By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Recruiting is never easy, unless you wear the green of Notre Dame or the red of Alabama, but this year at West Virginia it was fraught with peril.
To begin with, the team was coming off a disappointing season, yet was losing a number of NFL quality players. Being in West Virginia, the necessary talent is not on the doorstep, meaning that you need not only a plan but an atlas to find the players you need.
Then there was a matter of having coaching changes right in the midst of the recruiting period, some assistants leaving, others coming in, one so blind that he admits that one of his first chores was not to learn the defensive system within which he would coach but his locker combination.
And, finally, there was no luxury of time. Immediate help was necessary, which meant that Coach Dana Holgorsen had to make use of junior colleges, which is a dangerous path to take.
See, in most cases, there are faults in a player who attends a junior college, be it academic, social or physical.
Sometimes you hit the jackpot, as WVU did with Bruce Irvin, who was a huge gamble but turned out to be not only a first-round draft choice but a first-class citizen in his time at WVU.
“Identifying these guys is not easy. You have to spend a lot of time making phone calls and going to see them to see if they are your type of guys,” Holgorsen said. “One thing that I have seen change in college football is the amount of guys from junior college that are being recruited. In my years at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State, it wouldn’t be strange to have a class without any junior college players.
“This year, a lot of schools are going after junior college guys. We were able to land nine of them. I don’t think anyone would have been happy to add 25 of them, so you have to identify guys that you have needs for.”
This year Holgorsen has gone out and brought in nine junior college players among his 25 recruits from across the country.
“The thing about this class that stands out to me is that we went to 15 different states to get these guys,” Holgorsen noted as he began his introductory press conference. “If you look at what happened last year, it was the surrounding states and down south.”
This year they brought in four players from Pennsylvania, three from Ohio, New Jersey and Georgia, two from Florida and then one from states such as California and Mississippi and South Carolina, states normally bypassed by WVU.
“That is a lot of travel time. It is not easy to get anywhere,” Holgorsen said, stating the obvious to anyone who does a lot of traveling. “These coaches have been doing a good job. We would get back from recruiting weekends, and then hit the road.
“When you get a kid like D’Vante Henry (a pass rushing junior college linebacker), who is from Oklahoma and played in Arizona, that is a lot of traveling to do. It takes a lot of time and money to get those kids. We appreciate the support we have from our administration and our boosters, because it takes a lot of money to get to these places.”
Holgorsen had to do it, though, especially on the defensive side of the football where he had to rebuild what was the worst defense in the school’s history.
“Specifically, we put a strong emphasis on guys that could rush the passer. Everybody said that our woes defensively were pass defense related, so we should get as many cornerbacks as we could. That is a very uneducated statement,” he said. “You better find defensive lineman that can rush the passer. We lost Terence Garvin and Josh Francis to graduation, and we were not very deep at those positions.”
And so they went out and recruited Brandon Golson, Henry and Dontrill Hyman, junior college players with a history of sacking the quarterback more than a bagger at Kroger’s sacks Campbell soups.
That position was a need. When you have guys like Brandon Golson, Henry and Dontrill Hyman, these guys are pass rushers.
“They are long and able to get to the quarterback. Marvin Gross can rush the passer, as can outside linebacker type guys like Jeremy Tyler, Isaac McDonald from down in south Florida. These are safety type bodies that are going to be tremendous from a nickel standpoint,” Holgorsen said. We handled our needs. I don’t want to leave out Al-Rasheed Benton, who physically, is as dynamic as we have seen. If you put him with our whole team right now, you wouldn’t be able to tell that he is a new kid.”
Oddly, the class did not include a cornerback but Keith Patterson, the new defensive coordinator, believes that with a transfer from Miami who sat out last year, with the possibility of converting a running back to corner and with what’s on hand that “it may be our most improved group on the defense.”
Losing quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey took away the Mountaineer’s quick strike ability, so the recruiters went out looking for playmakers.
“Probably our biggest need on offense was to add playmakers,” Holgorsen said. “When you lose Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and J.D. Woods, you better go out and add some guys that have that ability.”
Again they went to the junior colleges to help out.
“We have three junior college players coming in. Kevin White is already on campus, and he is a grown man. Daikiel Shorts is a grown man that is adjusting to college quickly. The new guys are all 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-10 guys that have that quick twitch ability.
“Mario Alford is a guy that can just flat-out run. Ronald Carswell can run away from people. The last guy that we ended up adding was Shelton Gibson. When you watch him on tape, he is extremely, extremely talented. He is also hard to tackle.
“These are guys that we are going to get the ball to in space. Whether the guys that are here now can hold down a spot will be fun to watch in camp. We will be anxious to add these guys.”
Offensively the Mountaineers addressed their lack of running back that hurt them last year with injuries to Dustin Garrison and Shawne Alston by bringing in a number of talented runners, led by junior college player Dreamius Smith.
“Being able to add Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood and Elijah Wellman will give us a tremendous amount of depth. When you throw in (Andrew) Buie and (Dustin) Garrison, we have some bodies,” Holgorsen said.
The offensive line was hit hard by graduation and that, too, was addressed in this recruiting class, especially in junior college center Stone Underwood, who probably will wind up starting this season.
“From an offensive line standpoint, we are excited to get these guys in here — Marcell Lazard, Tyler Tezeno, Stone Underwood and Grant Lingafelter,” Holgorsen said.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.