Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big East [Print without images]

Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Where can Tavon Austin get better?

By Andrea Adelson

There is no other way to say it -- West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin was terrific in 2011.

His speed allowed him to make huge plays not only at receiver, but at running back and in special teams as well. There is a reason he led the nation in all-purpose yards with 198 a game, and did most of his damage after contact.

Nobody could bring him down. Clemson is still trying to figure out where he went.

So how can Austin get better for the Mountaineers in 2012, especially now that they are joining a new conference? His cousin has a unique perspective to that question. Shawn Waller, a high school football coach in the Baltimore area, began coaching Austin when he was 9. Believe it or not, Austin has been doing offseason workouts since that young age in a quest to make himself better than everyone else.

West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Tavon Austin
West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin set a new Orange Bowl record with 280 all-purpose yards against Clemson.
Part of it was his small size. He needed to do something to make up for being the little guy who was consistently overlooked. But much of it was his competitive drive, the yearning to be better than everybody else.

"A lot of people say he has the God-given ability, not knowing the hours he put in as a boy, every winter, every summer trying to get better," Waller said in a phone interview. "He worked all year on football. That he is reaping the benefits now is a testament to him, his hard work and his dedication."

Waller helped Austin go through agility drills, conditioning and strength exercises. He did push ups and sit ups, ran up a lot of hills, up a lot of steps. By the time Austin got to high school, he was showing his teammates the proper way to use agility ladders because he was a pro at it.

Nine years old might sound a bit young for somebody to be working year 'round. Waller insists it was Austin who wanted to do it all. He just wanted to help his younger cousin get there the right way.

"He always wanted to be the best, and he always worked it," said Waller. "If he wanted it, I was meeting him halfway there. That's what drew me to coming back year after year because he was willing to do it. He wanted to do the work, so I was going to be the person there to help him."

Austin credits his cousin for helping him not only develop as a player, but also giving him tough skin. Waller, like West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, does not sugarcoat. Waller always has been honest with Austin, and that came through during his toughest time in Morgantown.

Austin was recruited to play running back, and was told he would have an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Noel Devine. But the coaches decided he would be better served to play receiver. Austin was understandably bummed, but a phone conversation with Waller helped him realize this move would be for the best.

So he took to his new position the way he took to everything else -- he worked harder than everybody; he studied other receivers; he absorbed as much information as he could from those around him. Playing receiver means less wear and tear on his body, and more opportunities for huge game-breaking plays.

"I really have to thank my cousin," Austin said. "He always told me to keep my mind-set right. I never saw myself as a receiver because of how I played, but I came out and did well at it and I'm thankful it worked out my way."

So back to the original question -- where can Austin get better? When you consider he only has been playing receiver for a few years, there is plenty of room for growth when it comes to film study and his understanding of the game.

"I told him, his talent is there, now I would like to see the overall understanding of the game, studying the game and his craft, understanding what the defense is trying to do to him so he's always a step ahead," Waller said. "That will take him to another level. Once you get to a certain level, everybody is good.

"Once he understands the game, how to beat the coverages, what coverages look like, understanding what the quarterback is seeing so they're on the same page, just learning the game."

Austin had several games in which he had some big drops, something he knows he has to work on for 2012.

"I had eight dropped balls," Austin said. "That is definitely motivating me moving forward."

So is retaining his spot as the top all-purpose man in the country.