West Virginia head football coach Neal Brown made a handful of promises during his introductory press conference last week.
One of those promises will force the Mountaineers into unfamiliar territory.
“Keeping the best players in the state at home is a top priority,” Brown stated, implying that he, too, knows West Virginia harbors top-shelf talent.
It’s not that former coaches and former regimes ignored the Mountain State’s thin pool of division one recruits. In fact, West Virginia has routinely been a proving ground for over-looked prospects, including those who call this state home.
The change is that West Virginia is no longer an after thought or second-class producer of elite football talent. Over the past five years, West Virginia’s best-of-the-best rose from mediocrity to being recruited by the country’s top programs. Penn State, Florida State, Ohio State, and Tennessee have all come calling, stealing top prospects away from the Mountaineer’s back yard.
In 2017, Dana Holgorsen and his staff failed to acquire the state’s top recruit in Billy Ross (Huntington), who committed to North Carolina. They missed out on the state’s third-best prospect, too. Riley Locklear (Huntington) decided to go to Tennessee over West Virginia. In 2018, Holgorsen snagged four-star Dante Stills (Fairmont), who flirted with Florida and Oklahoma before pledging to the Mountaineers. Stills was a legacy recruit, however. In many ways, his recruitment was never in doubt.
This season, to say Holgorsen dropped the ball on in-state recruiting would be an understatement. For the first time like… ever, West Virginia has produced three four-star or better recruits, including five-star tackle Darnell Wright (Huntington), who is considered the nation’s 11th best prospect. Doug Nester (Huntington), a four-star guard, is considered the fifth best at his position in the country. And lastly, Brenton Strange (Parkersburg) is considered a top-15 tight end. Nester is headed to Ohio State. Strange committed to Penn State. And Darnell Wright is thought to be headed to Knoxville, Tennessee.
That is if Brown doesn’t get to Wright first.
Having never been on an official visit to Morgantown, Wright is expected to be in Morgantown next weekend and it’s natural to think Brown will stay true to his word and roll out the proverbial “red carpet” for the state’s best prospect. Flipping Wright to the Mountaineers will be difficult but a monumental win for Brown after less than a month on the job.
Looking forward, the class of 2021 is shaping up to be yet another block-buster year for West Virginia recruits. The nation’s best cornerback in Isiah Johnson (Bluefield) holds eight offers, including Penn State, Tennessee and West Virginia. The Mountaineers have also offered four-star defensive end Zeiqui Lawton (Charleston).
In the past, West Virginia has failed too often keeping the state’s best prospects at home. But with Brown at the helm, in-state recruiting is more than a priority. It’s one way the Mountaineers can build a championship-caliber program.