When it comes to the off-season in college football, no news is generally good news. Unfortunately for West Virginia, one of its key contributors from the 2013 season is now involved in legal trouble that puts his future with the team in doubt.
Wendell Smallwood was arrested by West Virginia University Police Monday and at last update Tuesday afternoon, was awaiting extradition to Delaware, where it is reported he will face charges of intimidating a witness in a 2012 murder case.
At the risk of sounding coarse, that is where I will leave off with discussing the potential charges and the case in general. People’s lives have been and will be affected in a big way as this case unfolds, and I am not exactly qualified to discuss the ins-and –outs of it at this time.
What I do know is how something like this can affect a team, especially one that has a lot to prove.
To say Smallwood’s future with the team is cloudy might be an understatement. This is a player who had everything to gain heading into the 2014 season.
Coming into this season, the running back position appeared to be the deepest one on the team. Smallwood had a lot to do with that.
After showcasing his big play ability and versatility out of the backfield, in the passing game and on special teams in 2013, Smallwood figured to see an increased role in his sophomore season.
In light of the situation that was made public for the first time Monday, it appears West Virginia may be forced to move on without Smallwood for some time.
Whether this situation is resolved before the season is irrelevant. It will certainly be a distraction for this team. When things like this happen, they usually affect a team in one of two ways: division or galvanization.
The key factor in deciding which will happen is going to be running backs coach JaJuan Seider. While Dana Holgorsen will certainly talk to his team and deal with any issues that arise from this, Seider will be working side-by-side with the rest of this team’s running backs all season.
From the way Seider and the running backs talk during interview sessions, there seems to be a real family atmosphere in West Virginia’s running back room.
Now more than ever, Seider is going to have to emphasize that to his players. There was already likely to be controversy in West Virginia’s crowded backfield this season. The controversy he has to deal with now is something much more complicated than splitting carries amongst a talented group of running backs, however.
Every team faces adversity in one form or another over the course of the season. West Virginia will have to overcome its own before fall camp even starts.
At the end of the day, and it bears repeating, this is about more than football. In fact, football is a footnote when there are lives being affected in such a way.