Fall camps are firing up around the country this week, and as college football fans we’re all restless for things to talk about. One of the biggest topics over the past week for West Virginia’s message board/internet crowd was recruiting, and more specifically, the current coaching regime’s failure to close the borders for several in-state prospects. Everything came to a head last Wednesday when Derrek Pitts spurned his Gold and Blue birthright for the cow patties of Happy Valley, but really he’s just the latest of several reasonably talented D1 prospects that we’ve failed to keep around. I’d like to try to explain both why it’s a big deal to Mountaineer fans that so many of our own are leaving the state for greener pastures, but also explain why in the context of our football program it’s nothing more than something for the disgruntled to complain about.
So, why is it a big deal to so many people that we aren’t getting these guys? Prospects from other states leave their homes to play football all the time, so why does it matter that a few 3-stars chose to go to school 4 hours away instead of only 2? To understand this you must first understand some things about both West Virginia and West Virginians.
Firstly, you have to understand the standing of West Virginia University within the state. It’s been a bad decade at the end of an even worse half-century for West Virginia. Coal is dying and the state’s economy is dying along with it, and one of the few things that a majority of the state’s population has to look forward to is Mountaineer football. We have no professional teams, and when WVU is doing well it can feel like the state is doing well. The reason it seems like so many people live and die with the program is because they are literally living and dying with the program. We honestly just don’t have too much else to look forward to.
Secondly, you have to understand that within the context of football, West Virginia is not a state known for its fertile recruiting grounds. We’re usually only good for a couple legit D1 players in a given year, if that. Every once in a while though we get a really good class and have somewhere between 5 and 10 guys that will go on to play D1, and in the minds of West Virginians it is basically a forgone conclusion that all of them should want to come to Morgantown and defend their state’s honor. Never mind that young professionals have been leaving by the thousands for the better part of a century; if we would do it, why wouldn’t they? There’s almost a nationalistic mentality to it: for American athletes there’s no higher honor than representing your country at an Olympics or World Cup; for West Virginians there should be no higher honor than donning the Old Gold and Blue.
Finally, and most importantly, you have to understand the people themselves. You have to understand that as West Virginians we’ve spent basically our entire existence as either a national punchline or a shining example of what not to do. Unsurprisingly this has manifested itself into something of a state-wide inferiority complex; we don’t like being told we’re not good enough, even though we understand that in a lot of cases it’s probably true, and we don’t like being patronized, even though we understand why you would. That goes for all of the enlightened individuals from around the country telling us how to fix our state’s very real and very serious socioeconomic problems without ever setting foot here, and it goes doubly for anyone who wants to talk shit about our sports teams. We’re just an extremely proud group of people with a deeply ingrained sense of us versus them, and that’s at the core of why so many people are outwardly upset about the current recruiting situation.
You see, this is one of those years where we have between 5 and 10 legit guys who will contribute at big programs. The only problem is that most of them have committed elsewhere. If one or two of these guys chose to leave, then fine, that’s all well and good. In a vacuum, none of them are really can’t-miss prospects and WVU has never hung it’s hat on in-state kids anyways, but when they all choose to leave it’s like they’re all saying that both our program and our state aren’t good enough. When WV kids choose to go to LSU, or Louisville, or especially Penn fucking State, a lot of people don’t see it as choosing another school so much as they see it as an act of treason. Not only are they some of our own, but they’re some of our best, and they’re choosing them over us. We absolutely hate that. We hate it.
And I get all that. I get why it’s frustrating for others because it’s frustrating for me. The one year in ten where we actually have a wealth of in-state talent and we whiff on all but two? It’s absolutely disappointing. But for the people out there saying that this will be the end of the program, or that, well, maybe if we were better they’d all want to come here, or that Holgs should get fired for this even if he wins 10 games this year, I just have to ask: what the fuck are you talking about? Why are you going out of your way to get offended on the state’s behalf because of where a high school kid wants to go to college? Do you literally have nothing better to spend your energy on?
WVU has never built its program around in-state talent, and I would go so far as to the say the real downfall of the program would begin on the day that we made that a priority. Quick, name the best player from West Virginia you’ve ever heard of. If you rightfully answered Randy Moss, good for you, but now name another, and to make the point even clearer, name someone who actually went to and starred at WVU. Any luck? Maybe you got to Reed Williams? Magro and Gyorko? Quincy Wilson? If you were lucky, or perhaps the owner of a particular set of skills, you got as far as Rich Braham and James Jett, but beyond that there’s not a whole lot going. We’re going to get bent out of shape about not taking advantage of a resource that has literally given us less than 10 real contributors since the 80’s? Please.
Knocking Dana and the rest of the staff for failing to land a few mid-level prospects (JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE FROM WEST VIRGINIA) is as ignorant as it is insulting. Would we be crying about missing out on Dorian Etheridge if he was from Cumberland? Would Derrek Pitts have been a rage-worthy miss if he grew up in Aliquippa? Even though I completely get that it’d be cool to have more West Virginia guys running around out there for us, why should we place more value on someone simply because of where they’re born? We all hate cronyism and favoritism in virtually every setting where power and recognition can be handed out for reasons other than merit; why can’t we stay objective and treat recruiting the same way?
Beyond that, there is absolutely no arguing that our current roster is one of the deepest and most talented that we’ve ever had. We may be missing out on a few top-enders like a Pat White or a Tavon Austin, but we have more good players at every position than I can ever remember. Two great examples of this are the competitions for playing time at wide receiver and linebacker. When else have we had the horses to go 6 or maybe even 7 deep at wide receiver? When else could we lose 3 multi-year starters at linebacker and be in arguably as good of shape the next year? Never, that’s when. We are finally in a place where we can consistently compete with the rest of the Big 12, both in terms of talent and depth, and I, for one, am not going to let some 17-year old from Point Pleasant’s college choice ruin that for me. Look at the name of the site, for god’s sake. I’m more than happy to keep living and dying with whoever wants to call Morgantown home, regardless of where they’re from.