By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
This is the nice side of recruiting, although you probably won’t hear that at East Carolina, for they wound up losing out on a recruit they thought they had, a recruit that could have been a huge plus for their program.
But the nice side of recruiting really isn’t how schools and football teams benefit, for they are too impersonal, too bottom line, their objectives being tied more to selling jerseys and tickets than fulfilling lives.
No, this is the story of a coach and a player and a bond that grew between them. It is of one caring for the other, and of how done on the highest of scales recruiting doesn’t have to be the dirty con job that it all too often seems to be.
The is the story of Brian Mitchell, WVU’s newest assistant coach, and one of its new recruits, Dontrill Hyman. It is the story of a relationship that grew from recruiter and recruit to something warmer and stronger.
Mitchell is a one-time college star, a four-year NFL player, a defensive coordinator at East Carolina, which is where he and young Dontrill Hyman came to know each other. He worked Hyman as a recruiter does, got him to commit to ECU, then when he did not qualify to get in he placed him at Hinds Community College in Mississippi rather than throwing him on a junk pile of recruits that did not work out.
He stuck with him and when the coach lost his job at East Carolina and came to West Virginia, Hyman came with him.
“He said there was something about Coach Mitchell. ‘I want him to be part of what I become four or five years down the road,’” Mitchell was saying Wednesday after the commitments all had come in.
See, recruiting is only partly about the school and the football program, about the location or even the courses it offers.
“It’s all about relationships,” Mitchell said. “We started that relationship three years ago.”
That was when he began recruiting him, when he won his confidence and got him to Hinds.
“I was able to put him in that situation where he could grow academically, socially and athletically,” Mitchell said. “Those guys at Hinds did a great job of protecting ECU for that long.”
It was a two-way street. The coaches at Hinds appreciated that Mitchell had brought them this player who would contribute so much to their success, so they did what they could to see that he stayed true to Mitchell. They didn’t push him toward other colleges.
They didn’t put him on any lists, auction him off to the highest bidder.
But when Mitchell left for West Virginia, he wasn’t about to turn his back on Hyman and Hyman wasn’t going to turn his back on him.
Mitchell got right to work at WVU as soon as he took the job.
“That first day Dana said ‘Stay in your office and get to know your players.’ Well, the next day I was on the road seeing a player, then Al-Rasheed, then Marcell Lazar (two other players he would help lure to WVU). I hit the ground running. I didn’t have time to just sit and take into account all the things I needed to get done as far as moving my family here, learning the scheme, learning the combination to my locker.”
And with Mitchell no longer at East Carolina, Hyman opened up his recruiting again.
“When that happened, I said ‘Why not West Virginia?’ He was more than welcome to come up on a visit and saw a need here for a defensive end. That relationship he and I have took another step and opened a new chapter,” Mitchell said.
The two would be reunited at a bigger, better program than either had imagined when their relationship began.
“He’s a bright young man. He saw the situation here, a need for a defensive end, a chance to affect this conference and this team right away,” Mitchell explained. “He will have someone showing him the way. Come to think of it, we’ll be showing each other the way because I’m new here, too.”
It’s an interesting situation, for one day you are selling a kid on your virtues, the school’s virtues, then he signs and now you are coach and player … a totally different relationship.
“I think you have to have a level of professionalism with the kid. You’re not buddy-buddy with him all the time. There’s some things with Dontrill that he and I understand he has to get done,” Mitchell said. “Now I’m Uncle Mitch, not Coach Mitch, but I will be Coach Mitch. He’ll come to me for advice and I’ll treat him like other kids. My policy has always been to never tell him things that aren’t going to benefit him.”
Hyman is a big catch for WVU.
“He’s 6-foot, 4½, 265 pounds … I mean, broad shoulders and he’s eaten junior college food. He’s worked out in a junior college weight room. He’s living in a junior college dorm,” Mitchell said. “The environment here is more conducive to helping him develop his mind, his body and his spirit and I think the kid will flourish here in every area.”
And, in the end, this is about the kid, isn’t it?
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.