MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Clint Trickett is about as West Virginian as they come.
He was born in the state. His dad coached at the state school.
And this season, West Virginia’s starting quarterback is dead-set on steering the program back on track after a pair of disappointing seasons in the Big 12.
“It’s my livelihood,” Trickett said. “The only thing I’m focused on.”
Whether the Mountaineers can improve upon a 6-12 conference record in their two seasons in the Big 12 will hinge heavily on how Trickett performs in his senior season.
After transferring from Florida State, Trickett had his moments last fall, namely when he quarterbacked the Mountaineers to a 30-21 upset victory in September over Oklahoma State in his first career West Virginia start. But he won only one other game as a starter, he threw as many interceptions as he did touchdowns, and he got injured on three different occasions. Trickett twice suffered concussions and also injured his shoulder, which eventually required offseason surgery.
But this fall, Trickett is feeling healthier than he did at any point last season post-Oklahoma State, when he first injured the shoulder. And after a year in the system, Trickett is feeling comfortable operating coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense.
“Compared to last year, I’m light years ahead,” said Trickett, who didn’t arrive at West Virginia in 2013 until just before the season. “Last year, I was slowly grasping what I needed to do. But I had no idea why I needed to do it. This year, I’m understanding the why, and that has made a big difference with my confidence.”
Holgorsen in turn has shown confidence in Trickett.
Last season, Holgorsen first tabbed Paul Millard to be his starting quarterback. After the offense was ineffective through two games, Holgorsen turned to freshman Ford Childress. Only after Childress suffered a pectoral injury did Holgorsen finally give Trickett a shot.
This year, all Holgorsen was waiting for was Trickett’s clean bill of health. During the spring, while Trickett sat out after recovering from shoulder surgery, Millard, junior-college transfer Skyler Howard and walk-on Logan Moore competed for the job. But coming out of the spring, Trickett remained atop the depth chart. And short after that, Holgorsen affirmed that Trickett would be his starter.
“When he joined the team in August last year, although he’s got a good knowledge of the game of football, he had no idea what we were talking about,” Holgorsen said. “He didn’t understand what we were trying to do. It just takes time. When you’ve been in one offense for three years, it takes time to adjust your mindset into what were trying to do. So he didn’t feel comfortable running the offense until about [the Oklahoma State game]. But he was our best option. He was our best option Game 5, and he was our best option Game 12.
“I had to see how he responded to shoulder surgery. Once I saw him attack rehab, and do a good job with that and stay engaged in spring practice, and come back and look as healthy as I’ve seen him, it was a no brainier to name him the starter."
As the new kid on an old block, Trickett said he felt he had to prove himself to his teammates once he got the nod against Oklahoma State. He took hits instead of sliding. He took hits standing in the pocket. And those shots plagued him all season.
This preseason, Trickett no longer has to prove his toughness. And that, he said, should help keep him on the field this time around.
“When I first got here, they didn’t know who I was -- I was basically a stranger,” Trickett said. “It’s hard to be like, ‘Hey guys, everyone follow me,’ when you’re not in there with the first team.
“But the guys saw what I’m about. That I’m a competitor. That I put the team before myself. That I can play hurt. I don’t need to take on linebackers [who] have 80 pounds on me anymore. If I need to get that one play, I’ll still try to get there. But I can also avoid the hits that I don’t need to take.”
Trickett staying healthy could be critical for the Mountaineers, who will be entering a crossroads season in Year 3 in the Big 12.
Holgorsen has continued to recruit well off the field. And the Mountaineers appear to have more depth and more capable players than they have their previous two seasons in the Big 12. But West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck has gone on record saying he wants to see the program be more competitive this season. In 2013, the Mountaineers got blown out by Maryland and Baylor and lost to Kansas, which hadn’t won a conference game in 27 tries.
West Virginia, however, was also close at times to getting over the hump in 2013. The Mountaineers played Oklahoma tough on the road and had Texas on the ropes before falling in overtime. They also had second-half leads on Texas Tech, Kansas State and Iowa State before falling late.
“We really were so close to being a nine-win team,” Trickett said. “A lot of teams say that, but we really were. It’s almost a confidence builder. A lot of people are down us. But we know we can turn it around. The pieces are in place.”
One of those pieces is a West Virginian quarterback, who doesn’t have to be told what a turnaround season would mean for his home state.
“We’re the pro team here, the only thing going on,” he said. “Everyone wants us to succeed.
“But we gotta do it.”