7 PM. Tonight. AMC theaters, in front of an IMAX screen. Me, one of my best friends and the new Amy Schumer movie.
Sorry, got off the rails at there at the end.
No, I’ll be seeing Avengers: Infinity War. Between the number of key cast members introduced over the last ten years and the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into its budget, it is quite arguably the biggest movie ever produced. I dare say I’ve ever been more excited to sit in front of a movie screen in my life (#TheDarkKnightforlife).
That said, we live in a much more grounded, less fantastical universe where our heroes are mere mortals, doing every day good in the name of something bigger than themselves.
Athletes, as has long been known, have been likened to fictional legends of page and screen due to their exploits on the field. While no one on the West Virginia football roster can grow 12 feet tall and turn green or traverse through multi-verses, there are several players in Morgantown who are expected to perform heroically, even epically, this season. Which Mountaineer compares favorably to one of the legends of the Marvel universe, you ask? Let’s find out.
Will Grier: Iron Man
Though Grier may not have been here at the beginning of the Air Raid era, the way Tony Stark began the Marvel cinematic universe, the senior signal-caller is the unquestioned leader of this team and, like the genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist, he’s got a wealth of weapons at his disposal and he knows how to use them in any given situation.
Grier’s genius lies in his intimate knowledge of the Mountaineer offense. Had it not been for a finger injury in the first quarter of last year’s contest against Texas, Grier could have very likely lead WVU to a nine win finish and totaled over 4,000 passing yards. With another year in Jake Spavital’s system and a clean bill of health, Grier is primed to lay a scorched path in the big 12 this coming season. Similarly, Iron Man’s genius-level intellect, ability to predict his enemy’s moves and the vast arsenal that he commands makes him nigh impossible to game-plan against. Tony Stark may be a bit cavalier at times and, as a risk-taker, has certainly drawn ire from some of his peers. Grier’s been a bit fast and loose at times, as well (see: Oklahoma State), and is certainly not unassailable by any means, but his talent and his command under center are undeniable.
Much like the Avengers will likely be depending on Iron Man’s gift of strategy to fend off Thanos, West Virginia will be relying on Will Grier to diagnose coverages, make reads in the face of constant defensive pressure and make throws through windows that few quarterbacks in the country would dare attempt. He may not have energy projectors, hypersonic boosters or an onboard supercomputer, but Grier does have David Sills, Gary Jennings, a solid offensive line and one of the best arms in the game.
David Sills: Captain America
For David Sills, it took a dramatic and unexpected return back to the place he started to really find his place in the college football universe. Similarly, Steve Rogers was discovered in a cryogenic state and brought back to life in order to help save a world that never expected to see him again. To say that both Captain America and senior receiver David Sills have made a considerable impact within their respective universes would be a massive understatement.
By now, you know David Sills’ story, there’s no need to repeat it. His rise as a wide receiver last season was meteoric, good enough to earn him a spot as a Biletnikoff finalist. Like his Marvel counterpart, he simply goes out and succeeds, no matter what the obstacle. Alongside Iron Man, Captain America co-commands the Avengers as he’s a master tactician and, while his approach is a little different from his teammate, their endgame is exactly the same. As a mirror, Sills is a veteran who seems to command a great deal of respect from his teammate and, while he and Will Grier line up in different places on the field, their synchronicity greatly benefits the Mountaineers on a week in/week out basis.
It took a great show of humility and faith in something bigger for David Sills to relinquish his dream of playing quarterback and focus solely on play at receiver. If nothing else, it’s proof positive that sometimes our greatest triumphs come in moments of blinding uncertainty. Just as Captain America has, across a multitude of story lines, thwarted what seemed to be certain doom, David Sills seems to possess that rare ability to inspire his teammates to drag themselves over the finish line. Like a vibranium shield, David Sills carries that flying WV with swelling, fierce pride.
Yodny Cajuste: The Hulk
For Cajuste, the game is simple: protect his quarterback’s blindside and road grade when run is called. Of course, the ability to be agile, quick and brandish dexterity is all the more important when you’re 6’5” and carrying close to 320 pounds. He’s the big gun. The battering ram. The last guy on the field you want to see barreling down on you while you’re trying to pursue one of his skill players. In the Marvel universe, these honors go to the green goliath, the incredible Hulk. As an alter-ego of Dr. Bruce Banner, the Hulk is nuclear-powered turbine of strength, rage and purpose. The Hulk can be slowed down, temporarily subdued and even caught off guard on occasion, but stopped? Never.
