Holgorsen: Mountaineers more ‘selective’ with 33rd-ranked recruiting class

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Needing to replace two game-breaking outside receivers, West Virginia was elated to land Gary Jennings on Wednesday afternoon.

Comfortable with its group of returning running backs, WVU shrugged off unsuccessful attempts to sway south Florida stars Jordan Cronkite and Mark Walton.

Such was the good-not-great signing day haul for the Mountaineers, whose class ranked No. 33 by Rivals and edged TCU for third-best in the Big 12.

The breakdown of the 21 signees—six defensive backs, five defensive linemen, four offensive linemen, three receivers, two quarterbacks and one linebacker—pleased Dana Holgorsen. Though some recent West Virginia classes received higher grades, the coach flashed attitude about the Mountaineers becoming choosier with their recruiting.

“For the first time in five years we were able to be selective at the end of this process,” he said. “There are a couple guys that I’m thrilled are not part of the Mountaineer family.

“We’re not interested in getting guys that want to commit and take a bunch of trips, so we shut some of that stuff down.”

Holgorsen lauded the loyalty of players such as four-star Miramar product Jovon Durante, the nation’s No. 163-rated recruit who committed last April and never wavered. With Kevin White and Mario Alford departing, Durante and Jennings may be in line for immediate playing time.

Jennings, a three-star receiver from Stafford, Va., chose West Virginia over North Carolina, Virginia and Notre Dame during an afternoon ceremony.

“It was a process where he wanted us to wait so we waited,” said lead recruiter Lonnie Galloway. “I told him if you want to come in and compete to play right away, this is the best place for you.

“He was my top guy. I’m very excited that we got him.”

“I told (Gary Jennings) if you want to come in and compete to play right away, this is the best place for you. He was my top guy. I’m very excited that we got him.” — lead recruiter Lonnie Galloway.

Landing Jennings become even more crucial after two committed receivers flipped Wednesday—Shaquery Wilson back to Georgia, and Kahlil Lewis to Cincinnati.

West Virginia finished second in the chase for Cronkite, who signed with Florida, and Walton, who affirmed his commitment to Miami. Both are four-star prospects who WVU courted during the past two months— a push Holgorsen alluded to as assistant JuJuan Seider “trying to hit a couple of home runs” in the talent-rich coastal area.

“When you battle for the best players, you’re going to come up short sometimes,” Seider said. “We got in on those guys late, because we weren’t going to take (a running back). But we made it interesting and it was a 50-50 deal at the end.”

West Virginia returns four running backs with starting experience and a fifth, redshirt freshman Dontae Thomas-Williams, who was a consensus top-30 running back last season. “We’re not panicking,” Seider said, “because our stable is full.”

The secondary appears well-stocked with five returning starters, and only got deeper with the four-star additions of junior college standout Rasul Douglas and Miramar’s Tyrek Cole, the country’s No. 207 overall recruit.

Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson predicted the newcomers can flourish in his blitz-heavy scheme that trusts cornerbacks to play man coverage.

“I tell all those DBs, ‘If you’re afraid to play man coverage with no safety help, don’t come to West Virginia.’ That’s why I like the mentality and makeup of the kids we did sign. They understand how we want to play. Some kids aren’t a fit for it.”

Brother’s footsteps: Ka’Raun White didn’t have as many offers as his brother Kevin did coming out of junior college, but Holgorsen said “his tape looked remarkably similar to what Kevin did at Lackawanna.”

In-state duo: Along with Morgantown’s Stone Wolfley, defensive back Deamonte Lindsay of Martinsburg represented the Mountaineers’ home-state contingent.

Whereas Wolfley has a family lineage to the program, Lindsay caught the coaches’ attention during last summer’s camp.

“His camp performance was impressive, so we went back and looked at his junior tape and it was impressive,” Holgorsen said. “He followed it up with a great senior year—made a lot of plays, and played a lot of different (positions).”

Lone linebacker: Some recruiting services suggested Cincinnati’s David Long would become a Spur safety at WVU, but Gibson sees him at Will.

“He’s a very explosive kid, and I love the way he plays. He’s going right in at linebacker with me.”

Last fax in: Junior college defensive end Xavier Pegues sent his letter of intent around 3:45 p.m., becoming WVU’s final signee of the day. At 6-3, 270 pounds, Pegues could form a stout presence opposite Itawamba (Miss) Community College teammate Larry Jefferson, who enrolled last month.

“Xavier was a key to this class, giving us some help up front,” Gibson said. “Xavier’s a little thicker and can play tackle. Larry’s more of a true end.”

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