MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For 15 years Tony Gibson had successfully mined Western Pennsylvania for recruits without once landing a player from Aliquippa High.
On Wednesday, he signed two.
Four-star defensive back Dravon Henry and two-star defensive lineman Jaleel Fields officially became West Virginia’s first inroads to a high school program long regarded as a Pitt pipeline.
Gibson also landed early enrollee Ricky Rogers, a three-star receiver from Monroeville, Pa., leading head coach Dana Holgorsen to nickname his assistant “Mr. Pittsburgh.”
Henry was the defensive prize of WVU’s class, a player with a pile of offers that included Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Florida State and, yes, Pitt.
“It was everybody (offering) for a long time,” Gibson said Wednesday. “But he kept slimming the list down and we kept hanging in.”
Now Henry likely will take first crack at cornerback, though he possesses the tackling ability to play safety, the position Gibson coaches.
The WVU assistant, who accompanied Rich Rodriguez in the controversial exit to Michigan and then also spent a year with Rich Rod at Arizona, has been pumping the coming-home storyline since returning to Morgantown last January.
He said it’s a genuine tact that resonates with recruits.
“This is the easiest sell I’ve ever had, because it’s home,” Gibson said. “I think people see through the BS when you’re at other places and you’re trying to tell them about your school. I think everybody knows how passionate I am about West Virginia and what it means to me and my family.”
But who knew that passion was enough to pull teammates out of Aliquippa?
“The selling point with us is we are the biggest thing in the state of West Virginia,” he said. “In Pittsburgh you have the Steelers, the Penguins, the Pirates, Pitt—you have so much other stuff. What we sell (recruits) on is that when you’re coming here, you’re going to be treated like an NFL player. The people in town know you and embrace you.”
Of course if the audacious James Franklin has his way, Penn State soon will command Pennsylvania recruiting. The Nittany Lions’ new coach recently proclaimed “We are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region.” To which Gibson offered a grinning response Wednesday.
“Now that the new staff at Penn State said they’re going to dominate, I just hope I can get in schools,” he said. “(Franklin) threw the gauntlet out, so let’s see what happens. I’m sure us, Pitt, Notre Dame and Ohio State are going to go at it.”