As the dawn of the Neal Brown Era begins in Morgantown, WV, one of the things he has stated early is that he was planning to make sure our in-state recruits were going to be be found, and make it very difficult for them to leave the great state in which the Old Gold and Blue dwells. But what type of shape is this state in, really, when it comes to that of the high school recruiting landscape?
First, let's take a look at the current landscape of college football. We are deep within the throes that is college football recruiting season which will finally, and mercifully (though also joyfully), come to an end on Wednesday, Feb. 6th. On this day, the 2019 recruiting classes for every college will be analyzed, graded, and talked about. The term "blue-chip recruit" will be thrown around a lot, as will most of the top colleges' "blue chip ratio." But what is a blue-chip recruit? And what the heck kind of ratio do you get out of him? A blue-chip recruit is a recruit that holds a ranking of a 4-star or 5-star grade. Anything below that, your 2-star and 3-star athletes, would not be considered blue-chip (though it does not mean that these kids can't end up as very good players). The blue-chip ratio is the amount of blue-chip players your roster is made up of - presumably, the higher the ratio, the better the team, and the more likely it is for the team to be successful. To illustrate this point, Bill Elliot wrote an article at the beginning of the 2017 season where he narrowed down who would win the National Championship based on their blue-chip ratio. Of the 10 teams he narrowed his list down to, three of them made the playoffs (Alabama, Georgia, Clemson), and only one that made the playoffs was not top ten in blue-chip ratio (Oklahoma). Alabama had the largest ratio (80%), Georgia was 5th (63%), Clemson 9th (56%). Obviously, of the teams that made the playoffs, you can see the two highest ratios made the championship, with the team with the highest ratio eventually winning. Now that we have a little background on what top-level recruits are, and what they mean to the success of a program, lets see what that means for us.
In college football the biggest and best programs, the ones that enjoy sustained success over the years, are who they are because they have a very solid in-state recruiting base to build from. Sure, they pull from other states and land big national names as well, but everything usually starts at home. As of last year, the top 10 states in terms of blue-chip prospects were: Florida (65), California (48), Texas (44), Georgia (40), Ohio (12), Louisiana (12), North Carolina (12), Pennsylvania (12), Tennessee (11), and Alabama (10). Using the final 2019 AP Poll that was released earlier this week, 11 of the top 25 schools in those polls were from one of these top 10 states in blue-chip producers (Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Texas, UCF, A&M, Penn St., Fresno St., Cincinnati). Of those in the top 25, 6 of the top 10 schools in the country are located in these blue-chip heavy states (Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Florida, LSU, and Texas). In-state recruiting is vital, and it's even more so when your state is producing recruits at a high level.
Neal Brown has shared with us that he plans to make the in-state recruits a top priority, but how well will that work out for us? Last year, the entire state of West Virginia managed a whopping one (1) blue-chip recruit, good for 37th in the country. That recruit was Dante Stills, currently of your very own Mountaineers. After Stills, the state only produced one(1) 3-star prospect, 6'3" linebacker Owen Porter, out of Huntington, who we eventually lost out on to Marshall. In 2017, the state produced two blue-chip players, OL Riley Locklear, who committed to Tennessee, and DB Derrek Pitts, who landed with WV. After that, we produced fie 3-star recruits, two of which stayed home (Darius Stills, Maverick Wolfley), while the other three were lost to LSU, UNC, and Louisville. And, no matter how far back you go, it's generally more or less the same for every class: not a lot of top-end prospects, and the ones that are, half are lost to other schools.
A snapshot of this 2019 class, we have finally got a bonafide, in-state, five-star recruit down in Huntington by the name of Darnell Wright. The 6'6", 300lb OL is currently not committed, but holds an offer from West Virginia, and he is at least considering us, though he is projected to go to Tennessee. Joining him in this class, are fellow in-state blue-chippers Doug Nester (4* OL) and Brenton Strange (4* TE), already committed to Ohio State and Penn State, respectively. Behind them are 3* prospects Amir Richardson (ATH, committed to Marshall), Nick Malone (OL, FROM MORGANTOWN AND COMMITTED TO PITT WHAT THE CRAP?!?!!?!), Kerry Martin (ATH, committed to WV), and Zach Williamson (OL, committed to Louisville). So, we stand currently (assuming Wright commits elsewhere) at 43% commitment rate, in a class that's probably got the highest ceiling of any recruiting class the state has had. This number is where Brown needs to elevate the school if we plan to build this program. We can't be allowed to let our top recruits leave for the likes of Louisville, Tennessee, Ohio State, Penn State, and most certainly not Eat #$%^ Pitt!
Looking into the future, the early 2020 rankings have been released, and so far there isn't a blue-chip prospect to be found in-state as of yet, but these tend to change as seasons progress. In the way, way, way early release of the 2021 recruits, there sit a pair of current, in-state 5* recruits, both of whom have been offered. Isaiah Johnson, a 6' CB out of Bluefield, WV, currently holds offers from WVU, Marshall, Kentucky, Maryland, Penn St, Rutgers, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech. The second is Zeiqui Lawton, a 6'2" defensive end from Charleston. Along with WV, he holds offers from Marhsall, Kentucky, and Eastern Kentucky, and seems to already be very much in on WVU, but that could all change as soon as the big boys come knocking during his time left in high school. These are the kids that it is paramount that we do not let slip through our fingers if we are going to build bigger, and better, things here in Morgantown, WV, and I think Coach Brown may just be the right man to do it.
Let me know what you think it'll take to get this program to new heights in the comments below.