- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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West Virginia's Tavon Austin is leading the Big East in receptions (21) and receiving yards (281). He's among the leaders nationally in those categories, too.
All of which is not bad for a running back.
Sure, Austin is technically a wide receiver this season. That's where he lines up most of the time, and that's where he's listed on the lineup card. But in his mind?
"Oh, I still am a running back," he says.
That's the position he played in high school, where he set Maryland state record for rushing yards and touchdowns. It's the position for which his 5-foot-9, 173-pound frame seems best suited.
But the Mountaineers have Noel Devine at running back. So that means Austin had to find other ways to get on the field. As a true freshman last year, he played in the slot and at kick returner. This year, he moved out wide.
Some questioned whether a guy his size could succeed as a wideout. But the results have spoken for themselves. Austin had nine catches for 85 yards in the Marshall game, then added seven catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns in last week's win over Maryland.
Austin, who says he "never played receiver a day in my life" before last season, is still learning routes and the finer points of the position. Head coach Bill Stewart said Austin and fellow new starting receiver Stedman Bailey did a bad job of blocking in the second half against Maryland.
"I don't really got the blocking down yet," Austin said. "A lot of times, Noel will get the ball, and I'll catch myself looking at Noel and not blocking for him. I try to wait to see if he comes to my side."
But what he may lack in technique, Austin makes up for in speed. West Virginia has found a lot of success in throwing short passes to him and letting him make something happen in the open field. He can turn a three-yard catch into a 20-yard gain.
"He's a playmaker, man," Devine says, smiling when Austin's name is brought up. "He's something special. He reminds me a lot of myself from my high school days."
And once Devine moves on to the NFL, Austin will be ready to assume his job at tailback. Stewart was asked this week if Austin might stay at receiver given the job he's done there so far.
"I can tell you that's not going to happen," Stewart said, laughing. "Unless we get Superman to come in here."
Stewart then backed off that a bit, saying Austin would get looks at running back and slot receiver next year. Whatever happens, the Mountaineers are just glad to have him on the field.
"When you've got a guy as quick as he is with his versatility, we need to get the ball in his hands," Stewart said.