MORGANTOWN — Before he’d even played a single down in a college football game, West Virginia’s Elijah Wellman was already drawing comparisons to Owen Schmitt, the legendary fullback of the Mountaineers who went on to a brief NFL career.
At 6-foot-1, 238 pounds, Wellman, an in-state product from Spring Valley High School, has a similar build and, according to coach Dana Holgorsen, a similar skill set and toughness.
Now that the redshirt freshman is seeing playing time, creating his own legacy may simply be a matter of time.
“I told him all he has to do is score a touchdown and he can build a bar,” quarterback Clint Trickett said, referring to Schmitt’s Saloon, a music venue and restaurant in Morgantown.
Wellman finished with one catch for 10 yards as the Mountaineers fell, 33-23, to Alabama in the season opener at the Georgia Dome last Saturday. But he’ll likely remember the game more for a play he and Trickett couldn’t complete.
On a first down from the Alabama 5 at the start of the fourth quarter, Trickett missed a wide open Wellman for what should have been a sure touchdown. Trickett faked a handoff to Rushel Shell, and, running right on a naked bootleg, threw low and wide, giving Wellman little chance to make the play. WVU trailed, 30-20, at the time and settled for a field goal.
“It wasn’t a great ball, but in a situation like that, I got my hands on it so I should have caught it,” Wellman said.
Trickett saw it differently.
“I throw a semi-decent ball, he catches it. That’s no reflection on him,” Trickett said.
As far as Schmitt comparisons go, Wellman is flattered but realizes he has a long way to go to match his predecessor.
“Players look up to him,” he said. “He was a hard-nosed player and everybody loved him here.”
• ON SECOND THOUGHT: WVU’s Jordan Thompson managed to turn an amazing play on a punt return into what most casual observers would classify as a mistake.
In the second quarter, Alabama’s J.K. Scott boomed a 62-yard punt that sent Thompson drifting back from his spot on the 30-yard line. He made a lunging, over-the-shoulder catch at about the 11 but his momentum took him back several more yards. In a second, the Tide’s Landon Collins brought Thompson down at the 6, leaving WVU with a long field.
“Obviously, I lost track of where I was on the field. I thought I had more time to return it,” Thompson said. “I thought he out-kicked his coverage.”
It was the first collegiate punt for Scott, a true freshman. Thompson said the Mountaineers watched Scott during warmups and his range seemed to be about 45 yards.
Had Thompson let the ball bounce, it might have caromed into the end zone, leading to a touchback and giving WVU more breathing room at the 20.
After watching the play on film, Thompson doesn’t think the ball would have made it to the end zone and instead may have been downed inside the 5.
“Watching film, I did the right thing. I should have caught the ball,” Thompson said.
• REWARDING LOSS: WVU received seven points in the Associated Press top 25 poll, despite the season-opening loss.