the positions.
Depth has been beneficial to the development of both units, but perhaps the biggest advantage is the daily battle between two of the top players on each side — Zach Frazier and Akheem Mesidor.
“The great thing about that is those two kids, Zach Frazier and Akheem Mesidor, they are all in,” Coach Brown said.
Frazier, the Fairmont native will be the starting center while Mesidor will take over at nose tackle. Both players burst onto the scene and exceeded expectations in their first seasons with the program. That was apparent as the duo earned Freshman All-America honors.
“They are going to give you everything they have all the time. They love to practice, love to compete and they battle, and they appreciate each other. They really do and I think that’s important,” Brown said. “Like if you come in here and ask Akheem Mesidor — he knows Zach Frazier is making him better. Zach Frazier really values the fact Akheem is making him better, and that’s not always the case.”
Going against the program’s top-tier players can only help the units, and the players, compete at the highest level possible. When two of the best are going against each other every day, poor technique and bad habits will get exposed quickly.
“Going against Mesidor every day, if your hands are wrong he’ll may you pay. If you’re leaning he’ll make you pay,” offensive line coach Matt Moore said.
Both Frazier and Mesidor have proved they can, and will, rise to the occasion on game day, and there’s no doubt that going head-to-head daily provided some ‘get your popcorn ready’ moments at practice, too. They may only be in their second year in Gold and Blue, but having those two guys as the anchors of their respective units will bode well for the future of the WVU program.
“I think they are really high-level players and we are fortunate to have them,” Brown said. “Even more fortunate they are only in their second year and I think their best football is going to continue to build in front of them.”
There are two other battles between key returners that have caught the eye of the head coach at practice — cornerback Jackie Matthews against receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton and linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo versus running back Leddie Brown.
Matthews, a redshirt junior who joined the Mountaineers last season and Ford-Wheaton were both really active in the spring/fall, and according to Coach Brown, that’s a battle that has gone both ways.
“They are both making each other better and not just one-on-one, man-to-man coverage, but in the run game as well. Jackie has improved Bryce’s ability to block,” Brown added.
Then there’s the battle of the seniors — Chandler-Semedo, WVU’s starting mike linebacker, and Brown, a 1,000-yard rusher from a year ago.
“They face off a lot and they respect each other. They know they push each other to be better,” Brown said.
As the West Virginia football mantra goes: iron sharpens iron.