Transfers Find Second Chance with WVU Football - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Transfers Find Second Chance with WVU Football

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WVU running back Justin Crawford prepares for his senior season with the Mountaineers. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle) WVU running back Justin Crawford prepares for his senior season with the Mountaineers. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle)
WVU safety Kyzir White looks on during the final camp of his Mountaineer career. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle) WVU safety Kyzir White looks on during the final camp of his Mountaineer career. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle)
MORGANTOWN -

Justin Crawford and Kyzir White enter this season as two of the most experienced, accomplished players on the West Virginia University football team.

Each has his face plastered on the team’s official media guide as two of seven Mountaineers representing a program of more than 100 candidates for such an honor.

Crawford and White carry with them a load of expectations from their fans, their teammates and their coaches, despite the fact that this time last year, neither had played a single down of football for WVU. In fact, they hadn’t played a single down of football for anyone at the Division I level prior to the 2016 opener. Yet here they are, two of the senior leaders for a preseason Top 25 program.

This is nothing new for Dana Holgorsen’s teams at West Virginia. In fact, that same media guide cover features two other Mountaineer seniors who found their way to Morgantown as transfers rather than through high school commitments. Whether the athletes sign with WVU out of a junior college or a four-year institution, Holgorsen has made a habit of plucking some of his biggest stars from another team’s roster.

“Coming out of a JUCO, you want to go somewhere where you can play right away,” White, a senior safety for the Mountaineers, said. “A lot of guys like coming to West Virginia because, as you know, they like to recruit a lot of JUCO players and they actually give them an opportunity to play. It’s a win-win situation.”

A look at WVU’s roster shows 30 players who have transferred to the Mountaineers rather than begin their careers in the old gold and blue.

It would take too long to list each one of those transfers who has made a major impact on the team’s successes in recent seasons, but consider that this fall will be the fourth-straight year that Holgorsen’s opening day starter at quarterback had previously played college football elsewhere.

Of the four first-round draft picks that have come from West Virginia in the last 10 years, half were transfers. It has worked well for WVU and the trend doesn’t look as though it will change any time soon.

“It just shows me that no matter where you start, you can contribute and you can be a big part of your team,” said Al-Rasheed Benton, a redshirt-senior linebacker who is entering his fifth season at West Virginia.

Some of these transfers start in perfectly fine places, like Will Grier initially playing for Florida or Clint Trickett battling for his position at Florida State. Others don’t have such a posh situation, and those are the players who start out at a junior college.

“The per diem, the money that we receive each month [at WVU], we didn’t get that each month in JUCO,” Crawford said. “We got, probably, a check for $200, $300 each semester.”

“What can that get you?” a reporter asked Crawford.

“Nothing,” he replied, without a hint of a smile.

West Virginia offers players like Crawford a lifeline. Of course, plenty of programs come looking when you have the impact that the Mountaineers’ top rusher did on the way to winning a national championship with Northwest Mississippi Community College.

“I had a minor setback because my grades wasn’t all the way there and I wasn’t really focused on my grades how I was supposed to be focused on my grades,” Crawford said to explain why he landed at a JUCO in the first place. “Now that I spent two years at a junior college and a year at West Virginia, I understand that my academics is the most important thing. Without that, I can’t do what I want to.”

This is a typical response from many former junior college athletes who make it to where they wish they had been able to land right out of high school. In high school, it seems like football is all that matters and that in order to make a career out of the sport and provide for your family, you may devote so much time to the game that your grades fall behind.

As a result, there are often instances in which the talent at that level far surpasses the fanfare and the attention that it would receive if only that GPA or that SAT score had been up to par.

“I’ve seen some of the best players at JUCO, even on my team personally,” White, a Lackawanna College product, said. “I played against some of the best guys who just didn’t have the grades.”

When these players get the call from a D-I program, it is time to show that they were worthy of that scholarship offer all along.

White joined the Mountaineers last offseason and was almost immediately considered a starter at the spur safety position that K.J. Dillon had left vacant on his way to the NFL.

“I don’t care if you came as a freshman, I don’t care if you came from JUCO – if they gave you the starting spot, you’ve just got to show me you deserve it. That’s all. Just show me you deserve it,” Benton said.

White and Crawford have each done just that, as have many of their teammates who have taken a similar route to end up in Morgantown.

Coaches often say programs are built on those players who learned the system from their first day as a freshman and waited their turn behind seasoned veterans. The Mountaineers have found a way to mix those players with the hunger and the athleticism that exist in transfers and the combination is starting to pay off in a big way. 

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