— By Sean Manning, The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN. W.Va. — The West Virginia preseason depth chart (the one that doesn’t matter to coach Dana Holgorsen) is littered on the defensive side with home-state products.
Reese Donahue, from Cabell Midland, is entering his second season as a starter at defensive end. Next to him on the line are the Stills brothers Darius and Dante, who thrived at Fairmont Senior. Morgantown High alum Stone Wolfley adds depth at end.
At Mike linebacker is Dylan Tonkery, a redshirt sophomore from Bridgeport. Another former MHS standout, Shea Campbell, has worked his way into getting major reps at outside linebacker.
In the secondary, Charleston native Derrek Pitts is working as a No. 1 cornerback.
In the 2019 recruiting class, the Mountaineers already have commitments from the top three defenders in the state according to Rivals.com — University’s Amir Richardson, Capital’s Kerry Martin and Martinsburg’s Dewayne Grantham.
There’s no doubt the high school talent in West Virginia has blossomed, but defensive coordinator Tony Gibson contends his recruiting tactics haven’t changed in the last three years. He looks for the best players regardless of where they’re from, it just so happens that some are now right under his nose.
“Any kid in any state that can help us in the Big 12, then we’re gonna recruit them,” Gibson said. “Right now, with Reese, Tonkery, Pitts, Darius, Dante, all of the guys that we’re counting on, they’re good players and we feel that they can help us win the Big 12.”
One big difference between the instate players and others, according to Gibson, is pride. There’s not a lot of extra motivation that needs spread with West Virginians since wearing old gold and blue is something they’ve dreamed about since they began playing football.
“It means that much more to them every Saturday and when they put that Flying WV on, it’s special,” Gibson said. “I bet if you talk to them and ask them about it, they’d get a little emotional. You can’t replace that part of it, when it means that much to a kid to come out and represent his home state, and those guys have done a great job. I feel like all of those guys are going to be able to help.”
Gibson was right about Donahue, who had to gather his thoughts when asked about what it means as a state native to play for the Mountaineers.
“It really has been an honor playing here — it’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, ever since I was about 8 years old watching guys like Pat White and Steve Slaton thinking how I want to eventually play on that field,” he said.
The influx of major Division I talent in West Virginia has done well on the WVU defense, but others, especially offensive linemen, have decided to go elsewhere. Huntington’s Darnell Wright, a 5-star recruit according to all recruiting services, eliminated the Mountaineers two weeks ago when he released his top eight.
Spring Valley’s Doug Nester is committed to Ohio State and teammate Zach Williamson is headed to Louisville. The 2017 class was more of the same, with Huntington’s Billy Ross signing at North Carolina, Spring Valley’s Riley Locklear choosing to Tennessee and Capital linebacker Dorian Etheridge picking Louisville.
Donahue believes the state’s three-week workouts and out-of-season coaching have helped.
“West Virginia, as a state, is doing a lot better things,” he said. “We were a little bit behind the times with football compared to some other states, and now I think the state as a whole is growing in talent level. Even with the rules and regulations before, we weren’t allowed to have camps over the summer. We’re finally starting to catch up with everybody.”