25 different states, the District of Columbia, and five countries are represented on this year’s West Virginia football roster.
Appropriately, no state in the U.S. has more representation than West Virginia. 18 of this year’s Mountaineers are truly Mountaineers.
While a few Mountain State natives likely won’t see much or any playing time this year, many others will go a long way in determining what kind of season WVU team No. 130 has in all three phases of the game.
Dante Stills, a former high school All-American at Fairmont Senior High, anchors the defensive line. While he is the only expected starter in the unit that is an in-state product, the depth of the unit will be bolstered by a pair of West Virginians: Sean Martin and Zeiqui Lawton.
“Sean has taken off. He’s really confident. I think he understands how big he is, and how strong he is. And Zeiqui, he’s been a good change of pace,” said West Virginia’s defensive line coach Andrew Jackson. “He’s a quick, athletic guy. But he’s also brought another guy that can talk about West Virginia the state; West Virginia, what the fanbase means to this program. He’s a kid that’s grown up and heard about the Pitt rivalry. So again, it’s another way to connect my guys back to the state, which has been great.”
Stills’ abilities are widely known and have been widely publicized. He has, however, changed his mentality over the offseason, saying he’s less focused on his personal stats and more focused on winning.
Lawton joined the team in the offseason after spending one year at Cincinnati, where he redshirted. The No. 2 in-state product in the 2021 recruiting class is now back in his home state, with a new chance to make an impact.
“Zeiqui is definitely in the mix there. He’s put on weight, he’s gotten stronger,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said on Saturday. “He’s similar in size and ability to move (to) some of the guys that we’ve had, not only here, but at Troy and at other places within the system that have been able to cause some havoc there.”
Martin was once the No. 1 rated high school football prospect in the state. He has worked hard over the past two years to now be part of the rotation heading into his third season of college football.
“He’s going to play everywhere,” said Jackson. “I can put him anywhere we need a blow, really. Depending on the matchup, or depending on the game week, or where we’re at injury(wise), Sean can play all over the place.”
Each play on offense starts in the hands of a West Virginia native.
Zach Frazier enters his third season as WVU’s full-time starter at center. To each side of him is a fellow highly-rated recruit from West Virginia.
Junior right guard Doug Nester was regarded as the No. 2 high school football player in West Virginia coming out of Spring Valley High School in 2019. He chose to go to Virginia Tech but traded in his Hokie pads for a Country Roads Uniform after just one season.
On the other side is left tackle Wyatt Milum, another former Spring Valley Timberwolves standout.
“It’s been great to have those two other guys in there with me. You know, (Frazier) is awesome, I live with him. Wyatt, I’ve grown up with. So, just to see all three of us from the state, especially West Virginia, there’s just something special, I’d say.”WVU sophomore left guard Doug Nester
Morgantown native, and former Pittsburgh commit, Nick Malone will back-up Milum on the left side of the offensive line. His three years of hard work paid off this spring when he was awarded the Tommy Nickolich Award as the team’s top walk-on.
Another former Morgantown Mohigan, Preston Fox, will see the field this fall, as well.
By all accounts, Fox had a tremendous spring, balled out in the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game, and was rewarded with a scholarship immediately after the game ended.
Fox will be in the mix with two units: wide receivers and special teams.
“He’s one of the few guys in that room that knows all four (wide receiver) spots. I trust him to go in there and back up all four positions,” said WVU wide receivers coach Tony Washington. “As everyone in this room has probably seen, he has a great pair of hands. He never drops the ball.”
The former Mohigan is second on the preseason depth chart, behind Kaden Prather, at the Z-receiver position. Fox saw action in four games a season ago and hauled in the only catch of his collegiate career to date against Long Island.
Fox is also one of the four or five players battling for punt returning duties. Whether it’s Fox or someone else, Neal Brown and the coaching staff are demanding this team be better on special teams than they were a year before.
Lou Groza Preseason Watch List selection Casey Legg is one of two players listed on the preseason depth chart on special teams. The Charleston native was 19-of-23 on field goal attempts last year, with only one of those misses coming from within 40 yards.
Another Spring Valley product, Graeson Malashevich, will be the holder for WVU. He returned four punts and four kickoffs last season.