MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Freshman Ben Cutter came to West Virginia as one of the most prolific tacklers in North Carolina high school football. The ball-seeking linebacker racked up an astounding 579 total tackles at East Lincoln High School in Denver, North Carolina.

Cutter wasn’t among West Virginia’s top-ranked recruits in the 2023 recruiting class, though he was a player whom the Mountaineer coaching staff expected to contribute immediately.

The former three-star commit has appeared in all five games this season, mostly on special teams, initially, and then more recently as a key piece in the linebacker rotation. Game No. 6, this Thursday at Houston, will mark a first in his career: his first collegiate start.

“I don’t think there’s really time for nerves, because you have so much to think about pre-snap, and get aligned, knowing your assignment, you don’t have time to think about how you’re really feeling,” said Cutter. “You just go out there and do your job.”

Cutter will start at middle linebacker against the Cougars. He was in rotation at the position against Texas Tech and TCU, but will now be the starter with Trey Lathan out for the year due to injury.

It’s not often a true freshman starts at, arguably, one of the most important positions on the defense. In this case, it’s partially out of necessity due to Lathan’s injury. It’s also because, according to the coaches, Cutter’s abilities make him a natural fit for the position and allow WVU’s top tackler, Lee Kpogba, to play on the weak side.

“I just think it fits the skills set, probably, a little better, and there’s really not enough difference to justify there being a huge change,” said defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley. “Lee could bump over there and play it as well as Ben, and Ben could jump back in and play Will (linebacker).”

Lesley added a key point moving forward will be keeping Cutter in good situations, though he also noted the first-year linebacker plays the game the right way — fast and physical. As he alluded to, Cutter and Kpogba’s positions can be interchangeable if the Mountaineers feel a switch is needed.

“Experience would be the only difference between those two,” said Lesley.

Cutter has tallied 12 total tackles and one tackle for loss this year. In the most extended playing time of his young college football career, he collected six tackles in the win over TCU.

He is still learning the physicality and how to use his hands effectively to shed blocks. Now on the scene in Morgantown for exactly nine months, Cutter said he already feels adjusted to the speed of the college game, which is typically one of the biggest hurdles young players at any position have to clear.

Entering the season, there was no way Cutter knew he would take over a starting role at the midway point. After saying a quick prayer on the sidelines in the moments preceded by Lathan’s injury, he finished the game in Lathan’s spot. Cutter was ready in the moment, and ready now entering his first start, because of the next-man-up mentality that is preached throughout the WVU locker room.

“I think you have to stay in that mood, because you never know what’s going to happen all game,” said Cutter. “And you have to prepare every week like you are the starter, so when you get in you’re ready.”