WVU linebacker Kwiatkoski shows adapability

Bob Cohn
| Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 10:47 p.m.

Nick Kwiatkoski's football career at West Virginia remains a period of adjustment. The former Bethel Park star will be a redshirt junior this fall, playing his fourth position for a fourth defensive coordinator and second head coach.

“It wasn't what I expected, but it's something you have to deal with,” he said. “Once it happens, it happens. The coaches have done a good job making things smooth.”

Kwiatkoski is practicing at the ‘Mike' middle linebacker position in the Mountaineers' 3-4 defense. He has played two other linebacker spots after starting out as a safety.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Kwiatkoski led the team in tackles last season despite missing two games and part of a third with a hamstring injury. The switch from safety did not come easily at first. He gained about 15 pounds while trying to maintain his speed, and deal with other challenges.

“The footwork is different,” he said. “I was used to lining up 12 yards back and seeing everything. But I spent a lot of time in the film room. I just watched the linemen. Everything's coming up quicker on me. That's probably the biggest thing. I was used to seeing the whole offense and reacting whenever I see things. Now I have to react as fast as possible.

“I still feel like I need some work,” he said. “The biggest thing is reading plays, watching film. That makes me quicker. If you know what's coming, you can play a lot faster.”

Tony Gibson, promoted from safeties coach to defensive coordinator after Keith Patterson left for Arizona State last month, called Kwiatkoski a quick study.

“He's gonna be the leader of the defense,” said Gibson, a Pitt assistant in 2011 under Todd Graham. “The Mike linebacker makes all our calls, all our adjustments. I'm looking for him to step up and take charge, especially the linebacker group.

“He's a smart kid, and he's tough,” Gibson said. “He understands football. He comes from a great high school program. The kid has everything you want.”

Kwiatkoski verbally committed in 2010 before his senior year. Bill Stewart was WVU's coach, and the program was stable. But when a succession plan went awry, coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen replaced Stewart in 2011, a year earlier than scheduled (Stewart died in May 2012). Gibson is the fourth Mountaineers' defensive coordinator in four years.

The Mountaineers are coming off a 4-8 season during which injuries stripped the defense. Late in the season, only three linebackers were available to practice.

“It was tough on us,” Kwiatkoski said. “(The coaches) tried their best to give us a rest, but they really couldn't.”

This spring, “It's nice to see the young guys stepping up and knowing what they're doing.”

Bob Cohn is staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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