Walk-Ons Who Could Surprise For WVU in 2020
Through the years, West Virginia football has seen countless walk-ons become successful contributors by the end of their careers. With Neal Brown putting emphasis on a strong walk-on program under his leadership, there are several non-scholarship players with a good chance to contribute in 2020.
Jackson Knipper (R-Jr., Beavercreek, OH)-Starting Fullback
A late addition to the roster in 2019, Knipper transferred in from Western Michigan and, as a non-scholarship player, was immediately eligible. He saw action in four games on special teams and as the backup fullback behind Logan Thimons.
With Thimons departing the team to focus on his academic studies, Knipper is the prohibitive favorite to take over the starting role. In Neal Brown’s offense that employs a wide variety of formations, the fullback’s role varies but it's always important to have a quality player at the position.
Kyle Poland (R-Sr., Morgantown, WV)-Starting Long Snapper
Replacing Rex Sunahara is a tall task but with four years of experience on the roster, Kyle Poland should be up to the task. As the primary backup the last two seasons, the Morgantown native has bided his time and will get a crack at the starting role in 2020.
Lining up at both long snapper and center for the Morgantown High Mohigans during his prep career, his abundance of experience at the position should allow WVU’s special teams to not miss a beat with the change.
Jake Abbott (R-So., Fairmont, WV)-Backup MIKE Linebacker
Abbott is the most recent recipient of the Tommy Nickolich Award as West Virginia’s most outstanding walk-on taking home that honor after 2019 spring practice. Playing quarterback and linebacker alongside the Stills brothers at Fairmont Senior High School, his full-time conversion to defense in college has produced great results.
A key special teams contributor in 2019, his role there will continue while the departure of Shea Campbell gives him the opportunity to move up the depth chart behind Dylan Tonkery. As quickly as Abbott has developed in the last years, he should be expected to take on even larger responsibilities in 2020.
Naim Muhammad (R-Fr., Bowie, MD)-Backup SPEAR Safety
A high school cornerback at DeMatha Catholic and Fork Union Military Academy, Muhammad moved to SPEAR at WVU following his very successful prep career. Keeping a redshirt in 2019, he played in two games, making a pair of special teams tackles in the process.
Adding depth in the secondary, Muhammad profiles similarly to senior safety Osman Kamara, another walk-on from a storied high school program who has made a mark on special teams, ultimately earning a scholarship. As a young player with potential to grow, the Mountaineers may have a gem here.
Keion Wakefield (R-Sr., Louisville, KY)-Backup Wide Receiver
An injury riddled four years at Louisville kept Wakefield off the field most of the time for his hometown Cardinals but he will look to revive his career as a walk-on in the gold and blue. A well-regarded high school prospect, a serious knee injury as a redshirt freshman led to him making just eight catches thus far.
West Virginia has shown to have success taking on transfer wide receivers and Wakefield may just be the next in line. With a chance to get healthy and compete for playing time, his level of production is unknown.
Graeson Malashevich (R-Fr., Huntington, WV)-Backup Punt Returner
It’s not a secret that West Virginia has struggled in the past with punt returns but Neal Brown’s emphasis on special teams could change that. Malashevich is certainly a candidate to do that after impressing during his redshirt season
Earning honors as Offensive Scout Team Player of the Week against Kansas, Malashevich seemed right at home in the Mountaineer receivers room and his punt returning prowess could get him on the field soon. As a high schooler at Spring Valley, the Huntington native took three punts to the house in his career and earned state Gatorade Player of the Year honors while being named First Team All-State as a utility player.
On-field versatility and a knack for the big play could make Malashevich a surprising contributor for the Mountaineers in 2020.