Recruiting For WVU Much Different In The Pandemic World

West Virginia head coach Neal Brown checks his practice plan

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The conclusion of football season and the start to basketball has occupied most of us, but if you look just ahead, the early signing period for college football is fast approaching, as it starts Dec. 16.

The global pandemic has made the recruitment of the WVU football class of 2021 much different than any prior, though.

All official and unofficial visits, both of coaches to see the players and the players to campus to see the coaches, have been banned by the NCAA since last March. That will continue until at least April 15, 2021, as the NCAA recently extended the ban on all-in-person recruiting in Division I through that date. So, virtual visits, through platforms like Zoom and FaceTime, have taken their place. There will be signees next month who have never stepped foot on the campus of the school they choose.

WVU Football 2021 Verbal Commitment List

The Mountaineers have 16 verbal commitments right now for the class of 2021. They have a half dozen or so scholarships left to award, and they have some specific needs for most of them.

“Defensively we have to improve our depth,” noted WVU head coach Neal Brown. “Linebacker and the secondary, that’s where the emphasis will be as far as finishing this class.”

West Virginia currently has commitments from two high school prospects who will likely be safeties – Aubrey Burks and Saint McLeod – but it doesn’t yet have any cornerbacks on its verbal list, and it likely want wants another safety or two.

In addition, Ja’Corey Hammett is the only linebacker commit, so that’s a position where the Mountaineers want to add further prospects.

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On top of that, Brown has had very good success filling holes with transfers. He brought in six this past summer, including linebacker Tony Fields II, who has been a key cog on the Mountaineer defense this season.

Further transfers are likely, so WVU needs to hold over some scholarships for them, even though it may not know its exact targets until next summer.

“We will definitely bank one or two,” Brown said in terms of holding scholarships for transfers. “We need to improve our depth defensively. We are really young on offense; we only have a couple seniors there that are playing.”

Also, while transfers can enter, some current Mountaineers may leave.

“You never know what is going to happen in the portal, so that is hard to plan for, as far as in-house.”

When evaluating prospects at every position, college coaches look for various tangible and intangible qualities.

WVU already has a quarterback commit for this class in Goose Crowder and will not likely take another. But in terms of what he looks for in a quarterback, Brown definitely has a checklist.

“There are some givens in quarterbacks,” explained WVU’s second-year head coach. “You are looking for high character. You are looking for a guy who has leadership skills. And you want a guy who has an extremely good work ethic. Those are the givens.

“After that, you want to see how they perform in pressure situations,” he added. “When they throw the ball, what does their release point look like, because there are some things you can fix and some things you can’t fix. Then the role of being a dual threat is more important now than it ever has been. Those are some things we evaluate.”

Ja’Corey Hammett

Another thing that makes this an incredibly unusual recruiting year is the fact that all current college football players are not using a season of eligibility in 2020. The NCAA passed a rule back in August that all fall sports student-athletes – and it has also since included winter sport student-athletes in the mandate – will not use a year of eligibility due to some concerns brought on by the coronavirus.

Thus all current seniors will still be seniors in 2021, while all juniors will still be juniors next year, and so on down the line.

The will likely mean a lot more student-athletes on scholarship next year, but the NCAA is giving football programs a one-year waiver in terms of not having to stay within the 85 scholarship limit for FBS teams. The annual hard cap of 25 scholarships is not changing, but the total scholarship limit is, though just for one year.

Giving all football players basically a redshirt this year has some big benefits, but it also complicates roster management, especially in terms of 2022 when FBS programs will have to return to that 85-scholarship maximum.

“It’s complicated right now,” admitted Brown in terms of the roster management. “You’re dealing with a couple things. You have a group of seniors who can come back, and it freezes the eligibility for everyone. You have most of your ’21 class committed, and you are going to have a transfer deal that looks like everyone is going to have immediate eligibility.

“I think from a recruiting numbers standpoint, it’s going to affect the ’22 class more than it does the ’21 class. We haven’t heard from the NCAA yet what exact date you have to be back at your 85.

“It’s not going to affect us as much as maybe it will other programs, just because we’re operating at lower scholarship numbers anyway and we have a relatively small senior class,” Brown concluded. “I think long term it will have less effect on us as it will others.”

 

 

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