High school ties bring WVU teammates closer

| Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, 11:53 p.m.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Call them the Miramar Mountaineers.

To the uninitiated, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith along with wide receivers Stedman Bailey, Ivan McCartney, Terrence Gourdine and Devonte Mathis are more than just teammates on a Top 25 college football team.

All five players attended Miramar High School in suburban Miami, which is about 1,100 miles from Morgantown but their home away from home.

Three players — Smith, voted the preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year; Bailey, who led WVU in receiving yards in 2011 and McCartney, who finished third on the team in receptions last year — are important members of the Mountaineers' potent offense, while Gourdine and Mathis are promising newcomers.

“It's kind of odd when you think about it,” Smith, a senior, said about five players attending the same high school in South Florida now playing together at West Virginia. “It's a culture shock — it's a different place to live. But as long as you're with your teammates and a lot of guys from your high school, it feels like you're right at home.”

Smith and Bailey both arrived in Morgantown in 2009. As a high school senior, Bailey caught 68 passes for 1,163 yards and 14 touchdowns. He and Smith were both named first-team all-state.

Two years later, as a redshirt freshman, Bailey was the Mountaineers' fourth-leading receiver and scored four touchdowns in Smith's first year as the starting quarterback. Last year, Smith set a school record for passing yards and touchdown passes, while Bailey set a school record for receiving yards and led WVU in touchdown catches.

“Me and Geno have been friends for almost forever,” Bailey said.

“We went to the same junior high school,” Smith said.

“When we made the move to come here,” Bailey said, “some of the younger guys at Miramar saw the success we had and I guess they just probably wanted to follow in our footsteps.”

Smith credits Miramar coach Damon Cogdell, a standout linebacker at WVU in 1997 and 1998, with establishing a pipeline from Miramar to Morgantown.

“It starts with coach Cogdell,” Smith said. “He filled us in on everything about West Virginia.”

WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson sees a correlation between Smith and Bailey being friends since they were young and their trust level on the field.

“They came from the same high school. They played ball together growing up. Obviously, that adds to the rapport they have,” Dawson said. “It's probably more positive when you think about the communication they have. When Stedman and Geno weren't on the same page, they had pretty candid comments about it. Their communication, because they've known each other for so long, you feel like you can be completely honest with each other.”

When Bailey predicted this year's offense is capable of scoring 50 points per game, Smith gave his teammate and longtime friend a good-natured ribbing.

“He's a wideout, man. I expect him to say that,” Smith said with a smile. “I like the confidence coming from him. I like that he's confident in me as the quarterback, and I like that he's confident in this offense. But 50 points a game? The only way it's going to happen is if we have the right mentality and mind-set to work hard every game and we don't take anyone lightly.”

Because of that familiarity, the Miramar players feel they can tell each other things other players on the team cannot. Smith, for example, continues to encourage McCartney to play at a higher level than he did last season.

“In order to be a great player, you've got to be consistently great,” Smith said. “He was one of the top guys coming out of high school, so he has the ability. He just has to use it on the field.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com.

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