Now that basketball season is over, it's time to turn our attention back to football for a bit. Sure, everyone is excited (as they should be) over spring practice and the implementation of Holgorsen's new offense. But if WVU wants to become a perennial BCS bowl team and national championship contender, it will need to continually bring in top-flight recruits who have the natural talent to compete at the highest level. One place where the Mountaineers have enjoyed a lot of success over the years with bringing in elite playmakers is Florida. I was able to
bribe get in touch with FOX Sports' Southeast Recruiting Reporter Laura McKeeman, who graciously agreed to answer a few questions for The Smoking Musket about WVU's recruiting efforts in the Sunshine State. Her vast experience working with and talking to high school recruits on a daily basis brings a truly unique perspective to our recruiting analysis here at TSM.
As you can tell from her answers, Ms. McKeeman has a wealth of knowledge not only about recruiting in Florida, but about college football and sports in general. She is truly one of the best up-and-coming reporters in the industry, and I have a feeling we'll see her move on to bigger and better things in the not-so-distant future. Make sure to follow her on Twitter (@LauraMcKeeman) and to keep an eye out for her articles and interviews on FOX Sports and its affiliates.
Country Roads: First, tell us a little bit about yourself. What's your official title and what are your duties? How did you become a recruiting reporter? Where do you see yourself going from here?
Laura McKeeman: Let's see, about me! I like long walks on the beach, baking cookies and SPORTS! But, in all seriousness, my title with FOX Sports is Southeast Recruiting Reporter. Basically, I cover high school football prospects in schools all over the south and I report on a variety of different sports for FOX (including some MLB and NFL). I became a recruiting reporter about two years ago when I was 20. Now, at 22, I see myself going a few different places but really I'm open to any possibility. I'm very passionate about covering Recruiting because I feel it is a chance to affect an athlete's life long term and give him positive coverage while providing a look at who he is as a person to fans around the country. I hope to continue to do a lot of writing in the future. I enjoy radio as well and, of course, television work. I like to stay well-rounded in all kinds of sports coverage so I could potentially cover anything from football to hockey to X-games to everything in between!
CR: WVU has had a lot of success recruiting in Florida over the years, with guys like Noel Devine, Robert Sands, and Geno Smith just some of the latest examples that would seem to be strong selling points for future recruits. What is the perecption of WVU among high school athletes and coaches in the state of Florida? Do recruits see WVU as a destination school on par with the SEC and ACC schools down there, or is it viewed more as a fallback for guys who fall through the cracks, so to speak?
LM: There's no doubt that WVU has had tons of success in Florida over the years and I guarantee that success will continue to create huge success for WVU in this state in the future. When kids in Florida think Noel Devine, they think West Virginia. Guys like Robert Sands and Geno Smith are also huge selling points when these guys think about WVU. There is a certain fascination with a place like West Virginia because some of the talent down here in Florida sees it as a huge opportunity. They know they may have a chance at a lot of playing time and you can never discount the value of immediate playing time to a high school kid. They want to get in somewhere and make an impact as quickly as possible. When I talk to players about West Virginia, I'll admit it isn't the same as talking with them about Alabama or FSU or Auburn, but that isn't always a bad thing. Of course it depends on which player we are talking about, but I hear many positive things coming out of recruits when referring to WVU because they know it is a program with great coaches, a wealth of opportunity and a chance to show what they're made of
CR: One thing that has allowed WVU to recruit successfully in Florida has been the continuity on the staff at WVU with guys like Don Nehlen, Bill Stewart, and Doc Holliday cultivating relationships over a long period of time. Do you see those results changing at all with Dana Holgorsen as head coach and former Florida running back Robert Gillespie (who are successful in their own right but without any prior connection to WVU) stepping in to lead the recruiting charge?
LM: There is certainly a value to having continuity on a staff and developing relationships with high school coaches that can continue to let their players know about WVU. Still, I don't imagine a drop off happening at all for West Virginia with Holgorsen at the top. Yes, there will be changes in the way Holgorsen and company recruit but the West Virginia name has already been established in Florida and especially in South Florida where some of the most influential playmakers reside. Also, I see Holgorsen's history with some guys that went on to the NFL helping him immensely on the recruiting trail. Kids won't have a hard time figuring out that the head coach recruiting them has ties to Michael Crabtree, Graham Harrell, Wes Welker and Case Keenum. Sending guys to the NFL is HUGE in recruiting and Holgorsen has a proven track record. Also, as I mentioned before, some of the best offensive playmakers call Florida home. They know about Holgorsen's exciting offense and the excellent results he's produced. It really helps to have an offensive mind when recruiting the state of Florida. Robert Gillespie's experience playing at the University of Florida will also help WVU's recruiting efforts in FL. Gillespie will certainly have experience in the area and might know some high school coaches already but, most importantly, HE will be well known. This will be key with parents and even kids that may remember him from his playing days.
