Love him, hate him, or somewhere in between, what Dana Holgorsen has done thus far on the recruiting trail has never happened before in Morgantown.
Granted, great recruits does not always a great team make. West Virginia football is a testament to doing a lot with a little when it comes to recruiting.
But, if you are going to predict the future of a program based on the successes obtained on the recruiting trail, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the coming years for the Mountaineers.
It starts in-state. And even though in years past the Mountain State hasn’t held a reputation for producing a multitude of desirable Division I prospects, West Virginia’s coaching staff has done well finding those recruits who do show promise and keeping them at home. In this recruiting cycle, that prospect was legacy recruit, Dante Stills (Fairmont).
The son of former Mountaineer and NFL linebacker Gary Stills, Dante racked up over 20 offers and earned a spot in Nike’s prestigious Opening event and as an Under Armour All-American as a defensive end. Without question, Dante is not only West Virginia’s top recruit for the 2018 class but also joins an elite group as one of the highest rated prospects to ever commit to the Mountaineers.
Along with Stills, West Virginia was also able to secure in-state prospect Tavis Lee (Martinsburg). Lee wasn’t as highly touted as Stills – although no one really was – but continues the trend of keeping nationally recognized players at home. Lee earned USA Today All-American honors in 2016 and All-State honors this year after helping guide the Martinsburg Bulldogs to its second straight state championship. Lee is listed as a defensive end but is expected to fill out as a linebacker once he arrives in Morgantown.
Coming into the season, it was clear that the Mountaineers needed to restock the shelves on the defensive line. Securing Stills’ talents added to an already impressive list of future lineman for West Virginia: Alex Williams (Pickerington, OH), Tyrese Allen (Paintsville, Ky.), and James Gmiter (Bethel Park, Pa.) all committed to the Mountaineers early and, therefore, don’t have a long list offers to accompany them, but don’t be fooled. All three would have been entertaining high profile programs if they hadn’t ended their recruitment early. Both Williams and Gmiter have received interest from ACC, Big XII, and Big 10 schools while Allen received interest from a slew of mid-major programs.
If Stills was priority No. 1 for West Virginia, then Kwantel Raines (Aliquippa, Pa.) was a close second. Much like Stills, Raines’s name was found at the top of several blue blood programs’ recruiting boards but chose the Mountaineers due in large part to his playing style. The 4-star athlete is slated to fill the shoes left by defensive back Kyzir White. Raines mirrors White’s physicality and athletic ability almost perfectly and should find early playing time at the SPUR position.
Joshua Norwood (JUCO; Senatobia, MS), Charlie Benton (JUCO; El Dorado, KS), and Jayce Rogers (Valdosta, Ga.) will join Raines as defensive backs. Both Norwood and Benton bring much-needed experience and the ability to find playing time quickly while Rogers brings with him a winning pedigree unmatched in the state of Georgia, coming from one of the most respected and feared high school programs in the country.
As it stands, West Virginia is only taking one “true” linebacker in 2018: Josh Chandler (Canton, OH). At 5-foot-10 and 215-pounds, Chandler is a bit undersized, but so is David Long and that has worked out well.
In western Pennsylvania, the Mountaineers have always made hay scouring through the “leftovers” of perennial powerhouses and finding future studs. Recently, however, West Virginia has done well by throwing its hat into the ring for some of the Keystone State’s more desired prospects. Raines could have easily been one of the best signees for Penn State or Pittsburgh had he not chosen the Mountaineers, but it’s players like TJ Banks (North Versailles, Pa.) and Leddie Brown (Philadelphia, Pa.) that begin to round out the best recruiting class ever for West Virginia.
Banks is the perfect example of being the best player on the field and playing several different positions to prove it. If you tune into an East Allegheny game on any given Friday night, you’ll find Bank’s name littered on the stat sheet as a defensive end, receiver, and tight end. Admittedly, it’s difficult to pencil in Banks at a certain position at the collegiate level, but his ceiling might be highest as a receiving tight end. And given his versatility, Banks’ offer list includes the likes of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Illinois.
Brown also finds his name near the top of the “most wanted” list for West Virginia. Although considered a 3-star running back, Brown’s offer list (Tennessee, Florida, Maryland, Alabama, Louisville) resembles that of a 4 or 5-star recruit. Brown committed to West Virginia way back in April, so his name may have escaped you, but come next season, he’s sure to find playing time as a true freshman.
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, West Virginia has also been able to replenish a depleted receiving corps via recruiting. The hirings of Tyron Carrier (wide receivers coach) and Doug Belk (cornerbacks coach) has opened up the fertile recruiting grounds of Georgia and North Carolina and in doing so, has allowed the coaching staff to snag some of those states’ most prized recruits. Sam James (Richmond Hill, Ga.) and Bryce Wheaton (Holly Springs, NC) both boast an impressive list of ACC and SEC offers and could easily crack the two-deep next year given the departure of Ka’Raun White.
The Mountaineers also locked up receivers Dillon Spalding (Lorton, Va.) and Randy Fields (Baltimore, Md.). Spalding chose West Virginia over Michigan as a 3-star prospect and Fields spurred Cincinnati and Pitt to come to Morgantown. Mike O’Laughlin (Oak Park, IL.) will also join the 2018 class as a tight end after turning down a host of MAC programs.
Often undeservedly overlooked, the offensive line was a priority in this recruiting cycle after the coaching staff made efforts to sign Blaine Scott (Portsmouth, OH), Briason Mays (Bolivar, TN), and Oyenmwen Uzebu (Alpharetta, GA). All three could prove serviceable as true freshmen, but will most likely redshirt to further develop.
Lastly, West Virginia made it a point to only take one quarterback in this class. Luckily, that quarterback is considered a top prospect in the state of Tennessee. At a solid 6-foot-3 and 190-pounds, Trey Lowe III (Bolivar, TN) boasts an ideal height but could stand to put on a little weight and will probably do so once he gets to Morgantown. With Will Grier and Jack Allison controlling the reins of the quarterback position for the foreseeable future, Lowe will have ample time developing into the signal caller for the future for West Virginia.
From top to bottom, it’s hard not to consider this crop of future Mountaineers some of the best to ever come through the Mountain State.