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Needle moving for WVU football program

MEMORIAL DAY weekend is a time to reflect. It's a time to honor. And for West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen, it's a time to kick back and catch his breath.

WVU's coaches always make the rounds fundraising this time of year. But something is different this year. There's more pop around the Mountaineer program. There's more crackle. WVU's coach is more than busy.

There's certainly more media attention. Yes, some of it has to do with that 70-point outburst in last season's Orange Bowl. But WVU made BCS waves in the past without moving the needle like this.

The needle has jumped because the school jumped to the Big 12. It's made a difference. Already. And Holgorsen has noticed.

"No question," he said. "And if we have success this year, it will increase threefold. The Big 12 goes from the West Coast to the East Coast. The Big East was so regional on the East Coast."

The increase in media coverage is somewhat stunning. This past week, Holgorsen and new Mountaineer mascot Jonathan Kimble flew to Los Angeles to shoot a commercial for ESPN's College GameDay. ("Our new Mountaineer is really awesome," Holgorsen said. "He's a good guy. Charismatic.")

But that's not all. Holgorsen has been steadily visited by national writers. An ESPN bus with analysts hit Morgantown. Fox Sports showed for a taping of "Big 12 Behind the Scenes." There was a College Football Live roundtable discussion of the Mountaineers headed by ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, who compared WVU's Tavon Austin to Percy Harvin, formerly of Florida and now with the Minnesota Vikings.

Within the Mountaineer football circle, the routine is the same. Holgorsen said there has been no player movement of significance other than the release of a couple walk-ons, cut because of poor grade-point averages. He said summer classes and strength and conditioning drills are straight ahead.

Yet much is changing. Future WVU schedules now have schools like Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma listed.

The challenge is to turn up the recruiting dial and keep the buzz going.

So far, WVU has four commitments in linebacker Hodari Christian of McKeesport, Pa., running back DeShawn Coleman of Hermitage, Pa., offensive lineman Marcell Lazard of Bloomfield, N.J., and quarterback Chavas Rawlins of Monessen, Pa. All, though, are (as the bulk of last season's haul were) rated three-star recruits.

To keep up, WVU needs to start landing four- and five-star kids.

"It's our livelihood, our jobs," Holgorsen said. "I think we're doing well. The reception has been good.

"We're hitting the same areas, but also the Texas, Mississippi and Kansas junior colleges a little more. Maybe New Jersey a little more."

Alabama has used the JUCO route with great success in recent years and WVU seems to be following suit. It might even be vital with the Mountaineer switch from a three- to a four-man defensive front.

WVU is after two defensive linemen from one junior college alone. Both Ben Bradley, who once signed with the Mountaineers, and Toby Johnson have been offered at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. Bradley, 6-foot-3, 314 pounds, now has other offers from Georgia, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Boise State. Johnson, 6-4, 290, has offers from Arkansas, Nebraska, Tennessee, A&M and USC.

Another target is Marcus Hardison of Dodge City (Kan.) Community College. At 6-4, 290 pounds, he's also been offered by Arkansas, A&M, Texas Tech and Mississippi.

Of course, those following recruiting must never get too caught up in the rating system. WVU, for instance, is also after defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko, 6-4, 237 pounds, of Thomas Johnson High in Brooklyn, N.Y. He's a three-star guy offered by WVU.

As well as Alabama. And Florida. And Notre Dame. And Ohio State.

Also, WVU is likely to take a linebacker or two from the junior college ranks.

We'll see how it all shakes out next February.

But even now, there's a whole lotta shakin' around WVU's football program.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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