Cajuste has proven himself to be a lynchpin in West Virginia’s offense. As is the case across the country, at every level of the game, the left tackle has no quantifiable value because without one, there would be no offense. They are, then, invaluable. In 2017, Cajuste only allowed merely one quarterback hit to go along with not giving up a single sack. That’s exceptional in any light. Like Cajuste, the Hulk acts as a moving brick wall for his Avengers teammates, tasked with taking on the biggest, fiercest challenges they come upon.
It’s a tall, tall order for Cajuste in 2018. Not only is he expected to anchor the left side of West Virginia’s line, but he’s also expected to keep Will Grier’s jersey as dry as it was last season, regardless of the enlarged target that’s now painted on Grier’s back. Like his giant green counterpart, the Florida native doesn’t get any breaks. Yes, it helps that stalwarts like Matt Jones, Colton McKivitz and Isaiah Hardy flanking you in the trenches, but Yodny Cajuste is billed to be a primetime player. Cosmically strong, endlessly counted on.
David Long: Black Panther
Earlier this year, Marvel’s Black Panther was not only a critical and commercial hit, but it was something of a zeitgeist. As a film, it marked a massively progressive shift on behalf of Marvel and was widely embraced as a comic book that was singular in its vision and its message. Not unlike the king of Wakanda, David Long rules his own small nation on the defensive side of the ball for the Mountaineers. Long may not be the biggest defender in the middle of the field, nor does he have the lengthy resume like some of his peers, but where he isn’t prolific, he is flat-out talented.
Despite missing the first four games in 2017, Long was able to compile a staggering 75 total tackles by season’s end. In 2018, Tony Gibson has already announced his intention to move the Ohio native from Mike to Will, granting him more room to roam and make more plays on different levels on the field. T’Challa, an elite warrior, has a particular knack for stalking and eliminating his enemies via unforeseen vantages and, like Long’s rise to infamy in the Big 12, Black Panther has made himself a staple in the Marvel universe in a relatively short amount of time.
It will be interesting to see if Long’s durability, which has been an issue more than once during his tenure in Morgantown, can hold up for the entirety of the 2018 season. In a dream scenario, West Virginia’s equipment managers could thread vibranium through the Mountaineer’s uniforms and make them virtually indestructible. For those of us in the real world though, we can only hope that Long and the rest of our defenders, who are already battling back the injury bug, can remain on their feet and in good condition. If that is the case, and Long is playing at full potential, he’s an absolute predator that few offenses can hold at bay. Long live the king.
Kenny Robinson: Spider-Man
Wildcards are always fun. Even in a cinematic universe replete with demi-gods, sorcerers and tech wizards, it’s always fun to introduce a young, unknown player into the fold and watch him take full advantage of his opportunity. In Captain America: Civil War, Tony Stark knew that he needed to level the playing field in order to stand against his fellow Avengers, so he went against the playbook and recruited a teen from Queens with a particular set of skills. You know him as Spider-Man. Not unlike Marvel’s web-slinger, Kenny Robinson was a little-recruited prospect out of Pennsylvania that Tony Gibson and co. saw something special in. Fast forward a year later, and Kenny Robinson has already exceeded expectations in the secondary.
The now Sophomore is no longer a relative unknown. After a freshman campaign that saw him tally 46 tackles and three interceptions, there’s more than a little buzz around what Robinson is capable of in his second year in the program. At 6’2”, Robinson boasts not only coveted length at the free safety position, but exceptional athleticism that makes him a nightmare matchup for offensive game-planners. Peter Parker, in comparison, is capable of some inhuman feats of strength and agility. Going into Infinity War, Spider-Man has yet to be minted as an official member of the Avengers but he’s unquestionably the next in line.
Are All-America honors on the horizon for Robinson? Will Spider-Man emerge as the revelatory hero in the fight against Thanos? We can only sit back and wait with bated breath, I suppose. I do know that Robinson will need to pull off some heroics at some point in 2018 to help support a significantly thinned-out defensive line and help mitigate the losses of stalwarts Kyzir White and Al-Rasheed Benton. Spider-Man is beloved as a character because he isn’t a blue blood and aspires to accomplish great things despite humble beginnings. Robinson might have been looked past by the vast majority of programs across the country, but once he was given his chance to shine, he did just that, bright as any infinity stone ever could.