MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Nine midterm enrollees have joined the West Virginia football program, giving them a leg up on winter conditioning and spring practice.
For recent evidence on the importance of early arrivals, chart the contributions made by Karl Joseph, Wendell Smallwood and Daikiel Shorts coming from the high school ranks. And ask yourself whether Riverside Community College product Skyler Howard, if not given the benefit of an admittedly rough spring in 2014, would have been capable of stepping in at the close of his first season.
Here are the Mountaineers’ midyear additions ranked by projections for immediate impact:
1. Kennedy McKoy, RB (6-2, 194)
Lexington, N.C./North Davidson High
Wendell Smallwood’s early jump to the NFL forces all the running backs to play up a slot, and the competition behind Rushel Shell and Elijah Wellman is cloudy. Does Donte Thomas-Williams finally rise up to his four-star potential? Does Jacky Marcellus become a viable scat-back option? Unless both show improvement, McKoy’s in the mix for early playing time. … He ran for 1,871 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior after setting school record with 2,061 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2014. … The three-star recruit also caught 43 passes for 683 yards and seven touchdowns and held offers from Boston College, Louisville, N.C. State, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Wake Forest.
2. Logan Thimons, LB (6-1, 220)
Sarver, Pa./Freeport Area Senior High
With four senior linebackers departing, West Virginia faces an all-hands situation in 2016. Aggressive, smart and productive, Thimons could be in line for playing time behind presume Mike starter Al-Rasheed Benton. … A three-star recruit and USA Today All-Pennsylvania first-teamer, Thimons made 401 career tackles, including 161 with 15.5 sacks last season.
3. Jeffery Pooler, DT (6-4, 290)
Dayton, Ohio/Dunbar High
Following the graduation of Kyle Rose, the nose guard position becomes the domain of senior Darrien Howard and sophomore Jaleel Fields. The sizable Pooler could open spring ball as the third option in the middle, though WVU is still pursuing a junior college nose who would arrive in the summer. … A two-star Rivals recruit and an ESPN three-star, Pooler produced 82 tackles, eight sacks and five forced fumbles his senior season and chose WVU over offers from Louisville, Maryland and Tennessee.
4. Dylan Tonkery, S (6-0, 195)
Bridgeport, W.Va./Bridgeport High
Though projections are split on what the younger brother of former West Virginia linebacker Wes Tonkery can accomplish in the Big 12, he showed plenty of ability as a two-way standout on three state-title teams at Bridgeport. He’ll get a look at the Spur safety position vacated by K.J. Dillon and could be primed for a shot at strong safety in 2017 after Jarrod Harper graduates. … A two-time West Virginia All-State Class AA selection, Tonkery made 72 tackles in his high school career—a number tempered by Bridgeport winning so many blowouts—and ran for 40 touchdowns while posting back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons. … He was a three-star recruit according to Scout and a Rivals two-star prospect.
5. Marcus Simms, WR (6-0, 171)
Sandy Spring, Md./Sherwood High
West Virginia appears stocked at receiver next season with Shorts, Shelton Gibson, Ka’Raun White, Gary Jennings, David Sills and Jovon Durante returning. Yet the coaches have repeatedly shown a willingness to flip the depth chart to accommodate promising youngsters. … Simms caught 43 passes for 1,020 yards and 20 touchdowns last season after making 36 receptions for 712 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. … A four-star recruit by ESPN and a three-star by Rivals, Scout and 247sports, Simms was pursued by Boston College, Maryland, Pitt, Rutgers and Wake Forest.
6. Cody Saunders, QB (6-1, 200)
Panama City Beach, Fla./Arnold High
With Howard backed up at quarterback by redshirt freshman Chris Chugunov and sophomore William Crest, the dual-threat newcomer Saunders enters spring practice in learning mode. That early exposure could make him a candidate come 2017. … He connected on 165-of-259 passes for 2,005 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2015 while running for 1,003 yards and 13 touchdowns. … ESPN ranked Saunders a four-star recruit, while he received three stars from Scout and 247sports and only two from Rivals. He chose WVU over South Florida.
7. Jacquez Adams, CB (5-11, 160)
Reisterstown, Md./Milford Academy
The twin brother of Jordan, who redshirted at WVU last season, Adams spent a semester at prep school shoring up his academic qualifications. Now he may be counted upon to shore up a position decimated by the departures of Daryl Worley, Terrell Chestnut and Rick Rumph. Seniors Rasul Douglas and Antonio Crawford are penciled in at the corners in 2016, but both would be first-year starters and the competition among backups is wide-open, with only Nana Kyeremeh having game experience. … Adams quarterbacked a Maryland state-championship team at Franklin High in 2014—completing 108-of-175 passes for 1,539 yards and 16 touchdowns, rushing for 916 yards and 12 scores—and played receiver at Milford during the fall.
8. Jacob Buccigrossi, OL (6-5, 295)
Pittsburgh/North Hills High
True freshmen offensive linemen who see playing time are a rarity, and Buccigrossi is recovering from last fall’s shoulder/labrum surgery that limited him to one game. West Virginia figures to open next season with sophomore Yodney Cajuste and junior Marcell Lazard starting at the tackles, yet depth at those spots has been lacking the past two seasons. … A three-star recruit according to Scout, 247sports and ESPN, he chose WVU over offers from Arizona, Northwestern and Virginia.
9. Reese Donahue, DE (6-5, 245)
Ona, W.Va./Cabell Midland High
The Mountaineers lost senior reserves Eric Kinsey and Isaiah Bruce but return three other defensive ends with playing experience. Plus there’s redshirted 2015 juco signee Xavier Pegues waiting in the wings, so Donahue shouldn’t be rushed into action. … He was a two-time All-State Class AAA selection and the USA Today defensive player of the year in West Virginia. … Three-star recruit according to Rivals, Scout, 247sports and ESPN, Donahue held offers from Cornell and Purdue.