MORGANTOWN, W.Va–During West Virginia’s 52-17 victory over Youngstown State, JoVanni Stewart was flying all over the football field but it wasn’t at safety.
Instead the 5-foot-8, 191-pound junior was playing at the outside linebacker position.
“We didn’t want David (Long) being the shortest linebacker in the country anymore, so we but JoVanni there to make David feel like he’s a much bigger player,” head coach Dana Holgorsen joked.
After losing Charlie Benton during the season opener in Charlotte, the Mountaineers found themselves in a bind. The SAM position was already heavily depleted when Brendan Ferns and Quondarius Qualls were both ruled out until possibly late in the season, which left Shea Campbell and Exree Loe to fill the void.
Shea Campbell took most of the snaps against Tennessee after Benton suffered his injury.
On Saturday, the Mountaineers went a different route and it had a positive outcome. Stewart had two solo tackles, one tackle for a loss and two quarterback hurries.
Despite making a few mistakes, the Katy, Texas native was all over the place the entire game, proving to his coaches that the move was warranted.
“That was kind of in the back of my mind if we had another injury what’s going to happen He was the first guy that I thought of just from the fact that he’s a physical kid,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said about the decision to move Stewart from safety to linebacker. “He can hold up. He plays really, really hard. So it was good to see him in there tonight flying around. He made some mistakes. He did some good, some bad, which will get corrected. But he’s a football player.
“He reminds me a lot of (Josh) Norwood. The GPS tracker unit that our strength coaches have, those guys’ numbers are through the roof everyday just because of the way they practice hard. And he’s a guy that cares. It was good to get him as many reps as he got tonight.”
While the move isn’t a blow to Campbell, it was to help Stewart get experience for the long road ahead.
“By no means am I giving up on Shae but this was a good week to get JoVanni a bunch of reps and I told Shae that after the game,” Gibson said. “We’re going to need both of those guys in next week and moving forward to be able to get what we need out of that position. But that game plan tonight was created for him, just get him some good reps.”
Playing linebacker is not unfamiliar territory to the Katy High School alum.
“That’s what he played in high school,” Holgorsen said. “He was a line of scrimmage guy in high school and the closer he is to the ball the better he is. He went from bandit to spur and now back.”
Stewart’s teammates weren’t worried about the transition or his lack of size.
“I wasn’t worried because I know what kind of player JoVanni is,” senior safety Toyous Avery said. “He’s they type of guy that’s going to strain, no matter what he’s doing. A couple times I know he didn’t know the plays probably but he’s going 100 miles per hour no matter where he’s he’s going. That’s what I love about him.”
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS