HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-At-Home Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Technically, West Virginia University defensive end Akheem Mesidor of Ottawa was a true football freshman. But his surprising statistics spoke otherwise and that sparked a long list of honours.
A freshman usually spends the first year on the sidelines, learning what the university level of competition is all about. Listening to the coaches, watching film and paying attention are important building blocks for the sophomore year.
But it was different for Mesidor, whose football journey had him with North Gloucester Giants, Varsity Panthers, St. Matthew High School and Clearwater Academy International in Florida, which allowed him to catch everyone’s attention at his first West Virginia camp.
24/7 Sports writer Brandon Marcello considered Mesidor one of the top 2020 freshmen in American college football. “Might West Virginia have a freshman ready to break through an already-deep defensive line rotation? It looks like Akheem Mesidor might be an early candidate.”
24/7 Sports’ Michael Casazza agreed: “The defensive line is the strength of the team, so you’d think a freshman might have a hard time getting noticed, never mind getting playing time. They’ve already said he’s in the rotation, which continues his significant rise. The Canadian has grown and grown and was a star in his one season at Clearwater Academy last year. He’s nimble and twitchy and he has been disruptive in split squad practices and then when the whole team is together for workouts and scrimmages.”
Mesidor’s talent had been recognized and he showed it each Saturday afternoon. As a freshman, he had 5 sacks (33 yards lost), 6.5 tackles for loss (38 yards), and 32 total tackles (20 solos). He earned his first game start in the 10th and final regular-season match.
After his fourth game, he had four quarterback sacks, which tied him for third most in American college football and tied him for first among freshmen. That fourth game, a 38-17 win over Kansas, may have been his best of the season.
In his 22 defensive plays against Kansas, Mesidor had six tackles (including a tie for team-high at 5 solo tackles), one quarterback hurry, back-to-back sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss. His numbers for tackles, sacks and tackles for loss were season highs.
For his time well spent, Mesidor was named 24/7 Sports True Freshman of the Week and the Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Week. In his previous game against Baylor, West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said Mesidor’s “effort was off the chart.”
Mesidor excels because of his passion and love of the game as well as understanding it from all angles. When he played youth football for North Gloucester, the coaching staff slotted him in many positions, including running back, receiver, linebacker and defensive lineman.
“He loves football. He does not like football, he loves football. He loves to compete. He loves to practice. He is hungry to learn,” Brown said earlier this season. “He is pushed because of the success (DL) Darius and Dante (Stills) have had.”
West Virginia Mountaineers were one of the most improved teams in the country this season, which was greatly impacted by COVID-19. The Mountaineers finished at 6-4, which included a season-ending bowl triumph.
In their 38th career bowl game, the Mountaineers defeated (9-2) Army 24-21 in the Liberty Bowl for its 16th victory. Mesidor made three tackles in the game.
Just as football insiders spoke highly of Mesidor in the pre-season, they did the same in the post-season. He was the fifth winner and first true freshman to capture the Mountaineer Maven Bruce Irvin Award as the team’s best pass rusher.
His determined and quick play also earned the 6-2, 268-pound defensive end a berth on the Ted Hendricks Award – Watch List. The annual award is presented to the top defensive end in American college football.
Mesidor’s list of honours also includes: ESPN True Freshman 1st Team All-American, The Athletic Freshman 2nd Team All-American, and the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-American semifinalist.
From a Big 12 Conference perspective, he was on the 2nd team named by the coaches, the 3rd team selected by Phil Steele magazine and was an honourable mention by Pro Football Focus.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Victor Tedondo, who trained Mesidor at Ottawa’s Gridiron Academy. “He’s really tough mentally and physically, and he understands the game of football. For sure, he’s going places. He’s a phenomenal football player.”
As he prepares for his sophomore season, Mesidor should be motivated, having played on a team that had the fourth-best total defence in the country. Individually, he tied for ninth place in the Big 12 Conference for sacks.
Mesidor had 29 scholarship offers by NCAA Division 1 universities and made official visits to UCLA, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. He was offered a scholarship by West Virginia last spring and signed in December.
At the official signing of his letter of intent, his mother Carole Richard gave him some advice. “Now, go live your best life, move mountains to get what you want and the universe is the limit.”
So far, the Mountaineer is moving mountains.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.