MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Now that he’s settled in at West Virginia, Neal Brown doesn’t have to play catch-up as he builds the Mountaineers’ 2021 recruiting class.
“Last year was a total aberration,” Brown said in an exclusive interview with MetroNews. “You can’t look at that at all because we were in so late.”
On what was supposed to be the date of West Virginia’s spring game, the Mountaineers have seven players committed to the ’21 class. That’s about where things are supposed to be.
“I feel like we’re kind of in the normal range right now,” Brown said.
What happens from here promises to get decidedly abnormal.
After the spring game, the next traditional spike in commitments from incoming seniors comes around the time that programs host their June camps. There’s another bump in late July before the final wave of commits make up their minds in the weeks leading up to December’s national signing day.
With campuses across the country currently closed to visitors, the next phase of the recruiting game is rife with uncertainty.
When it comes to West Virginia’s highest-priority targets, there is at least a pretty good feel on the part of both coaches and players.
“We’ve got strong relationships with our guys that have committed and anyone who is close to being committed,” Brown said. “If you look at how people are approaching this pandemic, I think Power 5 programs are all over the map. There isn’t a single kid that’s committed to us that hasn’t been here at least twice. Most of them have been here three times or more.
“If you get them there a third time, you’ve got a legit chance. Doesn’t always mean you’ll get them. But you’ve got a legit chance.”
Familiarity is always a key in recruiting, but an element of it will end up missing in this cycle — to the detriment of both sides. That could lead to a wild ride for the remainder of this recruiting calendar, and perhaps ultimately in the transfer portal in years to come.
“The biggest issue in recruiting is the in-person stuff,” Brown said. “It’s not just watching a kid in a camp setting. It’s being in school and being able to talk to the guidance counselor or the school secretary. Being able to watch how they interact with their teammates.
“In a camp setting, do they jump up and try to take reps, or let other people get them? You’re watching that as much as how big he is, how fast he is.”
Players are also missing out.
“A coach will potentially be a lot different on a phone call or campus tour than when they are coaching their position. Do they like that style? They’re missing that,” Brown said. “They’re missing being able to come on official visits and spend time around players. I think that’s what makes kids make decisions more than anything, is the culture and kids that are on campus already.
“I think both sides are missing a lot of data points, and that’s concerning.”
Brown also foresees the potential for an unusually high number of committed recruits flipping to other schools before signing day. Due to the uncertainty of the situation in the midst of a pandemic, Brown has seen some players make potentially premature decisions in order to secure their futures.
“Some of these commits have committed to schools where they haven’t even been on campus,” Brown said. “That’s hard. When we return to whatever our new normal looks like, I think it’s going to be interesting to see how many of those actually stick.
“There’s been a lot of recruiting activity during this time. There’s a couple of reasons for it. One is that social media plays a big role. They see other kids committing and they see the reaction of the fan bases generating likes and retweets. A kid may make a premature decision based on wanting that feeling, wanting that response. Another is they don’t know what the recruiting landscape will look like, so they may be like ‘I better take one.’”
So what happens if it is months before Brown can get recruits on campus again?
“We’re going to do the absolute best we can with what we have available,” Brown said. “If that’s what is laid in front of us, we’re going to go with it.”