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Sills, Jennings lead West Virginia

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West Virginia's T.J. Simmons, David Sills and Gary Jennings. — WVU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia's David Sills knows a thing or two about this thing called college football.

His story — being a high school phenom at quarterback committing to USC at age 13 and eventually enrolling at West Virginia before a trip away at junior college brought him back to West Virginia and turned him into an All-American — is well documented.

Still, though, it’s the past. And Sills is focused on the future. It’s not only his future that remains on the road ahead, but the future of West Virginia’s receiving corps. Sills has taken the task of helping this group of pass-catchers be ready for the challenges ahead.

“I want to leave my mark and I want the guys to say that I helped them,” Sills said.

Coaches have had nothing but praise for Sills, even the first time around. Sills, a coach’s son, has prided himself on what he says is taking every opportunity he can to get better. He’s passing that on to the young guys, too, intently watching from the sidelines when the second and third strings are on the field during practice.

“A lot of our twos and threes are young, and (receivers coach Tyron Carrier’s) got a lot to deal with out there,” Sills said. “He’s got to be watching what’s happening on the field, so the least I can do is help someone on the sideline by relaying what he’s taught me.”

A year ago, Sills was in the spotlight after leading the country with 18 touchdown receptions, earning him a spot on the Biletnikoff Award finalists’ list at season’s end. He couldn’t care less, though, about individual awards or his statistics.

He just wants to win games.

Take the season opener, for instance. Sills couldn’t come up with a catch in the end zone that could have led to a Mountaineer victory. He still knows why.

“I could have done a better job of slowing the defender up and letting the ball fall in front of me instead of jumping back and letting the defender make a play on the ball,” he said.

That’s just who he is — a studier.

“He can score a touchdown and still critique it,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “He’s constantly in that learning mode.”

A rocky journey is good for that, and Sills says he’s learned from everything he’s been through. Young receivers have taken note, the coaches said, and they watch how he breaks down film, how he disguises routes with blocking techniques and how he handles himself off the field.

Sills comes from a Christian background at home, where his mother and father taught him early and often to stay humble and help others.

“They can take it or leave it, but by his work ethic and what he proved last year, I’d be listening to it,” Spavital said.

West Virginia’s receiving corps is touted as one of the strongest in the country with both Sills and 1,000-yard receiver Gary Jennings returning to lead the way. Speedster Marcus Simms also comes back, looking to add a bigger deep threat to the offense.

While Sills and Jennings have proven their worth over the years, Simms still needs to show consistency and become more than just a home run threat.

Having moved past some off-the-field issues with DUIs, Simms’ teammates are working to build him up after he hauled in 35 catches for 665 yards and five scores as a sophomore a season ago.

“I’ve always told him if he takes the opportunity and keeps working, he’s an electric player,” quarterback Will Grier said. “He has dynamic speed. He’s becoming more consistent in the sense that he understands he’s a good player and it’s time to step up. He’s an older guy now and those mistakes and those mental errors aren’t as acceptable. I think it’s more important for him to be a great receiver and not just a good one.”

Beyond Simms, more question marks linger.

Former Alabama receiver T.J. Simmons has drawn early praise from teammates and coaches, but he’s unproven in college action, though he was rated a four-star receiver out of high school.

Dominique Maiden provides good size at 6-foot-5, 204 pounds, but he saw limited action a year ago after transferring from Riverside City College, where he caught eight touchdowns.

William Crest Jr. has shown athletic ability, but he’s not proven anything at receiver. Still, he’s found his way onto West Virginia’s initial depth chart behind Jennings on the outside.

Freshmen that could step up and make some plays could include 6-3, 210-pound Bryce Wheaton and the speedy 165-pound Sam James.

It’s not uncommon to have just two or three receivers making plays on a single team, but in the pass-heavy Big 12, you need all hands on deck.

“They're an experienced bunch now. It's really just getting them to the game,” Carrier said Tuesday. “There was a lot of energy coming through this place yesterday, and it was an off day. These guys are really focused, and they're ready to prove themselves. I'm happy with them.”

MOUNTAINEER MUSINGS

• No real surprises on West Virginia’s Week 1 depth chart, but Dana Holgorsen is having some fun toying with Tennessee, if you want to call it that. Holgorsen has seven instances where he uses “OR” in this week’s depth chart. Tennessee has 13.

Holgorsen explains: “They could have put 'or' on every single one of them, it wouldn't have changed my outlook on looking at that depth chart. Isn't that what I said to you guys basically from the first day I got here? You can have this depth chart if you want to, but you might as well assume there's an 'or' everywhere, because that's a constant work-in-progress. That was not unexpected whatsoever, and it didn't make me look at that depth chart any differently. It affects nothing. It absolutely affects nothing.”

• Anyway, of note: Trevon Wesco is listed as starting at tight end; the offensive line (from left to right) is Yodny Cajuste, Josh Sills, Matt Jones OR Jacob Buccigrossi, Joe Brown OR Isaiah Hardy and Colton McKivitz; Kenny Bigelow will start at nose and Jabril Robinson will start at one of the defensive end spots; Dante and Darius Stills are both listed as second-teamers on the D-line; and Charlie Benton is penciled in as the No. 1 SAM linebacker.

• No starter has been decided at running back between Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway, Alec Sinkfield and Leddie Brown.

• If you’re curious who Holgorsen said he’s most anxious to see play Saturday, his answer was his Heisman candidate quarterback.

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