MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.
And so it is with West Virginia’s football team, which once again called upon the special skills of running back CJ Donaldson, who you may call “The Alphabet Man” if you prefer, to ignite what is rapidly evolving into a dangerous offense.
Now it’s true that the quality of the opposition was, shall we say, diluted, being Towson, but do not be deluded by that into thinking that what he brings to the table is anything less than filet mignon.
For the second game out of three this season, he surpassed the 100-yard mark on fewer than 10 carries, this time building a 101-yard performance on nine tries after opening his collegiate career against Pitt three weeks back with 125 yards on seven attempts.
While the centerpiece of the Pitt performance was his first collegiate carry of 44 yards, on this day he broke loose for nearly double that, going 82 yards off the left side for his first of three touchdowns in the game.
But what makes this such an amazing feat is that was playing just his third game EVER at running back.
It even stuns him.
“I’m still kind of getting used to it,” he admitted following a 65-7 lesson in humility heaped upon Towson. “This was only my third game of playing running back, so I was proud of myself for that long run but I have to give a lot of credit to the offensive line.
“They made it very easy and Kaden Prather had a great block downfield. All these things I’m doing, everybody in the running back room could do the same thing. It’s just getting the opportunity.”
Ability and humility, all wrapped in a 6-foot-2, 240-pound freshman.
The question is how did he wind up at running back if he had never played it before. The answer to that brings us back to necessity, as Mountaineer coach Neal Brown tells it.
“I knew in recruiting he was a really good football player,” Brown explained. “
“We didn’t recruit him to play running back. We recruited him to be sort of a hybrid H-back, inside receiver or grow into a tight end. But I knew he was a really good football player and was confident he could play as a freshman.”
He began his collegiate career in the tight room, but when Clemson transfer running back Lyn-Z Dixon went into the portal, there was a shortage of running backs.
“We got into the summer and had a running back transition out of the program. That left us with only three scholarship guys,” Brown said. “I was watching him do some special teams, you know, technique work. I went to (running back coach) Chad Scott and said, ‘Let’s put him at running back for the next couple of weeks and see how he does.’ If he can’t do it, we’ll go get a transfer, but if he can, let’s do it. He’ll be matchup problem.”
Like who turns down a 240-pound athlete like Donaldson?
“We weren’t tackling Tony Mathis much,” Brown said, knowing they had to protect their starter. “But CJ started running against our first-team defense. They didn’t want to tackle him.”
Neither, apparently, do opponents’ defenses.
Now, let’s get back to that “Alphabet Man” moniker. It has nothing to do with him going by his initials, but instead to his high school career.
“In high school, I started at the X receiver and I moved to Z and then Y. I was also an H-back, so it was like always transition in high school. In Little League I played mostly defense,” Donaldson said.
He had an explanation for it, too.
“I’m just a football player. I can do it all.”
And he has. Having been a receiver in high school, he can catch. And while he says he isn’t the fastest guy around, he was moving just fine on that touchdown run. What’s more, he’s picked up on what normally is the toughest thing for young running backs, and that is pass protection.
It’s been a freaky journey, to be sure.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Donaldson said. “Like for me, everything happened for a reason so I just go into every day thinking I have to enjoy it. I go day by day.”
And he goes position by position, yard by yard, play by play, but think of it this way.
What if Dixon hadn’t transferred? What if Donaldson never was moved to running back? What if ... forget what if. It happened, and WVU has uncovered a star.