WVU Football Position Preview: Donaldson and White to carry the load again in 2024

MORGANTOWN — Two years, two surprise breakout freshmen running backs. It’s been quite the run for West Virginia and running backs coach Chad Scott on the recruiting trail recently.

In 2022, it was the big, powerful converted tight end CJ Donaldson who burst onto the scene with 125 rushing yards in his first career game against Pitt.

Last season, it was the small speedster Jahiem White who exploded in the second half of the season and ran for 657 yards in the final six games.

Their stories are similar, both were overlooked as high school recruits, but their running styles couldn’t be more different as Donaldson grounds and pounds while White simply runs past people.

Donaldson, now a junior, was slowed a bit by injuries and inconsistency in the follow-up to his breakout freshman campaign but still finished with 798 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2023. There was a stretch of four games during the year when Donaldson didn’t break 70 rushing yards in a game, which eventually led to him getting bumped from the starting lineup, but he responded with 302 yards and four touchdowns over the next three games.

“It was part confidence,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said at the time. “What was happening when he went through that stretch was he was really pressing. People were playing him differently and he was leaving a lot of yards out there. He just went back to the basic things of setting up his runs, not being impatient, using his blockers and lowering his pads on contact.”

Donaldson had an operation on his shoulder prior to the team’s bowl game in December and missed all of spring practice, but he is expected to be fully healthy for the start of the 2024 season.

When Donaldson missed time at the end of the year, White more than picked up the slack, rushing for 387 yards with 113 receiving yards and six total touchdowns over the final three games of the year.

“Me coming in and playing how I played last year wasn’t really a surprise,” said White, who finished with 842 rushing yards. “It was just a matter of time and when I got on the field, I showed my talent.”

Third on the Mountaineers’ depth chart will be redshirt junior Jaylen Anderson, who returns for a fourth season with WVU. Anderson struggled at the start of 2023, eventually landing squarely in the doghouse. He didn’t carry the ball once from Oct. 12 until the bowl game on Dec. 27.

“The best thing about Jaylen was his self-awareness,” Scott said. “He’s very self-aware of the way he played, the way he practiced and the way he prepared. He understood that, to this day, he hadn’t put his best foot forward from a consistency standpoint.”

Anderson finished with 147 yards last season, down from 275 from 2022, on nine fewer carries. It came as a bit of a surprise when he returned to WVU instead of putting his name in the transfer portal.

“He wanted to hang around because he understood that he hadn’t put his best foot forward,” Scott explained. “His best ball is ahead of him.”

Finishing out WVU’s running back room are three true freshmen and a redshirt freshman.

Diore Hubbard (Gahanna, Ohio) and Trae’von Dunbar (Aiken, S.C.) are both members of the 2024 signing class while Clay Ash (Leesburg, Va.) enrolled early as a walk-on this spring. 

Rounding out the room is redshirt freshman Judah Price, who walked onto the team last offseason. Price, from Sophia, W.Va., won the 2022 Kennedy Award as the best high school football player in the state playing at Independence High School.

Projected Depth Chart

Running Back
CJ Donaldson, Jr
Jahiem White, So
Jaylen Anderson, R-Jr
Clay Ash, Fr
Diore Hubbard, Fr
Trae’von Dunbar, Fr
Judah Price, R-Fr