MORGANTOWN — If this were a cable news network it would carry that “breaking news” banner, even if the only thing “breaking” about it is how it breaks your concentration.
It seems that West Virginia has decided to replace Kenny Robinson at safety with Josh Norwood.
Robinson wound up in the NCAA’s transfer portal after being removed from the Mountaineers’ football team for violating the school’s code of conduct, leaving Morgantown like starting receiver Marcus Simms and starting safety Derrek Pitts, who wound up at Marshall.
These exits, of course, were severe blows to a team that isn’t deep in talent or experience and is adjusting to a new coaching staff which has new coaching schemes and new coaching values.
Robinson has been a dynamic, game-changing player for two years and seemed to be on course for an NFL career. What his next step is, no one knows, but he was at the XFL tryout camp in Washington, D.C., which probably signifies he is giving up his two years of remaining collegiate eligibility to pursue a professional career.
Simms, the dynamic deep threat for the Mountaineers, has entered the NFL supplemental draft, which means his college career has also ended.
Perhaps more worrying than losing that talent, or than having to take Norwood, an Ohio State transfer who came on strong last year at cornerback after moving from safety, is what the defections of veteran players and team leaders does to the inner workings of a team.
In today’s game, where players seem to transfer schools more often than transfer classes, not unlike free agency in professional sports, adjusting the team dynamic has become a part of the reality that must be dealt with. So, how does a team like WVU view the comings and goings of friends and teammates, people who had your back at one time and seemingly were sticking a knife in it the next?
Josh Chandler is young but dynamic, a player who the coaches will expect to fill the void left by the departure of David Long Jr., who was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Although Chandler is only 19, he seems to understand the inner workings of a team’s chemistry and doesn’t panic over Robinson or Pitts departure from the defense.
“It’s never a personal thing,” Chandler said. ‘We have our own personal relationships. We communicate, they made decisions for their own life.”
To Chandler, there are football teammates and personal friendships. However, those relationships are not the same.
“It’s separated already, before you leave the locker room,” Chandler said. “You have your football life and you have locker room life. Everybody is cool outside of here. Just because you leave you are not a different person. You just made a different decision.”
Defensive end Reese Donahue is one of the more level-headed and thoughtful players you will find on any team.
“We understand how it is, especially with the dramatic [coaching] change. It’s just kind of how college football is now,” Donahue said. “It’s hard to see those guys go, but ultimately we still have 120 guys on the team.
“It’s hard to say one or two guys make the team.”
In a way it’s a community of its own, not really family, and as such each person has his own forces working on his decision. It’s hard to say one or two guys make the team.
“You can’t make someone stay,” Donahue said. “If their heart is not in it, you’re better off finding someone with less talent and letting them play 100 percent.”
The veteran offensive guard Josh Sills sees it much the same way.
“It’s rough, especially when guys like that leave. But, at the end of the day, they are recruiting someone out of high school to take my position. Same thing with those guys,” Sills said. “I look at it as a job. They are always looking for someone to take your position.”
The question is, though, should a college football player look at playing their sport as a job? If he does, should schools do away with the pom-poms and the cheerleaders and playing the alma mater?
“Yes ... and no,” Sills said. “At the end of the day, if you didn’t love it, you wouldn’t be here.”
And loving the sport is important. Love it or not, transfers are the way things are right now.
“I know it’s just part of the game, especially in this new college football world,” linebacker JoVanni Stewart said. “Teams are going to have coaching changes. Players are going to leave.
“To me, it helps build the team ... adversity, turmoil build the team spirit for those who are there.”
Despite the recent exits, three more players enrolled at West Virginia on Thursday: defensive end Reuben Jones, safety Noah Guzman and cornerback Tacorey Turner. All three are eligible to play this year.
Jones is a postgraduate transfer from the University of Michigan with one season of eligibility remaining, while Guzman is a junior college transfer from California who has four years left to play three seasons. Turner, on the other hand, is a true freshman who didn’t sign on the December and February signing dates.