Darnell Wright, Others The Focus Of Brown’s WVU Recruiting
The state of West Virginia has not produced many high school football prospects over the years like Huntington offensive lineman Darnell Wright.
At 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds with nimble feet and a strong frame, he’s gotten scholarship offers from basically every major college football program that pumps up a pigskin.
He’s also gotten plenty of attention from the national recruiting services, as he’s a consensus five-star prospect. The last time the Mountain State produced one of those was in 2008, when Parkersburg High lineman Josh Jenkins received a similar rating.
There have been a number of four-star prospects in the last decade, including current Mountaineers Dante Stills and Derrek Pitts, as well as Pittsburgh Steeler receiver Ryan Switzer, but the five-star is a rarity. As one of the top 40 players in the country, call Wright the Halley’s Comet of West Virginia high school recruits, only occasionally sighted in these parts.
Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State have long been considered Wright’s top targets, but he didn’t sign with any during the early Letter of Intent period last month, leaving the door ajar.
West Virginia’s new coach Neal Brown recently got a foot in that door and coaxed a visit out of Wright this past weekend.
It’s still unclear exactly where the Mountaineers rank in Wright’s pecking order, but getting a visit from the Huntington lineman was a huge step if WVU has any hope of signing him when the next Letter of Intent period starts on Feb. 6.
Named to West Virginia’s Class AAA all-state first-team as both a senior and junior, and a second-team honoree as a sophomore, most recruiting observers have long figured that Wright would end up at Tennessee.
But that’s contrary to a statement he made a couple of weeks ago to the USA Today while participating in the Under Armour All-American Game in Orlando.
“I would say North Carolina and West Virginia are my favorites right now,” Wright told USA Today High School Sports. “West Virginia is my (home state) school, and I really like them. And North Carolina has a new staff and one of my (former Huntington High) teammates is there (Billy Ross, who started 10 games as a redshirt freshman offensive guard for the Tar Heels this past season). I’ll definitely take officials to those schools; the rest I’m not sure right now.”
Wright, who appears likely to sign on Feb. 6, has a couple more weeks to make up his mind.
“I’m getting a lot of texts from the college coaches just telling me to talk to their committed guys,” Wright said. “I give them an ear.
“I know that I’ll make the best decision for me at the end of the day.”
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Brown and his new Mountaineer football staff are focusing a lot of their recruiting attention for prospects from the class of 2020 and beyond, but they are still trying to fill out the final half dozen scholarships they have available for the class of 2019.
Certainly Wright would be a plum pickup for this year’s recruiting class, but he’s not the only one.
Since over 80 percent of the FBS prospects sign during the early Letter of Intent period in December, the available pool of quality recruits has been greatly diminished. Still there are a number of worthy unsigned targets, like Wright, as well as Spring Valley’s Doug Nester and Morgantown’s Nick Malone.
Another of those is Rashean Lynn, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound wide receiver/defensive back from Cocoa, Fla., who took an official visit to WVU this past weekend, along with Wright and Mountaineer signee Donavan Beaver, who is a lineman from Massaponax High School in Virginia. Beaver had been to WVU on unofficial visits previously, but was unable to fit his official visit in prior to this. Thus he’s the rare recruit who signed his National Letter of Intent before taking his official visit.
West Virginia fans at the basketball game against Kansas cheered when they noticed Wright, as well as other recruits, taking their seats to watch the first half of the game.
A number of schools, including Louisville, Cincinnati, Indiana and Kentucky, are recruiting Lynn as a receiver, though apparently West Virginia’s new coaching staff may also be interested in the lanky athlete’s potential at defensive back.
Another recruiting target for Brown this year is Jordan Jefferson, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive tackle from Navarre, Fla., who hopes he’ll be able to visit WVU in the near future.
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While Brown and his staff try to finish off the class of 2019, they are also turning towards future recruits as well. They’ve already extended dozens of offers to prospects for 2020 and 2021.
Two current high school juniors who now hold West Virginia offers were in Morgantown for unofficial visits this past weekend.
Reese Smith is a 5-foot-11, 175-pound receiver from Boyle County High School in Danville, Ky., which also happens to be the alma mater of Neal Brown, was one of those taking a visit to WVU. Kentucky, Tennessee, Cincinnati and Duke also have joined the Mountaineers in extending scholarship offers for the receiver, who caught 51 passes for 1,172 yards and 20 touchdowns this past year. Smith also recorded 50 tackles and three interceptions as a defensive back, and on top of that is a high scoring guard for the Rebel basketball team.
Another Boyle County junior, running back Landen Bartleson (6-1, 180 lbs.), also recently received a scholarship offer from WVU to go along with ones he previously held from Ohio State, Tennessee, Purdue, Kentucky, Colorado and Vanderbilt.
While Bartleson hasn’t been to West Virginia yet, Smith did take an unofficial visit to WVU this past weekend, as did another Kentucky prep prospect, quarterback Beau Allen.
Rated a four-star recruit from Lexington Catholic High School, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Allen already has scholarship offers from nearly a dozen FBS programs, including Kentucky, Michigan, Duke, Maryland, Washington State and West Virginia. Allen’s previous coach at Lexington Catholic, Mark Perry, was Brown’s director of football operations at Troy last year and is expected to fill that same role at WVU. Beau’s father, Bill Allen, was a quarterback at the University of Kentucky in the mid-‘80s.