Tara Trickett watches football games through binoculars. This is the byproduct of more than three decades of marriage to an offensive line coach. If you want to know what’s happening in the trenches, it helps to zoom in.
But the focus shifts to quarterback when her son, Clint, plays. And with her binoculars trained on the West Virginia quarterback last Sept. 28 against Oklahoma State, she knew before anyone else after one particular play that something was wrong with her boy.
“I could tell immediately he was hurt,” she said. “Just the way he was holding his arm.”
The problem was with his throwing shoulder. This was Trickett’s first start as a Mountaineer, and first college start since a fill-in appearance as a freshman at Florida State. He was hurt and he knew it, too. He couldn’t finish the upset of Oklahoma State, turning over the latter stages to backup Paul Millard.
But Trickett was almost desperate to prove himself after finally getting a chance to be a college starting quarterback. There was no way he was going to sit out a start, no matter what he had to play through. Trickett answered the bell the next week at Baylor, and four more times after that. He started but missed most of the Texas game with a concussion, then missed all of the Kansas game that followed before returning for the season finale against Iowa State.
“I made it through with a lot of help from the doctors,” he said. “Take that however you want. It was rough, to say the least. The four games after Oklahoma State were as high as it could get on the pain scale.”
After the season, everyone finally found out how bad it was: Trickett had surgery in January with Dr. James Andrews to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, a separation of the AC joint and a partially torn rotator cuff. As an added bonus, Andrews removed some scar tissue, too.
He didn’t throw a football again until June, but has recovered fully and is now playing like a star: Trickett has thrown for more than 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns this season and is a big reason why a lot of people give the Mountaineers (2-1) at least a slight chance to shock No. 4 Oklahoma on Saturday in Morgantown.
But finishing last year was hell. From the point of the injury, Trickett threw 153 more passes with a ruined right shoulder. That hurts just to type, and it hurt to watch.
West Virginia fans were underwhelmed as their offense sputtered and the team plummeted to 4-8. Many of them wondered whether Clint Trickett was the ticket, never appreciating what he was enduring.
“He always felt like he could play through it,” Tara Trickett said. “He would say, ‘It’s OK, I’m going to ice it.’ He wasn’t going to stop. There was no way he was going to stop. He’s very determined.”
“He comes by it honestly.”
There is no doubting that. If you are a son of Rick Trickett, you’ve been raised on tough love and unstinting discipline.
Rick is the offensive line coach at Florida State, renowned as one of the best practitioners of blocking in all of college football. He’s also a renowned hard-ass – a Vietnam vet and former Marine who brings a militaristic mentality to the practice field.
The way he coaches his players is pretty similar to the way he has parented his three sons.
“I was definitely raised with a sense of discipline,” said Clint, youngest of the three. “Being raised the way I was raised was a lot different. I’m not saying it was anything like the Adrian Peterson situation, but I was whipped as a boy. I’m sure most people were. It was a very military-like upbringing and I don’t regret it at all. If anything, I’m thankful for it.”
Said Tara: “They were disciplined. They were not abused by any sense of the word. You learned right from wrong. Anytime they did get in trouble, they deserved it. They’re all three very fine young men, and a lot of that had to do with their dad.”
Travis Trickett was a quarterback growing up, but really he was a coach in training. He’s now the offensive coordinator at FCS Samford. Middle son Chance was a linebacker as a kid. He now works in the football office at Florida State, helping with recruiting.
Baby brother Clint was the one with the inherent athletic talent. It was obvious as early as first grade, when he was throwing the football much farther and more accurately than his peers. He had the physical tools, and the mental part was inevitable.
Clint was a constant tagalong to whatever football field the family was visiting – dad’s place of work, or where his big brothers were practicing or playing. The upside of all that exposure to the game was learning it at an early age. The downside was having a chorus of critics after each of his games, from dad to brothers, who wanted to dissect every pass and every decision.
“His dad didn’t pull any punches,” Tara said. “He’d tell him, ‘You shouldn’t have thrown that ball.’ His brothers were relentless with him when he was younger. They were tough but fair. So much anymore, people are coddled. Football is not an easy game. It’s a tough game. If you want to play, that’s part of it. That’s the mentality the boys played with growing up.”
Truth is, any criticism Clint heard from the outside was probably tame compared to his internal dialogue. He is a perfectionist, a guy his mom describes as “his own worst critic.” When Clint furrows his brow and brings his eyebrows together, it is the face of determination.
It’s how he’s dealt with Celiac disease – a digestive and autoimmune disorder – which has made gaining weight a constant struggle. Trickett has made it up to 185 pounds – still spindly for a 6-foot-2 college football player. That doesn’t give him much cushion against a physical pounding.
But with a gluten-free diet and a fresh chance to prove himself after the shoulder surgery, Trickett knitted his brows and got to work this summer. Just doing 7-on-7 workouts was a joy after six months without throwing a football.
It quickly became apparent that Trickett was healthy and ready to lead a West Virginia resurgence. This was going to be his last season as a collegian after a winding journey to get here.
Trickett had been a late transfer to West Virginia, not arriving until last August, after competing through spring and summer for the Florida State starting job with a hotshot redshirt freshman named Jameis Winston. Head coach Jimbo Fisher had wanted Trickett to stay, but he graduated early and became an immediately eligible transfer.
The choice of where to go came down to Auburn and West Virginia – both programs in immediate need of a quarterback. Trickett chose wisely, as Nick Marshall took over at Auburn with surprising success. But he also chose with his heart.
Rick Trickett had coached at West Virginia for six years under Rich Rodriguez, so the state was home to Clint. The move was hardest on his mom, even though she understood the reasoning.
“I was crushed,” she said. “I had the best of both worlds – my husband is coaching at FSU and my son is playing there. But he truly appreciates the chance to play at WVU.”
Clint tried to learn Dana Holgorsen’s no-huddle, up-tempo offense on the fly in fall camp, but it was difficult. He sat behind Ford Childress and Paul Millard for the first four games last year, as the Mountaineers stumbled to a 2-2 start that was marked by an uncharacteristically futile offense.
When Trickett took over, the offense got better. But it still was a shadow of what Geno Smith had done under Holgorsen before moving on to the NFL. Learning on the fly wasn’t easy.
“I had to signal things in three or four times for him to get it,” Holgorsen said. “Now he’s got it down.”
Trickett played well in an opening loss to Alabama. He played better in a second-game rout of Towson. And then he was sensational in a victory last week at Maryland: 37 of 49 for 511 yards and four touchdowns. He’s been helped by having more playmakers at wide receiver than last year – most notably Kevin White, who has nearly equaled his entire 2013 production in three games – but Trickett is the guy making it go.
“Clint Trickett is the biggest difference,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s playing really well. Their ability to make plays – Trickett’s done that.”
How many plays Clint Trickett can make against a quality Sooners defense will be a major key to the game Saturday. Somewhere in the stands at West Virginia, Tara Trickett will focus her binoculars on No. 9 and hope for the best.
“It was kind of hard last year when a lot of those fans were unhappy with him,” she said. “At least now they know he’s legit.”
More college football coverage from Yahoo Sports: