Putting pen to paper: Previewing WVU football’s early signing period

WVU Football

The first full recruiting class of the Neal Brown era will begin to take shape on Wednesday when the early signing period begins.

Brown and his staff will be receiving National Letters of Intent throughout the day, with the hopes of building the next group of Mountaineers to take the field at Milan Puskar Stadium. We will be providing live updates on WVIllustrated.com and on our social media pages, but our live National Signing Day Special will air on West Virginia Nexstar stations beginning at 7:30 p.m.

As the name suggests, the early signing period is not the end of the road for recruiting, but it has become critical for the process. In each of the first two years of the early period, over 70 percent of recruits signed early, leaving just a small number of top prospects unsigned for the regular period which begins in February.

The Mountaineers currently have 17 commitments from 12 different states and two countries, and are hoping to add more as the NLIs start coming in.

Taking a look back

While the Troy Trojans were top competitors on the field in the Sun Belt under Brown, the head coach and his staff showed a prowess for recruiting as well.

Before Brown, the Trojans’ classes struggled to break the top 100. In 2015, a year before his first full recruiting season, the Trojans had the 117th-ranked class according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings. Just two weeks before he left, he made sure the program was in good hands by posting the highest-ranked class in Troy history, the no. 80 class in the country.

Meanwhile at West Virginia, the Mountaineers haven’t been able to break into the top 25 in the recruiting rankings since 2009 (a class which consisted of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, among others).

In the Big 12 conference, West Virginia faces stiff competition with powers like Oklahoma and Texas in their way. They’ve mainly stayed near the middle of the pack when it comes to recruiting, peaking in 2013, 2015 and 2016 as the fourth-ranked class in the conference.

Charting the future

It’s clear that there is plenty of “climbing” to do for the Mountaineers, but Brown and his staff know exactly where they need to start — in the trenches, in the secondary, and with their running backs.

West Virginia desperately needs to improve their run game, which was the Big 12’s worst by a margin of 805 yards — the Mountaineers gained just 879 yards on the ground in 2019. On top of that, several of their top graduating seniors like Colton McKivitz and Kennedy McKoy will be leaving the program, creating a void that needs filling.

With several commitments already on the offensive line, Moore says he is also hoping to bring in someone with experience, such as a junior college addition or transfer.

Defensively, West Virginia is losing names like Hakeem Bailey, Josh Norwood and Keith Washington, in addition to other departures from earlier in the season. But defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s focus mainly comes up front, where he says he hopes to find a speed rusher.

How’s it look so far?

Ahead of National Signing Day, the Mountaineers’ recruiting class is ranked no. 6 in the Big 12 and no. 41 in the nation according to 247Sports.com. 12 of their 17 commitments fulfill their aforementioned needs: five on the offensive line, three on the defensive line, and four defensive backs.

One may notice that the running back position is left off that list, but it wasn’t until recently. Four-star tailback Lamy Constant topped the Mountaineers’ recruiting board after committing to WVU in November. Earlier this month, the Brooklyn, New York native announced on Twitter that he would be re-opening his recruitment, leaving Brown without a running back and possibly his top recruit.

The two prospects who now top the board, guard Chris Mayo and cornerback David Vincent-Okoli, both signaled their intentions back in June. On ESPN, Mayo is rated as a four-star prospect and Vincent-Okoli is rated as a three-star — but they are flip-flopped on 247Sports.com.

As Moore stated, the Mountaineers have turned to some older prospects in order to fill their roster holes. They now have three commitments from ESPN’s Junior College Top 50: defensive tackle Quay Mays, guard Tairik Stewart and offensive tackle Jacob Gamble (all three-star prospects).

Even with the ground game struggles to focus on, Brown isn’t neglecting his pass game. In fact, his first two commitments came back in March from quarterback Garrett Greene of Tallahasse, Florida and wide receiver Reese Smith of Danville, Kentucky — the first of three receivers that would commit to WVU.

West Virginia also received commitments from the top two prospects in the Mountain State. Fairmont Senior center Zach Frazier (three stars) was an early get for Brown and company as the no. 2-ranked West Virginian committed back in June, but it took top-ranked Sean Martin, a three-star defensive end from Bluefield, until December to make his announcement.

Follow our NSD coverage

West Virginia Illustrated will be at Milan Puskar Stadium for National Signing Day, providing live updates on WVIllustrated.com and on our social media pages (@WVIllustrated).

Be sure to join us at 7:30 p.m. for our Mountaineer GameDay National Signing Day Special where Anjelica Trinone will meet with Coach Brown to get his insight on the process. Then, Nick Farrell will meet with Director of Player Personnel Brian Bennett to get his thoughts on how the Mountaineers recruited.

Catch the NSD Special LIVE on the following stations:

  • WBOY – Clarksburg (ABC)
  • WOWK – Charleston (CBS)
  • WTRF – Wheeling (My Ohio Valley)

Have to miss it? Don’t sweat! It will air on tape delay on:

  • WVNS – Beckley (FOX) Tape delayed to Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m.
  • WVNS – Beckley (CBS) Tape delayed to Dec. 21 at 1:30 p.m.
  • AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh: Tape delayed to Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. and Dec. 21 at noon

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