WVU leans on junior colleges
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Dana Holgorsen's two chief aims for his 2013 West Virginia football team are shoring up an awful defense and replacing the main playmakers from an extraordinary offense.
In compiling his latest recruiting class he took aim at both, leaning heavily on the junior college route.
Holgorsen announced a signing class of 25 on Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA's national signing period. The group includes nine junior college players.
It also is comprised of seven players already enrolled in school and three who had not firmly committed to the Mountaineers before signing their letters, but what stands out the most is the number of junior college transfers.
Holgorsen hopes they are ready-to-play transfers.
"You don't want to bring in [junior college] guys you don't have a need for, but we had a need for all those guys,'' Holgorsen said Wednesday after all the letters had arrived. "Those guys need to be able to come in and play right away. Otherwise we wouldn't have gone out and gotten them.''
The list of junior college players spans a variety of needs, but the bulk of them fill two needs - pass rushers and receivers. They include two linebackers, a defensive end and three wide receivers.
The pass rushers are needed because WVU's pass defense was among the worst in the nation last season. The receivers are needed because the top two pass-catchers in school history, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, are gone.
The junior college defensive players Holgorsen sees as pass rushers are 6-foot-3, 220-pound Brandon Golson, 6-5, 205-pound d'Vante Henry and 6-4, 265-pound Dontrill Hyman. There are also high school players who fit the same bill, such as linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton and defensive end Marvin Gross, and even safeties who can rush on passing downs like 6-5 Isaac McDonald, Daryl Worley, Malik Greaves and Jeremy Tyler, a safety from Georgia who was one of the three signees who had not earlier committed. Golson was also one of those.
Holgorsen even mentioned 6-2, 250-pound high school linebacker Darrien Howard from Dayton, Ohio, as adding to a pass rush. Howard was one of the few recruits in the class rated a four-star prospect by the major scouting services. Most are rated as three stars.
"These guys are pass rushers,'' Holgorsen said. "They're long and they're able to get to the quarterback.''
On the offensive side, the junior college wide receivers are Mario Alford - a teammate of Golson at Georgia Military College and the third signee who had not previously committed - Ronald Carswell and Kevin White. Carswell was earlier believed to have already enrolled and his name was in the school directory. But it is no longer there and Carswell signed another letter Wednesday and will report this summer.
There are also two high school receivers in the class - Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts. Shorts is one of the seven already enrolled and working out with the team.
"Probably the biggest need on offense was playmakers and I think we [filled] that,'' Holgorsen said. "I don't want to place them in the Tavon Austin-Stedman Bailey category, but most of them are 5-8, 5-9, 5-10 kids with a quick twitch.
"Whether the current guys on campus can hold those guys off will be fun to watch.''
Aside from the three pass rushers and three receivers, the other three junior college recruits fill specific needs, too. Stone Underwood is a 6-4, 285-pound center who will try to replace four-year starter Joe Madsen, 6-5 punter Nick O'Toole will compete where both the team's punters from last season were lost, and running back Dreamius Smith will add depth to a running back corps that has been talented the last two seasons but also hit hard by injuries.
Wendell Smallwood is another running back added from the high school ranks, while Spring Valley's Elijah Wellman - the only state native in the class - is projected as a fullback.
"It's going to give us a tremendous amount of depth at the position,'' Holgorsen said.
There was also an emphasis on offensive linemen with four signed, including Underwood. Most offensive linemen out of high school need a redshirt year, but Holgorsen said that 6-3, 280-pound Tyler Tezeno from Texas might be an exception.
"He's a big, thick guy,'' Holgorsen said.
The players with the biggest advantage as far as early playing time is concerned, though, are the seven already enrolled. The group includes two of the junior college players - receiver White and running back Smith - along with Smallwood, Shorts, Greaves, quarterback Chavas Rawlins and linebacker Hodari Christian.
The recruiting class includes players from 15 states, which is quite unusual, and only two from Florida, which usually supplies at least eight to 12 recruits a year. Holgorsen said he isn't shying away from Florida or targeting any otter specific area, but he wants to both broaden the recruiting base and also concentrate more on surrounding states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"And the number of junior college players also had something to do with [recruiting from 15 states],' Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen said there were some players in the class who still have work to do academically in order to qualify.
"There's a high percentage that are already qualified,'' he said. "But it's not a hundred percent.''
There is also the possibility of more players signing later. While the NCAA limits recruiting classes to 25 per year, at least three of the early enrollees can be counted in vacancies from last year's class. Holgorsen also said he lost two scholarship players recently when freshman defensive lineman Imarjaye Albury decided to transfer and sophomore linebacker Troy Gloster decided not to play.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.