Up until a few years ago, the first Wednesday in February was the day college recruits could send in their letter of intent to accept a schools’ offer and start the next chapter of their football career. However, since they added an early signing period in December, February has lost some of its luster with most recruits make it official in December.
That changed in Morgantown in early January when West Virginia Athletic Director Shane Lyons announced that Neal Brown was taking over as head coach. Pictures circulating on social media of him visiting commits that had already signed in December and making his rounds in the Mountain State trying to keep kids home have Mountaineer fans excited for football in January.
There were questions whether Brown would be able to retain the early signees with the new coaching change. Those kids made their commitment under Dana Holgorsen not Neal Brown. Then, how many of the current players would stay with Brown.
Only center Matt Jones left the team and transferred to Youngstown State. Jones was likely to transfer anyway for personal reasons. Then, he was able to keep the entire 2019 class together.
Neal Brown addressed the media Wednesday afternoon and explained how he was able to keep everybody together.
“It’s an exciting day; it’s not your normal signing day like in years past, but it’s an exciting day. It’s been a hectic first month, but we’ve accomplished a lot. Top priorities for us were really two-fold.” Says Brown, “No. 1 was to develop relationships with our players that are currently on our roster. And the second thing was solidifying those guys that signed in December. Give a lot of credit to our staff, and when I say staff, I’m not just talking about our assistant coaches, but everybody that’s involved in recruiting when a young person comes on our campus. We were able to hold onto all 18 guys that signed that were part of the December signing class, and we had little-to-no attrition on our current football team. So, give a lot of credit to all those individuals.”
“Our second priority was really to fill some slots that we felt were immediate needs on our roster. Relationships in recruiting are critical, and if you look at the guys we’ve added, not only today but our transfer quarterback, those are individuals we had long relationships with.”
Keeping all those young men that signed under Holgorsen in December is impressive. It’s virtually unheard-of. Brown talked about how he attacked the challenge.
“The way we approached it was to look at them as new recruits, without a doubt.” Stated Brown. “We want people who want to be here. It’s a unique situation, I think it has only happened one other time at the Power Five level. I think when Kevin Sumlin was hired at Arizona, he had a similar situation in the fact that a group of players signed in December under a previous coach, and then he took a job after that signing day. So, there’s not a lot of precedent, so what we did was we went about re-recruiting those guys. Either myself, or someone with our staff, went and visited each one of those student-athletes, and we were able to host those guys through the NCAA rules on a second official visit for most of them. So, just by building a relationship, not only with them but with their families or the people that are really important to them, they felt comfortable with West Virginia, they felt comfortable with a lot of the pieces of why they chose West Virginia are still here and still common with our staff, and they just needed some reassurance and just to be around and spend time with our staff. That’s how we approached it. And like I said, give a lot of credit to our staff. We were able to keep all those guys, and I’m excited about them. I thought the previous staff did a really good job of identifying talent, not only on the playing field but academically. And these are good kids.”
Although Brown treated all the early signees as new recruits, him and his staff has already identified the majority of them and had built some relationships during his time at Troy, then gave some examples from the 2019 class.
“Most of these guys from the southeast, like Taijh Alston, who is already here, we knew about him at Co-Lin (Copiah-Lincoln Community College). He’s a really productive player.”
“Jared Bartlett is a kid that we identified a year ago in spring as a guy that can be a MIKE linebacker, edge rusher. We liked him, we saw him. I think (assistant coach – defense) Jordan Lesley watched him practice last spring.”
“If you talk about going down to Tony Mathis, I laughed when I called Tony after getting this job. I said, ‘Man, most of the time, players come to coaches.’ You know what I mean? This coach had to go to the player, because Tony was our No. 1 running back guy at Troy forever. Of course, he got multiple Power Five offers, so we didn’t have a whole lot of success getting him at Troy. But he’s a guy that I love the way he ran, so we had a relationship with him. We obviously knew his game.”
“Dreshun Miller, a corner that was from Kennesaw, that went to junior college, who’s here now on campus, we’d known about him when he was in high school.”
“Winston Wright was a guy that we saw multiple times live. I think he was at two different satellite camps that I was at over the summer. So, we knew about him and had a relationship with as well, so several of these guys.”
“Nicktroy Fortune is another guy we knew about, being in the southeast. A lot of these guys, we did, we had relationships, either me personally or assistant coaches had a relationship with those guys. So, that was definitely a positive.”
It’s only been a month but its appears he’s making all the right moves.