Director of personnel: WVU seeking the next graduate transfer ‘sparkler’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia is “definitely going to be active” in the market for graduate transfers this spring, according to director of football personnel Ryan Dorchester.

Among the current targets are Kentucky receiver Jeff Badet and Syracuse cornerback Corey Winfield. Each would project as huge factors next season when West Virginia must replace its top two receivers and four senior corners.

Like many programs, the Mountaineers have capitalized on the decade-old rule to restock areas of need. Most graduate transfers are one-and-done players, though quarterback Clint Trickett arrived in 2013 with two years’ eligibility remaining.

“They’re kind of like sparklers,” Dorchester said. “They’re bright and pretty for a couple seconds and then they’re gone.”

West Virginia’s success with graduate transfers has ranged from home-run acquisitions like 1,000-yard rusher Charles Sims (2013), to role-playing contributors such as defensive end Shaq Riddick (2014) and cornerback Maurice Fleming (2016).

“Maurice Fleming started six or seven games for us and made a play at the end of the BYU game that sealed the victory,” Dorchester said.
“Signing him was worth a win. If we can go sign a kid and he’s guaranteed to win us a game, I’ll do it every day of the week.”

Dorchester appeared on MetroNews “Sportsline” for an hour-long discussion on West Virginia’s 2017 recruiting class, which stands at 21 now but figures to expand during the next four months. Graduate transfers who are immediately eligible could be high-impact players next fall.

“It’s low-risk, high-reward,” Dorchester said. “If you whiff on them and they’re not that good, they’re here for one season and they’re out the door.

“I would compare our success to anyone in the country in terms of getting value out of those guys.”

Badet was among the fastest players at Kentucky last season when he led the SEC and ranked sixth nationally at 21.6 yards per catch. His deep speed could be the perfect plugin after West Virginia junior Shelton Gibson declared for the NFL draft.

Baden’s three-year totals at Kentucky included 82 catches for 1,385 yards and seven touchdowns while playing under three offensive coordinators.

If West Virginia doesn’t land Badet it could wind up facing him next season, as he’s also considering Virginia Tech and Oklahoma.

Winfield became a two-year starter at cornerback for Syracuse after converting from receiver. He and a teammate were briefly hospitalized in April after being stabbed by a former Syracuse at a party, but Winfield recovered to post 41 tackles and four pass breakups last season. He closed his Orange career with three interceptions.

Because a majority of grad transfers don’t complete their master’s degrees, there’s grumbling about the legitimacy of the loophole. So much, in fact, that WVU coach Dana Holgorsen questions how much longer the rule will exist. Then again, in an era where the NCAA is becoming more athlete-friendly, will it restrict the movement of players who earned their four-year degrees?

“I hope it stays,” Dorchester said. “As long as that rule exists, we’ll take advantage of it.”

Pursuing a quarterback?

West Virginia didn’t sign a quarterback in its recent class and probably would only consider a transfer who had three-plus years of eligibility remaining. Junior Will Grier, expected to take over the offense after sitting out a transfer year from Florida, is supported by sophomore Chris Chugunov and redshirt freshman Cody Saunders.

“It’s really difficult to rep more than three,” said Dorchester.

After the Mountaineers weren’t in the race for any elite quarterback recruits during the latest cycle, Dorchester said “we didn’t want to go out and get overly aggressive over a kid we all didn’t really like.”

WVU could be better positioned with the next group of high school prospects.

“You look at the 2018 class, we’re going to be a pretty attractive option to some of the top quarterbacks in the country,” he said.

Focus on D-line and safeties

Shoring up units depleted by graduation, the Mountaineers signed four defensive linemen and six defensive backs.

Dorchester said Northwest Mississippi Community College signee Jaylen Harvey stood out because he’s a true nose guard.

“They’re hard to find in the junior college ranks because a lot of teams don’t play an odd front. He’s a large individual — 6-2, 335, every bit of it. He’s a guy we think can be in our two-deep come fall.”

Three-star safety Kenny Robinson of Pittsburgh, a West Virginia target for several years, drew raves from the staff over his 6-foot-3 frame and ability to contribute at various positions.

“He was the best player in our camp when he was 14 years old,” Dorchester said. “We would’ve taken him at safety, at corner, at receiver or at linebacker. He can do a bunch of different things.”

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