By Cam Huffman
With the increased coverage of recruiting provided by websites like Rivals.com and Scout.com, not to mention the attention ESPN has devoted to the offseason, most West Virginia University football fans knew just what to expect Wednesday morning when the national letters-of-intent started rolling off the fax.
A couple of late surprise, though, made what was already ranked as a solid class an even better one. WVU’s 2013 class which included 25 players — five wide receivers, five linebackers, four offensive linemen, four safeties, two running backs, two defensive ends, a fullback, a quarterback and a punter — ended the day ranked as the 24th-best class in the country by Rivals.com, 26th by Scout.com and 32nd by ESPN.com.
“We did a heck of a job,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, who will be entering his third season as the top Mountaineer this fall. “We identified the guys that wanted to be here. He put together a staff of 18 people that we thought would sign, and all 18 signed today (the other seven are already on campus and working out with the Mountaineers). There is some relief and satisfaction to it.”
The biggest surprises for fans that follow the recruiting game came in the form of Mario Alford, a 5-foot-9 wide receiver ranked as a four-star .recruit by ESPN.com, Brandon Golson, a 6-foot-3 linebacker ranked by ESPN, Rivals and Scout as a three-star prospect, and Jeremy Tyler, a three-star safety.
Alford, who led Georgia Military College in rushing last season, chose WVU over Arizona, Cincinnati, Kansas, Ole Miss and Texas Tech. Golson, another Georgia Military prospect, was offered by Arizona, Kansas, Kansas State, South Carolina and Texas A&M, despite playing in only four games last year because of an injury. Jeremy Tyler, who was a Class 5-A All-State pick out of Georgia’s Martin Luther King High School, was offered by Ole Miss, Texas Tech and Vanderbilt before choosing the Mountaineers.
One of the biggest stars in this year’s class, at least on paper, was 6-foot-1 wide receiver Shelton Gibson. Rated as a four-star recruit by ESPN, Rivals and Scout, Gibson played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl after finishing with more than 700 receiving yards as a senior. He chose WVU over offers from Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State Pitt and others.
“Probably our biggest need on offense was to add playmakers,” said Holgorsen. “When you lose Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and J.D. Woods, you better go out and add some guys that have that ability. We have three junior college players coming in. Kevin White is already on campus, and he is a grown man. Daikiel Shorts is a grown man that is adjusting to college quickly. The new guys are all 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-10 guys that have that quick twitch ability. Mario Alford is a guy that can just flat-out run. Ronald Carswell can run away from people. The last guy that we ended up adding was Shelton Gibson. When you watch him on tape, he is extremely, extremely talented. He is also hard to tackle. These are guys that we are going to get the ball to in space.”
Defensively, Darrien Howard might be the top signee. A four-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and Scout, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker had 75 tackles as a senior at Chaminade-Julienne High School in Dayton, Ohio. He had offers on the table from Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, N.C. State ant Pitt.
“We put a strong emphasis on guys that could rush the passer,” said Holgorsen. “Everybody said that our woes defensively were pass defense related, so we should get as many cornerbacks as we could. That is a very uneducated statement. You better find defensive lineman that can rush the passer.”
The only West Virginia native that will be put on scholarship this year is Elijah Wellman, who won the Sam Huff Award as the top defensive player in the state and also rushed for 1,676 yards and 18 touchdowns. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder also had offers from Bowling Green and Ohio.
The class includes players from 15 states and nine junior college athletes.
“It is something that we have talked about for quite a while,” said Holgorsen of the increase in junior college prospects. “Identifying these guys is not easy. You have to spend a lot of time making phone calls and going to see them to see if they are your type of guys. One thing that I have seen change in college football is the amount of guys from junior college that are being recruited.
“These guys are grown men. They will be able to compete physically in the Big 12.”
Holgorsen said there could still be some late additions to this year’s class.
“It depends on how things shake out,” he explained. “We are still actively pursuing a couple guys. We still have a couple more spots available. We may identify a couple guys that we want to bring on board. We may want to bring a couple transfers on board. We will evaluate that as a staff and make the best decision possible.”
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