MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Four-star junior college defensive lineman Emmit Gooden, a top target of West Virginia the past month, chose home-state Tennessee on Wednesday.
After netting 23 players during the December early signing period, West Virginia added only two this time. At least three scholarship spots remain open in this class for graduate transfers or late signees.
Rivals ranks the Mountaineers’ class 33rd nationally, fifth in the Big 12 behind Texas (No. 4), Oklahoma (No. 8), TCU (No. 28) and Baylor (No. 32).
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Gooden visited Morgantown on Jan. 26 but became a priority of new Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt. Amid concerns about academic qualifications, he visited Knoxville three days ago.
“When I got that offer, it was something big and something I always dreamed of,” Gooden told GoVols247.com. “When I got there, (my decision) was, like, 90-percent made. Just being back at Tennessee, it just made me feel back at home.”
The Brownsville, Tenn., native played at Holmes (Miss.) Community College in 2016 before transferring to Independence (Kan.) Community College last season.
With West Virginia’s undersized defensive line desperately seeking playmakers, Gooden was viewed as a plug-and-play contributor next season. He said Pruitt and Vols defensive line coach Tracy Rocker convinced him the same opportunity awaits at Tennessee.
That could provide an interesting storyline when the Mountaineers meet Tennessee in next season’s opener in Charlotte Sept. 1.
It didn’t hurt that Gooden grew up wanting to play in the SEC. As a high school standout he was committed to Tennessee and Mississippi State for periods before grades led him to juco.
“I’d probably say all along I knew I belonged at Tennessee,” he told GoVols247.com. “My heart belonged at Tennessee. My mind said Tennessee.”
Browns sign with WVU
A quiet signing day at WVU featured brothers Michael and Joe Brown signing their national letters of intent.
Michael, a raw talent who didn’t play football in high school, spent two years on a mission to the Phillipines before helping Eastern Arizona College post the No. 1 rushing offense in juco last season.
He’s a 6-foot-3, 340-pounder who also had offers from Kansas, Oregon State, Fresno State and New Mexico.
Joe Brown started three games as a redshirt freshman at Miami in 2015, then announced he was transferring to BYU after Al Golden was replaced by Mark Richt. He subsequently enrolled at Eastern Arizona College and earned all-conference honors in 2016. He has one year of eligibility left but hopes to have another reinstated.
Character chooses Louisville
West Virginia also became the bridesmaid for the nation’s top-rated juco safety when Marlon Character signed with Louisville.
The former Auburn signee visited Morgantown on Jan. 25 and had South Carolina among his finalists