WVU's Austin looks to thrive vs. home-state Terps
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tavon Austin doesn't want to disappoint his grandmother.
The state of Maryland's career prep rushing leader chose to play college ball at West Virginia, even if it meant temporarily switching positions, rather than accept a scholarship offer at Maryland.
The diverse sophomore will have fans rooting for him from both states on Saturday when No. 21 West Virginia (2-0) and the Terrapins (2-0) renew their longtime rivalry in Morgantown after a two-year break.
Austin will be going all out. If nothing else, because his grandmother, Louann Green, had a message for him.
"My grandmother told me, 'I don't care what game you play, do not lose against Maryland," Austin said. "So hopefully I won't lose against Maryland."
Austin has become emerging star for the Mountaineers after switching to wide receiver in the spring and earning a starting role in fall camp. The position change came after Noel Devine announced he would return for his senior season at running back.
In two games, Austin has nearly matched his reception total for all of last year.
"He has been a real mainstay," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. "He's a guy that loves to come and play. He's a team guy. He's a guy that could be playing running back in many, many offenses."
Against his home-state Terrapins, Austin will be looking to add to his team-leading 14 catches for 175 yards.
"I know they're going to be coming for me," Austin said. "I'm just going to go out there and play my hardest."
The scholarship offers started in Austin's sophomore year at Baltimore's Dunbar High, where he eventually set state records for career rushing yards, total offense, touchdowns and points and won three state championships.
"Tavon is like a local legend, like a folklore guy in Baltimore," said Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin. "All the way from Little League coming up, everyone knew who Tavon Austin was."
Franklin put a high priority on landing the 5-foot-9 Austin and compared his small build and ability to take over a high school game to that of former Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick.
Austin's cousin, Aaron Thompson, played linebacker for the Terrapins a decade ago. Both Franklin and Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen attended Austin's games and Franklin visited the family's home.
"They put a lot of pressure on me going to Maryland," Austin said. "I really like coach Franklin. But at the same time, I fell in love with West Virginia."
And Mountaineer fans became infatuated with him.
Austin is one of West Virginia's fastest players and has a 36-inch vertical leap, the second-highest on the team. He saw action in all 13 games as a freshman in a variety of roles.
His first college touchdown was a 58-yard reception in the second game against East Carolina. His second score came was a 98-yard kickoff return against Connecticut. And he showed his strength on his third TD, bowling over Louisville's Daniel Covington on a 9-yard reverse.
"I was very impressed -- as I am right now -- with how physical a player he was for his size," Friedgen said. "He has tremendous quickness and change of direction, but he's also a very physical player."
Austin's resume may grow even further this week. Stewart said he could see more work as a punt returner after Brandon Hogan was suspended indefinitely following a drunken driving arrest.
Whatever success Austin finds at wide receiver, Stewart doesn't plan to keep him there. Next season Austin is expected to take over Devine's starting job -- and get another chance to fulfill his grandmother's wish.
"His mom and grandmom are probably the two biggest influences in his life," Franklin said. "I know I'll look forward to seeing Tavon before and after the game. I hope he has an unbelievable career and is extremely successful. I just hope it's not against Maryland."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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