MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said freshman quarterback William Crest’s “head was spinning” early in fall camp, maybe it was because the Mountaineers’ prized prospect spent the past week moonlighting as a punt returner.
Crest stands out in the crowd of speedy returners. He is 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds and, yes, he wears a yellow noncontact quarterback jersey.
With the ball in his hands, though, he is as elusive as his coaches tip-toeing around this question: Is Crest, Rivals.com’s No. 7 dual-threat quarterback of the 2014 class, truly a triple-threat or just one heck of a smoke screen?
“I was just doing that to mess with you guys,” Holgorsen said Thursday afternoon. The fourth-year coach grinned at his bluff, but then, a moment later, doubled back on it. “Would he be an option if he was the best [returner]? Absolutely.”
Crest fielded punts in high school to stay in shape, so the first day of practice in Morgantown he sidled to midfield and stepped into the returner rotation.
“I was watching him, and I’d be darned if he didn’t look pretty good,” Holgorsen said. “We need a punt returner, so let’s see what you can do. He likes doing it, so I said go for it.”
West Virginia’s average of 3.21 yards per punt return last season was the fifth-lowest average in Division I, and Holgorsen wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the rookie could be the Mountaineers’ magic bullet.
“If he was our starting, every-down quarterback, that would be pretty silly [to have him return punts],” Holgorsen said. “If he’s not the starting quarterback, and you have a luxury to have a little depth at quarterback, if he’s the best on returning punts, then why not?”
Crest, a 2013 Maryland all-state first-team quarterback, passed for 2,232 yards, ran for 672 more and scored 25 touchdowns at Dunbar High School in Baltimore in the fall.
Holgorsen cautioned that there is plenty of progress yet to be made, and with senior Clint Trickett already named starter, there is no need to rush Crest’s growth.
Holgorsen pointed out that the past two Heisman Trophy winners — Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Florida State’s Jameis Winston — redshirted their freshman seasons.
“The biggest challenge with William is that his expectations of himself are extremely high, and he’s extremely competitive,” Holgorsen said. “He wants to please, he wants to learn, and he wants to do good. It just doesn’t look good at times. It takes time to be able to understand.
“He’s ahead of the curve as a freshman quarterback. He’s way ahead of the curve mentally. He’s ahead of the curve physically. With that said, he still has a long ways to go. I don’t want people to get too excited about it right now. He’s still got a long ways to go.”
Holgorsen favors proposal
An ESPN coaches’ poll released Thursday revealed a majority of coaches in Power Five conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — support playing exclusively Power Five opponents, a proposal that would eliminate weak non-conference schedules altogether.
Of the 65 coaches polled, 30 favored the exclusive schedule, 23 were opposed and 12 were undecided.
Holgorsen was one of six Big 12 coaches who favored the proposal.
“I think that’s where [college football] is headed,” Holgorsen said, adding that every school would need to agree to the proposal. “If one is going to do it, everyone should do it.”
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who sits on the College Football Playoff committee, has long been an advocate of piecing together a strong schedule. The Mountaineers non-conference schedule this season consists of No. 2 Alabama, Towson and Maryland.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.