WVU’s Brown makes a quick impression at local high schools
HUNTINGTON - At his introductory press conference, West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown said recruiting in the Mountain State was a point of emphasis.
While Brown’s Class of 2019 did not feature either of the highest-ranked recruits in the state - national Top 100 prospects Darnell Wright of Huntington High or Doug Nester of Spring Valley High School, the work Brown did in his first few weeks as the leader of the Mountaineers bodes well for the future of recruiting in West Virginia.
Huntington High coach Billy Seals and Spring Valley coach Brad Dingess both said Brown showed more recruiting love to their schools in his three weeks on the job than previous head coach Dana Holgorsen did the last 18 months.
“They were behind as soon as it got started, but they did a heck of a job making up ground,” Dingess said. “I believe recruiting in the state of West Virginia is going to be important to them and I know they are going to continue to recruit our kids. I know they were here every opportunity that they were allowed since they got here. There just wasn’t enough time.”
Brown wasn’t able to land either Wright (signed with Tennessee) nor Nester (signed with Virginia Tech), many people will not realize how behind the 8-ball Brown was when he took the job.
Wright and Nester were considered All-Americans since before their junior years, yet both Dingess and Seals said prior to Brown’s arrival, the head coach at West Virginia had not been to their campuses since 2017.
“I know Holgorsen came down to do a home visit with (former West Virginia University fullback) Elijah (Wellman), but Brown has already been in Spring Valley High School more than coach Holgorsen ever was,” Dingess said.
Seals said his talks with coaches around the state showed it was an issue for many of them when they had NCAA Division I level recruits.
“I’ve talked to many coaches within the state since coach Brown has gotten there and they are excited about what he’s going to bring to the table,” Seals said. “I think a lot of coaches in the state -- especially those who have been here for a while -- felt like kids in West Virginia were not recruited as they should have been by WVU. The coaches in the state are excited about Brown’s efforts.”
A picture circulated on social media showing the entire WVU coaching staff at Huntington High in an effort to sway Wright, who was uncommitted at the time.
“It shows that they are all business and it shows that Darnell was obviously very high on their radar,” Seals said. “It shows they are serious about in-state recruiting, which is important because I think there have been some big-time misses in this state. There are some guys who have left this state who are good football players or are going to be good football players at the college level in the near future.”
Wright said Brown’s effort really opened his eyes and had him wishing they had more time to build the type of relationship he had with other schools, which he said was a prime reason he signed with Tennessee.
“At first, WVU wasn’t even in the mix,” Wright said. “I always looked at WVU as the home state and my home team. I always wanted to get involved with WVU, but it never really happened. So once it finally did with the new coaching staff showing me a lot of interest, I liked the coaches and I liked what they were doing. Them showing that much support was awesome. We just didn’t really have that much time. They only had two weeks. It was too little, too late. Through that time, they showed me great support, though.”
Many people don’t know WVU also sent its entire staff to Spring Valley to court Nester, who was technically still committed to Ohio State at the time. But, he was already down to his final three schools -- Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Penn State.
Dingess said Brown had the task of trying to make up three years in three weeks and, at that point, it was simply too difficult to overcome.
Wright and Nester received multiple FBS offers as sophomores, so many of the recruiting relationships they had built grew over two or three years.
“Nester and Wright have had offers since they were freshmen and had schools recruit them that entire time,” Dingess said. “To be honest, if you look at what keeping relationships means, I don’t think that Virginia Tech was a front-runner for Doug until the last week, but they kept that constant relationship. I think WVU gave up on him earlier in the process.
“WVU was the first to offer Doug and, at one point, that’s where he wanted to go, but it just dropped off. Once coach Brown got involved, it was a little too late, at that point.”
Despite both going outside the state, Brown took a major step toward rebuilding relationships within the state that didn’t develop while Holgersen was at WVU.
The visibility of Brown and his staff members late in the recruiting season has the ability to produce big things for the Classes of 2020, 2021 and beyond.
Dingess and Seals said they have future players who are likely on the FBS radar -- players such as Huntington’s Brocton Blair and Spring Valley’s David Livingston in the Class of 2020, Spring Valley mammoth offensive lineman Wyatt Milum in the Class of 2021 and also Timberwolves’ offensive lineman Evan Ferguson in the Class of 2022.
Brown’s visibility in the final month was not lost on those prospects.
“Just talking with my kids in the top schools they are interested in, they put in the effort that our younger guys took notice,” Dingess said. “That builds for the future.”