The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 6, 2014

Holgorsen happy as Mountaineers sign 22 players

Roster now at 85 scholarship players

MORGANTOWN — It’s not likely a college football coach will ever step to the podium on National Letter-of-Intent Signing Day and exclaim his displeasure in the class he just signed.

But there’s reason to believe that West Virginia University head coach Dana Holgorsen’s smiles were genuine at Wednesday’s press conference that brought to a close a day of working the phones and staring at the fax machine.

The Mountaineers signed 22 players to the Class of 2014 — six of whom have been on campus since January as early enrollees — and there’s plenty of talent among the group. More importantly, the coach is confident his staff met the team’s biggest needs.

“Offensively, we took a little bit of everything,” he said. “Defensively, we got three big bodies for the defensive line that we really feel will come in here and develop.”

Perhaps just as critical as the talent, Holgorsen finally has the numbers where he wants them for the first time since arriving in Morgantown.

“We’ve added 22 guys, and our numbers are right at 85 (scholarship players),” he said. “That’s been a topic of discussion around here for quite some time. We’re excited to get those healthy numbers. We’ve got 70-some working out in the offseason right now, which gets the coaching staff incredibly excited about the season.”

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All 22 players are expected to eventually make an impact on the WVU program, but a couple drew the most attention from those who follow recruiting services.

Donte Thomas-Williams had not officially committed prior to signing day, but the Mountaineers received good news when the Durham, N.C., product pulled out a WVU hat at signing day festivities at Hillside High School.

“We had a good surprise today in Donte Thomas-Williams,” said Holgorsen of the 6-foot, 221-pound running back, who rushed for 2,400 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior. “He was one of our highest targets at running back. The guys did a great job of identifying him. He’s a big kid, runs fast and is talented. He has a ton of upside.”

Thomas-Williams, an ESPN four-star running back, had scholarship offers from Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, South Carolina and Virginia Tech, among others.

The other signee who created the most buzz on message boards and talk shows was Dravon Henry, a cornerback out of Aliquippa High School in Pennsylvania.

One of the top recruits in Pennsylvania, Henry, who played both defensive back and running back, had offers on the table from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Penn State, Pitt and South Carolina, along with many more.

“(Safeties coach Tony Gibson) is Mr. Pittsburgh right now,” said Holgorsen. “He did a great job of getting up there and getting him. To be able to get a guy like Henry, who is one of the better players in the whole state and can play a lot of different positions, is great. We will be able to use him to put together what we think will be one of the greater secondaries in college football.”

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The biggest surprise on signing day was the commitment of another Pennsylvania native, Dontae Angus out of Philadelphia’s Martin Luther King High School. Originally a WVU target, Angus had been committed to Florida for some time but flipped his decision and decided to come to Morgantown.

“Coach (Brian) Mitchell got in there and established a relationship and stuck with him,” said Holgorsen. “As the contact period came about, he started popping in there, and we convinced him to come over last weekend. He came over with his mother and had a great time.”

Angus, a 6-6, 330-pound lineman, was a three-star recruit by ESPN.

“We get excited for big bodies like that,” said Holgorsen. “They’re hard to find. He can play on both sides of the ball.”

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One of the biggest needs in this year’s class was clearly quarterback. WVU played musical chairs at the position at times this fall — with junior Paul Millard, redshirt freshman Ford Childress and Florida State transfer Clint Trickett all making multiple starts.

None did enough to win the full-time job, or to keep the Mountaineers from a 4-8 season.

Childress has since left the program, making the need for more quarterback competition even greater.

The Mountaineers signed junior college quarterback Skyler Howard, who enrolled in January, to try to come in and compete. Howard threw for 3,151 yards and 33 touchdowns at Riverside City College in California this past season.

William Crest, who signed Wednesday out of Dunbar High School in Baltimore — the same high school that produced WVU star receiver Tavon Austin — will also be in the mix.

“I, as well as 1.8 million people, hope we can pick a starter out of these four,” said Holgorsen. “If you look at our situation, Trickett got hurt, then got better and then got hurt. He’ll get better in the offseason with just mentality. Millard will continue to get better. With that said, both of their performances weren’t good enough. Hopefully they get better, or someone will pass them up.”

Holgorsen said he’s been honest with his returning quarterbacks, telling them the job is up for grabs. He said Howard has been working hard, and the coach believes the fact that the junior college transfer considers Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson as his idol is a good sign.

“We should be in a much, much better situation come Sept. 1 than we were a year ago,” said Holgorsen. “It’s our job to make sure that we get someone who will be ready to roll.”

The Mountaineer coach, entering his fourth season, was also asked how Paul Millard’s decision to join the baseball team would impact his football career.

“That won’t affect anything on our end,” said Holgorsen. “Football pays the bills. He hasn’t and won’t miss anything on our end.”

— Find more information on WVU’s 2014 recruiting class in our special signing day section in Sunday’s Register-Herald.

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