When Geno Smith and Tavon Austin departed West Virginia for the NFL after last season, they left their names in the school's record books and their legacies firmly planted in Morgantown, W.Va.
Filling their cleats isn't easy, but redshirt freshman quarterback Ford Childress and true freshman slot receiver Daikiel Shorts
are doing their best to create their own history with the Mountaineers, who play Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday.
"Geno left some huge shoes to fill," Childress said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "It's pretty tough to fill those. Obviously, I won't be able to do what he did last year, [but] hopefully through experience I can."
Childress, whose father, Ray, was a five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the Houston Oilers, started the season third on the Mountaineers depth chart. He quickly moved up as redshirt junior Clint Trickett, a transfer from Florida State, and junior Paul Millard struggled in West Virginia's first two games.
Making his first start last week at home against Georgia State, Childress completed 25 of 41 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns, breaking the freshman record for passing yards set by former West Virginia and Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien in 2000.
Coming off a 16-7 loss at Oklahoma on Sept. 7, the Mountaineers won, 41-17, to improve their record to 2-1.
"I thought [Childress] did good," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen told reporters earlier this week. "I thought his demeanor was good. He didn't get rattled."
But Holgorsen is not putting any pressure on Childress.
"He's got a long way to go. He hasn't played a lot of football," Holgorsen said about the 6-foot-5, 234-pound quarterback. "Played two years of high school football. This is his first game in college, so he's relatively raw at the quarterback position. The stage is obviously going to be bigger this weekend and in the games to come in the Big 12."
Childress knows that playing on the road will be different than at Mountaineer Field, but he expects to get plenty of support from West Virginia fans.
"I think our fans will travel really well over to Baltimore, so I think it will feel pretty home-like," Childress said.
Looking at those who have played quarterback for the Mountaineers through the years — from Smith to Pat White to Marc Bulger to Major Harris to Jeff Hostetler to Oliver Luck (now the school's athletic director) — Childress doesn't seem intimidated.
"I feel like I'm pretty ready to step up and be the man," Chidlress said. "I've worked hard over the past year and my time has come."
Shorts, who caught two touchdown passes in last week's victory, also feels confident about taking over for Austin, the school's all-time leader in receptions (288) and receiving yards (3,413).
Not that he and the other receivers believe they have to replicate what Austin and Stedman Bailey did in their years together.
"I don't thing we feel like we have to do what they did, but we have to do whatever we can to express our ability and get the job done to get the coaches' confidence," said Shorts, who leads the Mountaineers with 12 receptions for 151 yards. "I just try to come in and have a great week of practice every week, so I can have an opportunity to play, because they are going to play who they trust."
Shorts said that he and the other West Virginia receivers know the Terps will be without injured cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson.
"We're sure that whoever they put in to fill those positions are good players," Shorts said. "We're just excited to play Maryland. They're a great team, obviously, and we'll see how we can do."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun