WVU Football 2020 Recruiting: Take One
With football recruiting season now a multi-stage proposition, there isn’t really an optimal time to produce a final, comprehensive review of the results of most schools’ efforts. While a handful might lock up all or a vast majority of their class in the three-day December early signing period, for the majority it’s just the first step. Like Stage One of a Saturn V rocket, it’s a big one and the most powerful, and will wind up accounting for 75-80% of the average class, but there are still important additions and recruiting action to come. By the time a class is completed with late additions and transfers, it’s usually time for fall camp to open, and by then all the attention is on the upcoming season.
With that in mind, and the strong caution that by no means is West Virginia’s 2020 class complete, here are some thoughts and takeaways from the WVU’s results on the opening day of the December period.
Early Results of Predicted Disaster Were Greatly Exaggerated
With apologies to Mark Twain, the adaptation of his quip about his reported death fit exactly the moaning about WVU’s low recruiting rankings in November. There was much hand-wringing about West Virginia’s spots in the mid-50s as the month progressed, which then again spun into what-if scenarios worthy of the most outlandish conspiracy theory website, and speculation on the imminent demise of the Mountaineer program.
So what happened? Neal Brown and company finished very strongly, pushing the Mountaineers up into the 40s and even 30s, depending on the evaluator. The 18 signees are probably even better if measured against a checklist of team needs, which is woefully overlooked in evaluating recruiting results. Are rankings important? Only in the sense that if they are accurate (a huge if, given the biases inherent in the work of many evaluators), they can indicate the potential for success down the road. There are so many other factors involved, however, that getting bent out of shape because WVU is 52nd in October is a bigger waste of time than complaining about ESPN+.
“Fit” Replacing “Trust the Climb”?
Well, that’s a stretch, but there were so many mentions of this topic on and around Signing Day in the Puskar Center that it might well appear on the walls of the recruiting staff. Head coach Neal Brown went in-depth on this during his media appearances on Wednesday, noting that if a player doesn’t fit the culture at West Virginia, that he’s not likely to get an offer. He noted that current players, who host recruits on official visits, and the team’s Leadership Council are involved in making such recommendations, and while he holds the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down, he takes those recommendations seriously.
This is just really smart. There’s no sense in investing time and a scholarship in someone that isn’t going to buy in, or isn’t willing to do what is asked, especially with the transfer situation the way it is. A freshman who comes in, is disgruntled, and leaves, creates a hole in the scholarship chart that can only be replaced by awarding it to a walk-on if the total scholarship numbers are down, as they are at most schools. While a few of those aren’t killers, make it a habit and the team is going to suffer. Like, for instance, WVU did in the Dana Holgerson era.
Late Adds And Few Losses Equal Good Feelings
WVU got letters of intent from every player it expected to on Wednesday, with only Jacob Gamble not signing. (WVU knew that was coming, and Gamble still has a chance to come aboard in the February period.) Having no unpleasant surprises is good enough, but winning a couple of battles on the last day is even better. When wide receiver Sam Brown and defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor committed and signed, the endorphins were flowing in the Puskar Center and throughout the WVU recruiting universe. West Virginia got a number of players whose talent and potential is in line with that duo, but those late pickups really resonate.
“They call you the bandit an outlaw untamed, Shackled only by freedom you wear no man’s chain”
So if I owe an apology to Mark Twain’s spirit, I really have to do the same to that of Jerry Reed, whose lyrics appear above. In our case, though, the reference is to the pivotal position in Vic Koenning’s defensive scheme, which was gutted by injuries and almost abandoned by mid-October. This class brought in two players who will start out at the position, and who possess the combination of skills to make the it work. Lanell Carr and Taurus Simmons roamed their respective fields in high school, demonstrating pass rushing skills and excellent tackling ability. While Koenning doesn’t want anyone that won’t execute their assignments, there’s at least some of the spirit of the position in Reed’s ode to Burt Reynolds’ iconic character. I love these two pickups, as they should give Koenning the ability to use the position more in his weekly bag of tricks. That might take a while to develop, but the groundwork is laid. Just like that run to Texarkana for Coors.
Ranging Skills At Wideout
WVU signed three receivers who have a great range of skillsets. While the number of offensive line recruits deservedly got a great deal of attention, the smaller group at receiver stands out for its versatility. In the slot, there’s Reese Smith, who has the darting speed and fearlessness to operate underneath and in the gaps of the defense. There’s Sam Brown, who is a field stretcher (he averaged 18.2 yards per catch and recorded 11 touchdowns on 40 receptions) and Devell Washington, whose size and strength should provide a target for those 50-50 balls that Neal Brown is looking for more wins on. This isn’t a huge group, but the quality really shines.