Tavon Austin To Be Like Steve Smith?

Jeff WoollardCorrespondent IIApril 17, 2010

Tavon Austin , Noel Devine’s heir apparent, has been moved to the outside "Z" receiver position for the 2010 Mountaineer football season. In a recent interview, Austin compared himself to Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith.

How could a sophomore running back at WVU compare himself to a potential NFL Hall Of Fame wide receiver? Surely, Austin had been hit too hard by Robert Sands in practice prior to making that comment.

Somehow, I was missing something; I decided to compare Austin and Smith myself.

Steve Smith stands 5’9” and weighs 185 lbs. Tavon Austin stands 5’9”, and weighs 173 lbs. The height for both players may represent an embellishment, Austin’s embellishment being the larger of the two.

Steve Smith was a running back at University Senior High School in Los Angeles, California. Tavon Austin was a running back at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland.

At this point, the hook is deeply planted. Maybe there was something to this comparison? I decided to look deeper.

Steve Smith is as fast as they come with a sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash time. Tavon Austin is a half step behind, with a 4.47-second 40-yard dash time.

It is worth mentioning that Austin’s last recorded 40-yard dash time (4.47 seconds) was posted when he was a senior in high school in 2008. I wonder if Austin has improved on that 40-yard time since enrolling at WVU. 

In college, at Utah, Smith was a decorated punt return specialist. Smith averaged 17.1 yards per return for a total of 495 yards during his senior season at Utah. Those numbers were the single-season best for Utah at the time.

Austin returns kick-offs for WVU. In 2009, Austin averaged 25 yards per return, for 426 total return yards.

As a receiver at Utah, Smith logged 43 receptions for 860 yards in his senior season. Eight of those 43 receptions were for touchdowns. Smith averaged 20-yards per reception in his senior campaign.

Austin caught 15 passes for 151-yards last season. His average per reception was a modest 10.1 yards. It should be factored in that Austin was a reserve slot receiver to Jock Sanders in 2009. As the number of plays Austin is involved in rises, so too should his statistics.

Austin scored one touchdown rushing, one touchdown receiving, and one touchdown on kick-off returns last season, 2009.

Keep in mind that Austin posted his accomplishments as a true freshman. Comparing a senior’s statistics to a freshman’s is tainted at best. With additional playing time, Austin will grow as a player.

Certainly, the additional time in the WVU weight and conditioning program will provide added benefits to his performance in 2010.

As it turns out Austin’s self-comparison to Smith is not as outrageous as I first thought.

Which is not to say that Tavon Austin is set to post the receiving numbers that Steve Smith does. But does validate the move to the outside receiver position.

The Mountaineer offense will be attacking defenses with Noel Devine as the tailback, Jock Sanders in the slot, and Tavon Austin at wide receiver. I have to wonder how many opposing defensive coordinators will lose sleep over those matchups in the coming season.

Audacious as it appears, Austin setting Steve Smith as a player to emulate is a sound benchmark for success, even considering that Austin’s future at WVU is not as a wide receiver.

The plan is for Austin to play receiver this season and to replace Noel Devine upon Devine’s graduation. Austin’s pedigree is at the running back position.

So, why would an All-State running back from Maryland switch to wide receiver? Austin feels he can do more to help his team win games as a receiver, as an alternative to standing on the sidelines waiting his turn behind Devine.

Bill Stewart has repeatedly tasked his players with becoming team leaders, regardless of class distinction. In sophomore Tavon Austin, Stewart has found one of those team leaders.