CR: Given some of the rumors swirling around Rich Rodriguez's recruitment of players who were also targeted by WVU, Mountaineer fans have grown leery of coaches who allegedly use negative recruiting tactics to try to steer players away from certain schools. Have you seen any evidence of this "negative recruiting"? How prevalent is it? Do certain schools seem to be involved more than others?
LM: I see negative recruiting CONSTANTLY. It is unfortunate that it can sometime sway easily- influenced high school players. They are already uncertain when making a life changing decision about their future and negative comments about a program can sometimes tip them over the edge. Still, truly sensible kids (which are sometimes few and far between) see through the negative tactics. I remember when Rich Rod and staff were rumored to be trashing WVU and I heard some guys committed to another school talking about it. They said things like, "Why would anyone listen to Rich Rodriguez?" and "It just seems like they are mad that WVU is going to take someone they want." Sometimes these kids are smarter than we think and are, in fact, very perceptive. It goes back to the age-old saying: "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." Kids start to wonder what a coach's true intentions are when he spends time trashing another school. Often, a red flag goes up because he wonders why the coach is even talking about a school other than the one he is employed by.
CR: WVU has two Floridians currently verbaled in Jacksonville First Coast's Joseph Jackson and Miami Northwestern's Imarjaye Albury and six on the way for 2011: Miami Central's Marquis Lucas, Trinity Christian's Andrew Buie, American Heritage's Russel Haughton-James, Providence Christian's Isaiah Bruce, First Coast's KJ Myers, and Clermont East Ridge's Dante Campbell. Any info you can give us on these players? Who is the star of the group? Who's the guy who might be under the rader a bit? Who has the best chance to play right away?
LM: Let's start with 2012! The recent pick up of OLB Joseph Jackson is huge. I see Jackson as a kid with huge upside and I love his size. The pick up of Jackson is also such a testament to the pipeline WVU is creating in Florida. Once you get a few kids from a school like Jacksonville's First Coast, you have a good chance at more talent as the years go by. Albury is also a huge pick up and it's great to have connections at Miami Northwestern because they continue to produce wonderful talent and they have a reputation for being gritty, hard nosed players. Albury is well versed in that 3-3-5 scheme that Casteel does so well. Moving on to 2011-- this is a great group of guys. I pick RB Andrew Buie as the star of this group and the guy with a chance to play immediately. He is an absolute animal with the ball in his hands and just runs hard. There's no better way to put it but he's someone you can count on to break tackles and get things done on the field. He will gain the yardage you need and I've seen him do it time and time again. As for a sleeper in WVU's 2011 group of commits from Florida, I'd pick Russell Haughton-James. No, I'm not picking him because he has two last names names or because he's a big O-lineman (although those things DO factor in haha). I'm picking this guy because he plays with a lot of heart and that is always something good to have in an offensive lineman. I've seen him put himself in harm's way a few times to protect a quarterback and that's what you want from him. HIs size is great too at 6-5, 290. He'll need some work, but should produce for WVU.
CR: In recent years, Miramar has sent a number of highly-touted players to Morgantown. What other schools have good relationships with WVU where coaches may be able to establish a pipeline similar Miramar?'
LM: Miramar is definitely a great pipeline to keep going between the state of Florida and WVU. Miramar is a hotbed for talent and I expect a long history of storied players to head up to Morgantown from Miramar. I'd say Jacksonville's First Coast high school is another great pipeline being furthered by WVU and some recent commits and guys interested.
CR: Finally, give WVU fans something to get excited about for the summer and let us know what players we should be on the lookout for as having a high interest in WVU who could wind up signing with the Mountaineers in 2012.
LM: Alright, let's talk 2012! There are some great players in Florida that I think WVU has a good chance at. First of all, I think things look really good for Ray Martin, a WR out of Sanford, FL. He's one to keep an eye on folks. Speaking of receivers, keep Devonte Mathis in mind as well as another possible Floridian grab. Cameron Posey is another receiver that has spoken highly of WVU a number of times to me. For athletes, I'd watch Hansley Fleurejus out of Miramar. The connection is certainly there with his HS and I could see him at WVU easily. Moving to D-Line, I'd count Willie Paisley in this class! At LB-- check out Eric Kinsey. This guy is a man among boys at every combine I've seen him at so far this year. He is killer in one-on-one drills and has incredible speed for his size. He may be a hard pull from FSU but I think WVU has a shot. Also look out for Dominique Gibson at linebacker. He plays on both sides of the ball at RB as well. He mentioned WVU the last time I spoke with him and is a guy you want on your team if you can grab him. He loves WVU's defense.
CR: Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this Q&A. We really appreciate the information and will look forward to tracking these guys, and your career, in the future. Best of luck to you in your career and personal endeavors!