MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Charleston, West Virginia native Casey Legg likely didn’t expect to be in any sort of competition heading into fall camp.
The Mountain State native was reliable as a field goal kicker last season, and is a preseason candidate for the Lou Groza Award.
And while Legg is still expected to be West Virginia’s field goal kicker heading into this season, he has been challenged in practice by Florida State transfer Parker Grothaus.
“(Grothaus) is a pickup that not a whole lot of people are talking about, but he could have as big an impact as any of them,” head coach Neal Brown said last week. “Just from a field position standpoint.”
Legg is still the guy, but Grothaus is capable of substituting for Legg if Brown feels necessary.
Field goal kicking aside, the two other kicking-related duties – punting and kickoff specialist – are up for grabs.
Starting with the punters, freshman Oliver Straw and redshirt sophomore Kolton McGhee are competing for the starting job. McGhee has six games under his belt at the DI level, while Straw has yet to play one collegiate snap.
“Both have similar skill sets, but obviously Ollie has done more on the move, but Kolton can do the same movements,” said WVU special teams coordinator Jeff Koonz on Monday. “They’re going back and forth. Both have shown the ability to really push the ball down the field with good hang time.”
As Koonz alluded to, Straw is used to punting on the move. Naturally, the Melbourne, Australia native uses the Australian style punting technique. He receives the snap, and ranges to his right before booming the football away with his right foot.
McGhee, meanwhile, uses the standard punting approach.
West Virginia is looking for either Straw or McGhee to take the reigns from the graduated Tyler Sumpter, who handled every punt for the Mountaineers last fall.
In terms of kickoff duties, the redshirt senior Grothaus is being challenged by a redshirt freshman in Danny King. Neither has kicked off for the Mountaineers, though Grothaus logged 47 touchbacks for Florida State over the past two seasons.
“I’m, excited about Danny and what he’s got, but Parker’s come in and he’s shown why he’s been able to kick at this level,” said Koonz. “And we’re excited about that. I think it’s going to be a nice addition to our kickoff coverage unit.”
Brown, Koonz, and the Mountaineers have been tasked with improving on special teams in relation to where they were last season.
The Mountaineers ranked sixth in the Big 12 in average punt distance (43.5 y/p), and eighth in the league in net punt (38.9 yds). West Virginia finished the 2021 season last in the conference in average kickoff distance (56.1 y/k), and had nearly 20 fewer touchbacks than any other team in the Big 12.
Based on comments from both Brown and Koonz, these special teams competitions will remain open for this week.
The hope is that many of the program’s position battles will be decided once West Virginia completes its second intra-squad scrimmage on Thursday. That will better allow the Mountaineers to, as Brown stated, go from practice mode to game mode in preparation for the Backyard Brawl.
For Koonz, though, he sees that these competitions have brought out in everyone involved, especially in the kickoff and punting game.
“In both cases you know, Ollie being the new guy and how Kolton has worked in response, and Parker coming in as an old guy and how Danny has worked in response, not to say those two guys weren’t working, but competition brings out the best in everybody,” said Koonz. “They’ve embraced that.”
West Virginia’s head coach acknowledged that the addition of Grothaus was a bit of an underrated move by the Mountaineers. Not only does he bring three years’ worth of kicking experience at the Power 5 level, but he is also creating competition in two different kicking responsibilities.
As Koonz said, competition brings out the best in everybody.