MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As verbal commitments turned to binding signatures Wednesday, West Virginia’s 2016 recruiting class inched up the national rankings to 34th on the Rivals and Scout lists, and 38th on the 247 Sports index. Each service had the Mountaineers pegged sixth or seventh in the Big 12.
Dana Holgorsen did not emerge as the first coach in college football history to pronounce signing day a complete disaster, and nor should he have. Primary targets Brendan Ferns and Kyzir White followed in their brothers’ footsteps to Morgantown, and the other 25 signees seemingly addressed position needs via quality and/or volume.
This isn’t a class that requires four or five years to evaluate. For those eight junior college additions, their moments of impact must be immediate. Holgorsen sounded particularly relieved to land running back Justin Crawford, the result of an impetuous recruitment brought on by Wendell Smallwood’s departure to the NFL.
“He’s got a lot of Wendell qualities—good vision, hits the hole quick, makes people miss, and he’s a good receiver,” Holgorsen said. “We had to go out and get another back. We were fortunate that those two guys (Smallwood and Rushel Shell) stayed healthy last year, so that we didnt have to go to our No. 3 guy. Two years ago we got all way down to No. 5. You need bodies there.”
The body count in the secondary was bolstered by four JUCO transfers. Such was the patchwork remedy required after saying farewell to four seniors and a junior, Daryl Worley, whose NFL leap appears a tad premature.
“We’ve been down the road of having to play freshmen on defense in the Big 12 and it didn’t work out too well,” Holgorsen said.
Comments made by Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson indicate what we suspected for months—White is the top choice at spur safety, even though he won’t arrive on campus until mid-May.
“We feel from Day One he’ll be an impact guy,” Gibson said. “That position really is the key to our defense.”
When it came to the recruitment of White, it’s easier to name the WVU coaches who weren’t involved. Such was the tag-team effort required to fend off Southern Cal and other elite programs who tried to flip the Lackawanna College product.
“We were on him early but he blew up nationally and we expected him to blow up,” said assistant Mark Scott. “It really took a group effort to keep him committed. You can’t get comfortable and you can’t relax on a kid with Kyzir’s talent.”
That comfort factor—based on White’s brothers Kevin and Ka’Raun previously signing with West Virginia, and Ferns joining his brother Michael—could have become a detriment had WVU coaches presumed the outcome in lieu of earning it.
“We battled, we recruited them hard,” Holgorsen said. “You’re around them so much you can take for granted that you know them so well that you don’t recruit them as hard. I don’t think that happened with us.”
Ferns heavily considered Penn State until late last week, when West Virginia coaches began to press him privately for a decision, worried they might need to enact a contingency plan. Gibson and Holgorsen were headed back to Ohio for another in-home visit when the linebacker told them, “I’ll save you a trip. I’m coming to West Virginia.”
He’ll face stratospheric expectations from the get-go. With WVU seeking to replace four of its top six linebackers, fans will anticipate Ferns making his first college tackle no later than against Missouri on Sept. 3.
Plus, there’s the obvious pressure on Holgorsen to produce a winning season. December’s vote of confidence from athletics director Shane Lyons essentially covered 2016 only.
Some recruiting classes have the benefit of patience. This does not appear to be one of them.