by Duane Cochran for FightingFalcons.com
GLENVILLE, W.Va. – Matt Wilmer has done some amazing things on the football field during his four-year tenure at Fairmont State.
Thursday evening in the Falcons' 41-21 West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opening loss to Glenville State at Morris Stadium Wilmer added another highlight reel play to his already impressive resume when he tied an NCAA Division II record by returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
Wilmer, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior receiver from Keyser, actually fielded the football two yards deep in the end zone and brought it out, but NCAA statistical rules mandate that all returns are measured from the goal line. If Wilmer had been credited with the full yardage of the actual return he would have broken the 34-year-old FSU school record of Jerome Hoes, who returned a kickoff 101 yards for a TD against Bluefield State in 1978. At that time, however, Fairmont State was competing in the NAIA ranks.
The kickoff return for a touchdown was the first of Wilmer's career. He, however, has returned a pair of punts for scores, including a school-record 93-yard return against Clarion in 2011 and a 77-yard return against West Virginia State in 2010.
“I've been waiting on that one,” said Wilmer with a laugh. “I was just talking about that last week. I said 'Man, I need to get one.'
“In that situation we were down 17-0 and I was just trying to give us a spark. It was a big moment for me. Give the blockers credit. They opened the hole and I just ran.”
Wilmer, a first-team All-WVIAC selection and the Don Hansen Football Gazette's Super Region I Special Teams Player of the Year, led the nation last season in punt returns with an average of 23.0 yards per attempt. He also has six touchdown receptions to his credit during his career.
Fresh Faces Make Impact
Two bright spots in Fairmont State's setback against Glenville State Thursday evening were the play of true freshmen Trevor Malnick and Shad Alexander.
Malnick, a 6-foot, 215-pound linebacker from Barrackville who starred at Fairmont Senior High School, was expected to play in a reserve role this season, but has been pressed into much more action early on due to an injury to standout junior mike linebacker Garrett Davis, who has missed the Falcons' first two games of the season with a broken pinky finger.
Malnick, a backup sam linebacker behind junior Ryan Watts, has seen a lot of action in the first two contests when Watts moves inside to help fill the void left by Davis. Against Glenville, Malnick led the Falcons in tackles with nine, including three solo stops and six assists. He had 1.5 tackles for seven yards in losses.
“I'm just stepping in and trying to do what the coaches are asking me to do to try to help our team be successful,” said Malnick. “It's been a real learning experience for me. The game at this level is totally different than high school. I've had guys ask me what the difference is between this and high school and it's really hard to explain. The speed of the game is so much faster and the players are all bigger, stronger and faster. Until you experience it first-hand you can't explain it.
“This week I felt a lot more comfortable out there than I did the first week against Clarion. I watched more film this week than I did last week and that helped me. Also, all of the veteran guys we have here at linebacker have been a big help to me. They tell me what I'm doing wrong, what I'm doing right and they're always encouraging me to get better.”
Alexander, on the other hand, got his first significant playing time on offense for the Falcons and produced when the football was in his hands. The 5-10, 180-pound tailback from Port St. Lucie, Fla. was a prep standout at Treasure Coast High School.
Against Glenville, Alexander carried the football 10 times for a team-high 53 yards – an average of 5.3 yards per attempt.
Alexander showed he could be a nice complement in the FSU backfield to sophomores Daniel Monroe and Collin Alford.
“I'm just one part of our backfield and when I got the opportunity I just tried to do my best to produce,” said Alexander. “We struggled some in the first half, but in the second half we settled down and started executing better. We just have to stay humble and keep working hard and I think we'll produce as an offense.
“I'm new to the team and both Daniel and Collin have done a great job of helping me out with things I need to know like protections, routes and things like that. There's definitely no bad vibes between any of us. We're all just trying to do our best to help the team. It's going to get better for us. I honestly believe that.”
Fairmont State (0-2) will look to avoid its first 0-3 start since 2009 when its visits Bowie State (Md.) University (2-0) Saturday, Sept. 15 for a 1 p.m. game at Bulldogs Stadium.
Bowie State has opened the season with wins over Assumption (24-20) and Benedict (28-14).
Fairmont State leads the all-time series between the two schools 2-0. The Falcons recorded a 49-20 victory over the Bulldogs last season in Fairmont.
Bowie State's offensive coordinator is Jason Woodman, who is a 2002 graduate of Fairmont State and played his high school ball at North Marion.