Ka’Raun White spent three productive years as West Virginia’s quietest, most unassuming wide receiver. His replacement is anything but.
T.J. Simmons is the only new face in West Virginia’s starting wide receiver group in 2018. He’s never played a snap for the Mountaineers, and he’s already wide receivers coach Tyron Carrier’s top trash-talker.
But while Simmons might be a bit brash, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has praised what he brings to the positional group.
“He brings a lot of energy, he’s made some plays too,” Holgorsen told the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Michael Carvelli in March. “He looks like a pro and he acts like one too. I hope he plays like that, that’d be nice as well.”
Simmons transferred to West Virginia last year, after earning playing time as a freshman at Alabama in 2016. West Virginia has loaded up on transfers from major programs in recent years, and Simmons could be one that pays off the most.
A former 3-star recruit from Pinson, Ala., Simmons’ year at Alabama exposed him to the way an elite program operates, and what it expects out of his players. So far, he’s brought that commitment to excellence to the Mountaineers — and more.
T.J. Simmons could fill some big shoes
Simmons joins one of the most talented and experienced wide receiver groups in the country. David Sills V set the world on fire with a nation-high 18 touchdown catches in 2017. Gary Jennings led the Big 12 in receptions (97) and also topped 1,000 yards. Marcus Simms established himself as a dangerous big-play threat, averaging 18.9 yards per catch, fifth in the Big 12.
This is the company that Simmons finds himself in this season. He’ll be eligible in 2018, and he’s already penciled in as West Virginia’s starting “Z” receiver. That means he’s replacing White, another 1,000-yard receiver in 2018.
White was one of Will Grier’s steadiest, most reliable targets in 2018. With three established playmakers already in the fold, Simmons won’t have a ton of pressure to produce right away. But this spring has been important for him to develop his comfort level in the offense.
According to Jennings:
“T.J. has caught on really quickly and he’s doing a lot of really good things. The important thing with him, and with all of us really, is having this spring to keep building chemistry [with Grier]. We know what we need to do to be successful, so it’s a good place to start from. Now we’re just building from there.”
At 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, he’s just a little bit bigger than White was, and could possess more raw playmaking ability. And with Sills and Jennings set to graduate after this season, Simmons could slide into the featured role in 2019.
But for now, he’s set to be a key cog in a West Virginia receiving corps that is loaded with depth and talent.