MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Dravon Henry’s previous snap came in the WPIAL Class AA championship football game on a snowy day at Heinz Field nine months ago. He jarred the ball loose at the goal line with less than three minutes left, but South Fayette was awarded a controversial touchdown and held on for a 34-28 victory.
Henry’s next snap will be Saturday at the Georgia Dome, when, likely petrified and paralyzed, he will start against Alabama.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen penciled Henry as starting free safety in the initial depth chart. Henry had been battling sophomore Jeremy Tyler for the job throughout fall camp and appears to have gained an edge.
Henry is the only freshman expected to debut in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
“You forget he’s a freshman,” Holgorsen said Tuesday. “He’s the only freshman we’re having this [starting] conversation about. Going back to last year and two years ago, we were having this conversation about a whole bunch of them.”
Junior strong safety Karl Joseph started as a freshman and has held the job since, starting the 25 games in a row. He was named to numerous freshman All-America teams in 2012 and has twice been named an All-Big 12 honorable mention. The difference between Joseph and Henry is that Joseph enrolled early at West Virginia and participated in spring camp before his freshman season. Henry arrived this summer.
Holgorsen called Henry a “mature” and “steady” presence in the secondary. The coaches “had a pretty good idea” of Henry’s mettle when he arrived, Holgorsen said, then cautioned, “We’re talking about a guy that’s never taken a snap here, so we’re going to continue to monitor his progress this week.
“The thing with true freshmen, with guys you’ve never put out there before is, what’s their demeanor like and how are they going to respond when there’s 70,000 people in the stands and there’s a real opponent across the field?” Holgorsen said.
The secondary has many reasons to be shaking. Reasons one, two and three are Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones, who were three of Alabama top four receivers last fall and have returned.
Cut to the quick
Holgorsen laughed off the notion that Alabama might be caught off-guard by West Virginia’s up-tempo offense.
“Everybody across the country is going to have to deal with offenses playing up-tempo,” Holgorsen said.
He understands the line of questioning, though. Alabama’s defense allowed 13.9 points and 286.5 yards per game last season, but it showed some cracks, though not many. Opponents this season likely will try to expose those same few cracks.
Texas A&M, Auburn and Oklahoma used tempo to torch the Crimson Tide for 42, 34 and 45 points last season, but Holgorsen said that’s too selective a group. Kentucky and Ole Miss tried tempo, too, and scored just seven combined points.
“They’ve faced teams that have played up-tempo, and nobody ever talked about it because they shut them out,” Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen said his offense was “pretty subpar” when operating up-tempo last season.
“The only thing worse than punting is punting quickly,” he said. “If we’re not very good at [tempo], we probably shouldn’t do it. Last year, there was a lot of games I went into with some reservations on how fast I wanted to punt. I think we’re in a better place at this point.”
For more on West Virginia football, read All ‘Eers. Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.