WVU Football Position Preview: Mountaineers believe in the upside of their young linebackers

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia very nearly lost the war of attrition at inside linebacker last season. It got to the point near the end of the year where senior Lee Kpogba and freshman Ben Cutter had to play almost every snap of every game because the Mountaineers simply didn’t have anyone else to put out there.

Linebacker wasn’t supposed to be that thin for the Mountaineers heading into 2023, but season-ending injuries to preseason starter Josiah Trotter and then his replacement Trey Lathan forced Cutter into action and put a strain on the room.

With Trotter, Lathan and Cutter all back, WVU inside linebackers coach Jeff Koonz believes the team is better insulated against such depth issues for 2024.

“For the first time since I’ve been here, we’ve got the most competition and the most plays returning from one year to the next,” Koonz said in the spring.

In addition to Trotter, Lathan and Cutter, Koonz also believes the team has ready-to-go players in Ohio State transfer Reid Carrico and redshirt juniors Jairo Faverus and Caden Biser.

Trotter is the real wild card in terms of how good WVU’s linebacking group can be this season. Trotter was in line to start as a true freshman last spring but missed the entire year with a lower leg injury. He’s now healthy and ready to go as a redshirt freshman.

“He’s a physically imposing guy, he’s a bigger body guy than we’ve had,” Koonz said of the 6-2, 238-pound Trotter. “He also has good instincts, he’s played a lot of football (in high school). He has so much experience of finding the ball and playing inside linebacker.”

When Trotter went down last year, Lathan was the first to step in as his replacement. The redshirt sophomore started the first five games of the year before suffering his own season-ending leg injury at TCU.

Lathan was just settling into his role as a starter at the time of his injury, having posted back-to-back eight-tackle performances the previous two weeks. 

“I’ve been telling myself where I was at last year, it’s going to be a lot better this year,” Lathan said. “I felt I was getting better each and every week. A lot of things were starting to become clear once I started playing more and getting more snaps.”

Lathan’s injury pushed Cutter, another true freshman, into a starting role. He started seven games, playing over 550 snaps and finished fourth on the team with 56 total tackles.

“Playing that many snaps, you’re going to find out a lot about yourself and your game,” Cutter said. “I’m glad that happened because I got a step forward on what I need to fix. I made a lot of mistakes but I also did a lot of good things and the mistakes are the things I’ve been trying to focus on.”

With Trotter, Lathan and Cutter all just in their second or third years in college, WVU brought in Carrico from Ohio State to provide a veteran presence in the room. 

“He’s done a phenomenal job of adjusting to our culture here at West Virginia,” Koonz said. “Reid wanted to be here, he was definitely a welcome addition to the room, but he fit who we are as a culture and as a program.”

Carrico played in 19 games over three seasons with the Buckeyes, mainly on special teams.

Behind those four are Faverus, who plays mainly in sub-packages, and Biser, who started the bowl game for WVU last season. Koonz believes both are capable of stepping into play when needed in 2024.

Rounding out the depth chart are redshirt sophomores Tyler Cain and Donald Brandel, a Univery High graduate, and true freshmen Rickey Williams and Curtis Jones, from Cabell Midland.

Projected Depth Chart

Middle Linebacker
Trey Lathan, R-So
Josiah Trotter, R-Fr
Ben Cutter, So
Reid Carrico, R-Jr (Ohio State)
Jairo Faverus, R-Jr
Caden Biser, R-Jr
Curtis Jones Jr., Fr
Donald Brandel, R-So
Rickey Williams, Fr
Tyler Cain, R-So