It wasn’t that long ago that West Virginia stood at the top of the podium as the only state in the nation with a Power 5 program that had not produced a “blue chip” player. It had been nearly 10 years since a player from West Virginia’s high school programs was rated as at least a 0.9000 player per 247’s composite score. The fact that the program was still competitive while never having home-grown talent that could be program changing spoke to the level of the talent that the former coaches both brought in and helped developed. Coaches brought in 3-star players and turned them into 5-star men on the field and off. When they were able to bring in a highly rated player, they used those players to help win games and define a program that has two undefeated seasons, has played for a national championship and owned the Big East during its final seasons.
Now, the Mountain State has produced blue-chip players the last three recruiting cycles, starting with 4-star defensive lineman Dante Stills. Then came Darnell Wright, Doug Nester and Brenton Strange, a pair of offensive linemen and a tight end, all who garnered a four-star rating. The 2020 class didn’t produce a four-star recruit but now the 2021 class has produced three more players: Isaiah Johnson, Wyatt Milum, and Zeiqui Lawton.
That is seven blue-chip players in a four year period. It isn’t enough to put West Virginia in contention for a national title, but it would be enough to bridge the gap between the Mountaineers and the owners of the Big 12, the Oklahoma Sooners. West Virginia has come close to unseating the Sooners twice in their time in the Big 12, losing by 1 point in 2012 and by 3 points in 2018.
The previous administration secured Dante Stills but didn’t spend any time on Wright, Nester or Strange and its not a stretch to say they wouldn’t have spent the time necessary to woo Milum out of Spring Valley. Current head coach Neal Brown has shown that he is willing to put the time and more importantly, the energy, into getting recruits to buy back into West Virginia football.
For West Virginia to take the step of winning the Big 12 conference, it is going to need to get more four and five star players on the field. Some of that is going to come through transfers, like Will Grier, and some of it has to come through recruiting. If you can convince blue-chip recruits from around the nation to join your team, go for it, but it is hard to convince 18-22 year olds to stray far from home. Players like to be close to mom and dad and family and family likes the ability to see their sons play football. Great programs convince home-grown talent to stay home. The state has started to do its part, producing players capable of putting West Virginia over the top and now, the coaches are doing their part to keep those players in the Mountain State.