Brian Bennett, The Man Who Oversees WVU’s Football Recruiting – Part 4
(Editor’s Note – I recently got a chance to sit down with Brian Bennett, who is the new director of player personnel for the Mountaineer football program.
For nearly 45 minutes we discussed various aspects of his life, what brought him to West Virginia and also took a deep dive into WVU’s recruiting, which is the aspect of the program he oversees.
This is the fourth in a series of articles with Bennett on what West Virginia’s football recruiting will look like in the Neal Brown era.
Today we’ll focus on the Mountaineers’ philosophy in terms of transfers and junior college players.)
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The transition in football coaches at West Virginia has brought with it seemingly a million changes, both large and small.
For instance, there are numerous different ideas when it comes to recruiting as Neal Brown has taken over at WVU, not the least of which is how he views transfers and junior college players.
Former Mountaineer head coach Dana Holgorsen and his staff had cultivated the transfer pipeline in their eight years at West Virginia (2011-18), bringing in a vast array of outstanding players who had started their college careers elsewhere. From quarterbacks Clint Trickett, Skyler Howard and Will Grier, to running backs Charles Sims and Justin Crawford, to offensive linemen Kyle Bosch and Mark Glowinski, to receivers Kevin White and David Sills, to tight end Trevon Wesco, to defensive linemen Kenny Bigelow and Jabril Robinson, to linebackers VanDarius Cowan and Charlie Benton to defensive backs Kyzir White and Rasul Douglas, to countless others, some of WVU’s most productive players started at another college, be it a juco or four-year school.
Of the 25 Mountaineers who were selected in the NFL Draft during the Holgorsen era, 10 of them arrived at WVU via some form of transfer, be it grad, four-year or junior college.
Those numbers fit with Holgorsen’s overall philosophy in which he wanted about one-third of his West Virginia roster to be made up of transfers. His idea was those older players could keep the Mountaineers competitive on a year-in and year-out basis within the Big 12.
When Holgorsen departed for Houston, though, so too did the philosophy of being so heavily invested in transfers. Brown preaches development rather than quick fix, so he’s putting more emphasis on recruiting high school players who will be in the program four and five years, rather than the one or two of most transfers.
“If you walk around this building, over the light switches are little cards that say ‘Serve and Develop.’ That’s Coach Brown’s message; we’re going to be a ‘Servant program’ and a ‘Development program,’” explained WVU’s director of player personnel Bennett from his Puskar Center office. “Most of the time we’re going to take high school kids and develop them. They’re going to be here four to five years, and they’re going to develop during that time. They may not be finished product when they get here, and that’s fine. But we’re going to develop them into really good players, because we’re a developmental program. We’re going to try to get as many players as we can within that six-hour radius (of Morgantown).”
That’s not to say Brown’s program will ignore transfers.
You need only look at the seven players he’s added to the Mountaineer roster since arriving at WVU in January to realize he’s still filling holes with transfers. He’s picked three grad transfers (quarterback Austin Kendall, wide receiver George Campbell and defensive lineman Rueben Jones), three four-year transfers (defensive back Alonzo Addae, quarterback Jarret Doege and wide receiver Sean Ryan) and one junior college transfer (offensive lineman John Hughes).
“Jucos and transfers will serve needs for us,” noted Bennett, who also had been Brown’s director of player personnel at Troy the previous four years. “When we have immediate needs, we’ll look at those positions. But we won’t major in that, in my opinion.
“Both (high school players and transfers) serve a purpose, and both are vital,” the Mobile, Alabama, native said. “The numbers will fluctuate from year to year with each depending on our needs. If we have immediate needs, we’ll go look at junior college guys. If we have less immediate needs, we’ll take more high school guys. That’s how we’ll make up our classes.”
West Virginia’s high school recruits will come from both near and far. Brown has pledged to mine as much talent as he can find from within that six-hour radius of Morgantown, but the prospect search can take them about anywhere.
“That stuff all kind of happens organically,” Bennett said of recruiting non-traditional territories. “As coaches go out, they discover, ‘Oh, we’ve got really good reception here; let’s keep pushing this. Let’s see if we can continue to get traction here.’ All that plays into it. We’re going to try to hammer every area we go in to. We’re going to hit them all the same. Now things could change from year to year. It depends on the players there and our relationships with them. You can’t always predict it. We are going to try to hit a broad area and try to get the best football players we can. There are some areas where our relationships are a little stronger currently, and that may be because one relationship just blossomed maybe because of one high school coach who is really excited or there’s a West Virginia guy in that city. You never know. You find these little inroads and you just expand upon them.
“The spot recruiting in a state that is not a primary area, we want to go spend time there and we want to have people see the WV logo,” added Bennett. “Obviously with 16 or 17 days on the road per coach during the spring period, you can’t hit every school. It’s not physically possible. But you can do a good job of identifying early, and going to school for a guy who is an interested prospect right now. For the others, you call and tell them you’re interested and we do want to spend some time getting to know you and recruiting you. You can do that over the phone, and the high school coaches understand that.
“If you are spot recruiting a state, you have to spend you time really efficiently. You have put a circle around where you want to go, and you may go see four or five kids and then get back home. To effectively spot recruit, it starts with preparation. You have to know who you are going to see ahead of time. You can’t just go into a state and start talking to people, thinking ‘I’m going to go to every school’. You can’t do that. You don’t have the time. You have to go in prepared and know exactly who you’re going to hit, what order you’re going to see them, who you’re going to see practice and work out. You have to know all that going into the day.
“In our traditional areas within a six-hour radius of this city, we are going to have presence in almost every school. There are a lot of really good prospects in this local area, and within that six-hour radius, we’re going to blanket everything. Outside of there, where we may spot recruit, we have to do a good job of calling ahead and being prepared.”
Brown and his staff are making up for some lost time in terms of recruiting, having just arrived in Morgantown six months ago. But they feel they have a good product to sell.
“The flying WV is a really important logo,” said Bennett. “It’s a brand, and people want us in their school. Once we get there, it takes care of itself, because the brand is so recognizable and so highly regarded. Putting together the lists is the hard part. We’re putting those lists together now, and we’re having to speed things up a little bit. That doesn’t make it harder, but it is condensed into a smaller amount of time.”
(In our next installment, we’ll look at West Virginia’s recruiting and how it differs from Troy.)