MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Clint Trickett was West Virginia's savior last season in the sense that he finally and mercifully ended what coach Dana Holgorsen refers to as "our musical chairs of quarterbacks" the fifth week of the season and rode out the storm.
As the starter, Trickett, then a first-year transfer from Florida State, won two games and lost four, though he can count on one finger the number of starts he made healthy.
In his first start, a heroic effort in a 30-21 victory against No. 11 Oklahoma State, Trickett took a late hit on the final play of the third quarter and landed hard on his right shoulder.
The injury would eventually require surgery to repair a torn labrum, but a broken and battered Trickett and his dead arm missed just one snap in the fourth quarter, completing 7 of 10 passes to set up a couple of game-clinching field goals.
It was a "special" debut, Trickett said afterward.
It was also still September, and the Mountaineers managed just one more win the rest of the way to finish with a 4-8 record, their worst since 2001.
For Trickett, who grew up in Morgantown as the son of former West Virginia assistant coach Rick Trickett, there was no guarantee he would return with the starting job his senior season.
"I thought I deserved at least a little bit of respect for playing with what I did," Trickett said after a recent practice. "But, obviously, on the field the results weren't where they needed to be, by any means.
"I'm a realist. I'm a coach's son. I know people lose jobs for losing games."
Surgery 'a relief'
Trickett's whirlwind offseason began with a family trip to Pasadena, Calif., to support his father, now Florida State's offensive line coach, as the Seminoles squared off against Auburn in the national championship.
The first order of business, though, was a visit to the Auburn team hotel to meet with world-renown orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, the Auburn team doctor, for a preliminary assessment of Trickett's injured right shoulder.
Andrews determined surgery was necessary and booked the procedure for the following week at his office in Pensacola, Fla.
"I didn't look at it as a burden," Trickett said. "I looked at it as a relief. I knew I couldn't play with this, so let's do what needs to be done to get me back. If anything, I was happy.
And Trickett only got happier when the final seconds ticked down to the Seminoles' 34-31 victory and he and his brothers, Travis and Chance, gathered their father in a bear hug on the sideline.
"That was a moment I won't forget," Trickett said. "Right when the clock hit zero we all just grabbed him at the same time. It was a pretty cool moment, one we'll have forever."
Long road back
Trickett dropped nearly 10 pounds after surgery and wasn't permitted to lift any weight above his shoulder, much less throw a football. He missed spring practice, watching Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and Logan Moore battle for the quarterback job as he recovered at a painstakingly slow rate.
"It was a long offseason," Trickett said. "You're thinking, man, am I going play? Is it going to be normal again?"
Trickett followed a progression chart Andrews gave him to safeguard the recovery process. The basic advice: throw less.
"He knows what he's doing, so I trusted his word," Trickett said. "He's the best at what he does."
When Trickett could throw again, he knew something was off. There was a hitch in the mechanics, even teammates mentioned it, but nobody could pinpoint the exact problem.
Trickett paid a visit to former Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Weinke filmed Trickett's delivery and noticed a few immediate issues.
Weinke corrected the quarterback's arm angle, but focused on his footwork. The light-bulb moment, Trickett said, came when Weinke pointed out his back foot "was so far outside the framework of my body that I had no leg power. It was all shoulder and all arm."
"It was like, wow, that's it?" Trickett joked. "You could have just told me that over the phone!"
Vote of confidence
On June 24, more than two months before West Virginia's season opener against Alabama, Holgorsen named Trickett the starting quarterback. The coach said Trickett "made my decision easy" with his work and rehab in a busy offseason, plus "nobody wants to go into camp rotating three guys and not knowing who your starter is."
Trickett spent three seasons at Florida State as the primary backup to Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston, respectively, so you might think he would miss the thrill of a quarterback competition.
"Absolutely not," Trickett said, laughing. "I cared so much about it that it kind of ate me up from the inside. ... My competitiveness now is as an offensive unit instead of just me as a quarterback. Now we're completely focused on competing against the defense, which is the way it should be."
Trickett looks different this year, stronger and more confident, and he hopes the results will be different, too. He has shared more than a few laughs with the coaching staff over the communication errors last season that caused Holgorsen to fire his headset at the turf in frustration.
"He doesn't even have to finish signals now, because I already know it," Trickett said. "Last year I had to ask him like three times to do the signal over again."
It was all part of the growing pains of learning a new offense.
"The kid's football IQ is off the charts anyway," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "He just had to learn our system and the way we program quarterbacks."
Even Holgorsen's son Logan has noticed a transformation. He walked up to Trickett at a recent practice and said, "Man, from last year to this year ... "
"I know, I know," Trickett responded with a grin.
Later, his shoulder heavily wrapped in ice, Trickett paused to look back across the room full of media members and teammates and lowered his voice a bit. There's a higher level of trust now, too, he said.
"Last year I was a stranger to a lot of these guys," he said. "I was a kid who had just come in. You know, they hear things: Florida State, blah, blah, blah. But now they actually know me."
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.