Neal Brown hypes fun spring game atmosphere, still learning lyrics to ‘Country Roads’

West Virginia football coach Neal Brown and deputy athletics director Keli Zinn chat during an informal address at the Big Atlantic Classic tipoff banquet in Beckley.


BECKLEY, W.Va. — Within his first 22 days as West Virginia’s football coach, Neal Brown has recruited a four-star transfer quarterback, filled most of his staff vacancies, and met individually with each of the roster’s 100-plus players.

Learning all the lyrics to a certain John Denver song, however, will take a while longer, though Brown has a plan for that too.

Addressing the tipoff banquet for the Big Atlantic Classic, Brown recounted how a fan sent him a plaque bearing every word to “Country Roads.” The welcoming gift sits on Brown’s desk at the stadium.

“I know the opening stanza. To say that I know the whole song, I’m not sure yet,” he said.

“People have sent me all kinds of things, and if you sent me something, I promise that you’re getting a thank-you letter.”

Another item on Brown’s desk reveals the detail to which he’s going to familiarize himself with his new team. It’s a yellow notebook that contains photos of all the Mountaineers players, accompanied by notes Brown jotted down from their one-on-one meetings.

“That’s my homework every night,” said Brown, who called this a critical time for developing relationships with players recruited during coach Dana Holgorsen’s tenure.

“We don’t have ‘his’ recruits or ‘our’ recruits — they’re all West Virginia football players,” Brown said.

More highlights from Brown’s appearance Sunday:

► Brown emphasized the urgency to keep in-state prospects home. He didn’t identify any recruits specifically, but the Mountaineers are pursuing Rivals five-star offensive tackle Darnell Wright of Huntington High and four-star guard Doug Nester of Spring Valley.

“From a population standpoint, we’re one of the smaller states. But I, for one, believe the high school football is really pretty good in this state, and it has a chance to be great,” Brown said.

“While I can’t speak about names, there’s a couple prospects in this state that are two of the highest-ranked noncommitted players in the country. We’re doing everything within the NCAA guidelines to make sure they come to West Virginia.”

► After WVU nixed its 2018 spring game because of potentially freezing weather, Brown sounds intent on hyping up a family-friendly event this year.

“The spring game, to me, it’s for the fans. We want it to be a celebration. It’s something our players are going to look forward to. You’re going to hear me talk about having fun and our spring game’s going to be a little bit different. There’ll be some competition, there’ll be some student and fan interactions there. We’re going to get the young kids, the small Mountaineer fans involved. And I think maybe we’re going to have a reveal or two.”

“We’re going to have some football, and you’re going to see the product. Hopefully it’s going to be a quality product — that’s the plan. But it’s going to be a game that’s fun, family-friendly and really, I hope it’s a window to what it’s going to be in the fall.”

► Having traversed the state recently, Brown said West Virginia residents remind him of the folks where he grew up in Kentucky.

“People from here are really proud to be from here, and I appreciate that,” he said.

► Gov. Jim Justice said of Brown: “We’re blessed to have a coach who’s an incredible man with incredible dignity.”

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