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Neal Brown gets what he’s looking for in first WVU signing class

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — By design, Neal Brown got off to a late start with his first recruiting class at West Virginia.

Though he was already running behind in a game that starts in earnest when high school players are still juniors and sophomores, he needed to be sure of what West Virginia had on its roster before building the class.

Unfortunately for the 2019 Mountaineers, the team’s deficiencies quickly became clear. Fortunately for the future Mountaineers, that also made it plainly obvious as to how Brown needed to repair the roster.

West Virginia needed depth on the offensive line. It needed to replace two senior cornerbacks who were being counted on to play almost all of the team’s snaps in the pass-friendly Big 12. And Brown most certainly needed to make sure the top prospects within West Virginia’s own borders didn’t venture elsewhere, as had happened the year before.

All of those boxes were checked within the 18 letters of intent received by the Mountaineers on national signing day.

Building in the trenches

Fairmont Senior offensive lineman Zach Frazier (left) signed with West Virginia.

West Virginia added four new offensive linemen, including Fairmont’s Zach Frazier. The 6-foot-3, 296-pound center is joined by tackle Chris Mayo (Irvington, N.J.), junior college tackle Tairiq Stewart (Warrensville, Ohio) and guard Jordan White (Hyattsville, Md.).

The question now becomes whether any of those players will be game-ready in 2020. West Virginia didn’t play any of its true freshman offensive linemen this season even as it struggled up front.

“Jordan White has played against high, high-level competition at DeMatha [Catholic]. That’s one of the premier leagues in all of high school football,” Brown said. “It’s always a jump. Offensive line is the hardest position to play. But I think he’s training at that level will give him a better opportunity than most.

“Zach’s strength gives him a chance, as well. Chris Mayo has also been playing against some fifth-year kids at the Peddie School.”

Keeping them home

Bluefield’s Sean Martin signed with West Virginia after initially committing to North Carolina.

Frazier was rated as the No. 2 prospect in West Virginia this year. He’ll be joined by the only guy ahead of him, Bluefield defensive end Sean Martin.

Martin committed to North Carolina over the summer, but ultimately signed with WVU.

“We had a setback early on and stayed persistent,” Brown said. “This was as important a win as we had as any.

“It’s very, very important for us in a state that has a low population. We’ve got to keep those guys within our state.”

Loading up the secondary

Maryland athlete David Vincent-Okoli is one of two 4-star prospects in WVU’s Class of 2020.

Brown went well beyond West Virginia’s borders to bolster the Mountaineers secondary.

“We traveled five corners to our last couple games, which is really thin,” Brown said. “And three were seniors.”

The farthest-flung new Mountaineer is 6-1 cornerback Jaïro Faverus, a native of Amsterdam, Netherlands who attends England’s Bristol Academy of Sport. Faverus impressed the coaching staff at a WVU summer camp.

“He came over and was physically impressive in camp,” Brown said.

Faverus is one of four incoming defensive backs, joined by 4-star David Vincent-Okoli (Gaithersburg, Md.) and fellow 3-stars Jackie Matthews (Mississippi Gulf Coast CC) and Daryl Porter Jr. (Plantation, Fla.). All are corners, but Brown said Matthews will begin his WVU career as a safety.

The other position on defense that needed bolstering was bandit. It’s a staple of defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s scheme, but he largely had to do without it this season.

“We’re thin at that spot,” Brown said. “Jared Bartlett did some nice things closing out the year. VanDarius Cowan will be back. But we needed depth and athleticism.”

Capturing the bandits

De Smet’s Lanell Carr runs with the ball during football practice at De Smet High School on Wednesday, August 8, 2018 in St. Louis, Mo.

Lanell Carr (St. Louis, Mo.) and Taurus Simmons (Savannah, Ga.) offer two very different body types to put in the spot. Carr is a 6-3, 235-pound player who has been both an outside linebacker and defensive end. Simmons is a 6-3, 215-pound former defensive back who is bulking up.

“Lanell is a natural pass-rusher,” Brown said. “Taurus has grown into the role. He was a nickel back a year ago. Most of his pass-rushing has been done from a blitzing perspective.

“We were looking for guys who could not only pass-rush but drop in coverage, and both of those guys have those skills.”

Signing day surprises

Canadian defensive end Akheem Mesidor picked West Virginia over a host of suitors.

West Virginia added two additional signees on top of the 16 players who had committed prior to signing day.

Defensive end Akheem Mesidor (Ottawa, Canada) and wide receiver Sam Brown (Savannah, Ga.) both chose WVU on Wednesday.

Mesidor selected West Virginia over Pitt, Syracuse and UCLA.

“Jahmile Addae and Jordan Lesley really went to work on this one,” Brown said of his assistant coaches. “This is why relationships matter. We got in on him early.”

Brown, who was a long-time Central Florida commit, ultimately picked West Virginia over a late push from Florida.

“He has an opportunity to be a phenomenal college player,” Neal Brown said.

Neal Brown Signing Day press conference

Work remains

Though Brown’s first class is off to a strong start, he also made it clear that it is not complete.

West Virginia doesn’t have a running back in the class. The need for one was heightened earlier in the week when senior Martell Pettaway decided to transfer.

Brown said the Mountaineers will also add another offensive lineman. Commit Jacob Gamble did not sign on Wednesday, and is not expected to until February.

“We’ll continue to add to the offensive line class, whether that’s in February or the summer,” Brown said.

Early enrollees

Five players will enroll at WVU in January and participate in spring drills.

  • Cornerback Jaïro Faverus
  • Safety Jackie Matthews
  • Wide receiver Reese Smith (Danville, Ky.)
  • Defensive tackle Quay Mays (Northwest Mississippi JC)
  • Quarterback Garrett Greene (Tallahassee, Fla.)

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