June Recruiting Observations: an Extensive Look at How WVU’s 2018 Class Is Shaping Up

Basketball and hockey are over. Time to dive head first into football. Let’s talk recruiting.

Where are we now?

Depends who you talk to. I haven’t seen much negativity about any of our commits individually, but there do appear to be some concerns floating around about the fact that we only have 5 guys committed by June. How do I feel? I’m glad you asked!

So West Virginia currently has 5 commits. There are a couple different lenses that we can use to understand that number.

First, let’s see how it stacks up nationally. There are 128 schools that compete in football at the D1 level, and between them they have an average of 4.7 commits as of the writing of this article. That doesn’t make us look overly impressive, but at least we’re still above average.

Unfortunately, zooming in makes us look a bit less favorable. Our 5 falls well short of the Power 5 conference average of 7.4, and we’re even further behind when compared to our friends in the Big 12, where the average school already has 8.1 commitments. So we’re slightly above average nationally but well below it compared to our direct competition. Not great, but could definitely be worse, especially when considering the quality of those individuals. Let’s run through them. I promise you’ll feel better after.

The first thing you’ll notice about our class is the three defensive lineman. James Gmiter, Tyrese Allen, and Alex Williams are all rated as 3-star recruits by Scout and all three are ranked in the top 65 nationally for their position (Williams is 62nd among defensive ends while Gmiter and Allen are 62nd and 52nd among defensive tackles, respectively). Securing these early commitments along the defensive front gives our class a great base, and is extremely encouraging not only because all three look to be very solid players, but also because defensive line depth has been an issue for WVU football since pretty much the beginning of time. We’ve scraped by recently with a combination of scheme and experience, so it’s nice to see the coaching staff making this an area of emphasis, and with a little luck we could be looking back at this DL class the same way we looked at the one that just graduated. More on that later.

Next we have Mike O’Laughlin, a 3-star athlete from Illinois. Depending on where you look, O’Laughlin is either the 72nd best receiver or 35th best tight end nationally, and had offers from a number of MAC and CUSA schools prior to committing. That may not sound like much, but I’d urge you to watch him some before you pass judgement. What you’ll see is a big, coordinated dude who’s already adept at using his body to gain leverage on defenders and win 1-on-1 battles at the point of the catch.

This situation highlights one of the things I love about our staff: they do great job of looking past physical traits and projecting roles based on skill set. Where others might see a marginally athletic white guy and disregard him as a receiver, our coaches see a guy who moves well and still looks skinny even at 6’5 220 and think, “why not put 25 more pounds on him and turn him into a warm, fuzzy safety blanket?”. Given time, I’m confident that O’Laughlin can become that and a whole lot more.

Then there’s Leddie Brown. Brown is a 6’1 195 stud who carries a 4-star rating as the 17th best running back prospect in the nation, and he probably would’ve been the crown jewel of this class even if he’d waited until signing day to decide. He’s had an offer from us since he was in the 8th grade, and locking him up this early is a huge win. Peep this:

Leddie Brown highlights

Look familiar? If you’re seeing what I’m seeing, it’s easy to see what Holgs and Co are seeing, right? Brown can do a little bit of everything, which makes him perfect for the kinds of things we like to do offensively.

One final development that’s come about very recently is the transfer of QB Jack Allison from Miami. Allison is a former 4-star recruit who will have 3 years of eligibility left after sitting out this fall, and securing his services should assuage any lingering concerns about the QB position post-Grier. I didn’t count him among our commitments, but he’ll be eligible next fall and it’s exciting nonetheless.

What else do we know?

Not a whole lot, but despite our fans’ impatience it’s still pretty early in the process. What we do know is that we’re in the mix for several very intriguing prospects, and signing any combination of the guys mentioned below would be delightful. Please keep in mind as you’re reading that I tend to be blindly optimistic about WVU football, especially in June. The most anyone can do at this point is speculate, but speculate we shall. Let’s start on offense.

Scrolling down through our prospects on Scout.com can give false hope if taken at face value, but after a bit of digging with regards to who we’ve offered, who else has offered, and their respective interest levels, you’ll notice that there are several high-level WR prospects that have us in their Top 6 or 8. The first we come to Joseph Scates.

Scates is a 6’4 180 lb 4-star from Dayton who’s rated as the 18th best wideout prospect in the country. We’re one of 6 teams he’s currently considering, along with Alabama, Oklahoma, Cincinnati, Rutgers, Louisville. You can never discount those first two, but Bama already has a commitment from a higher rated WR and is looking at two others, while Bob Stoops’ recent resignation would ideally move the Sooners down the list until that situation is sorted. That means our direct competition is probably Louisville and Cincinnati (GTFO Rutgers). Louisville will be especially hard to out-sell, but we’re definitely in the running.

Next up is Daniel George, another 4-star prospect who’s ranked 29th nationally. George is 6’1 200-pounder from Maryland who would project as an “X” for us. He seems to have us firmly in his Top 8 along with a hodge-podge of ACC cannon-fodder, Wisconsin, and Penn State. Maryland, Tech, and State are all reportedly pushing hard for him, but I couldn’t find any indication that he prefers any one school over the others.

A bit further down is Dillon Spalding, rated as the 46th-best wideout nationally. Spalding is currently considering 7 other schools and is fielding offers from 5 of them, including Tennessee, NC State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest. No word on where he’s leaning so far, but at 6’2 215 his possession-type skill set would be a very nice compliment to what we already have on the roster.

A bit further down still is the 6’0 200 lb Shaquon Anderson-Butts, a 4-star from Harrisburg who’s rated as the 58th best WR prospect nationally. He has long been considered a Penn State lean, but some recent blog posts seem to suggest that State may be losing some momentum with him. That’s encouraging news considering that we’re the only other school in his Top 5 that’s within driving distance, but there are still lingering concerns that his HS teammate Micah Parsons may yet sway him to head to Happy Valley.

Rounding out the group is Darryl Jones, a 6’3 speedster from Virginia who’s considering offers from us, Virginia, Virginia Tech, UNC, NC State, and Maryland. There’s not a lot to be found about any preferences, but he has indicated that he won’t wait to commit if a school feels right. Two reasons for optimism here: Tech is cooling on him after securing a commitment from Tre Turner, and Jones mentioned us specifically as someone he’d like hear from prior to our offer. You hate to read too much into stuff like that, but damnit if it doesn’t sound promising.

Elsewhere, we’ve made the cut for a pair of Top 30 tight ends (Keaton Upshaw and Matt Alaimo), though it’s too early to tell where we stand with either of them.

Then there’s Tavion Thomas, a 4-star RB and teammate of the aforementioned Scates. I’ve read that they’ve discussed being a package deal, so it’s good to see that we’re one of the few schools that has made the cut on both of their lists, but I’ve also read that we told Leddie Brown we weren’t going to sign any other backs in this class, so we might end up on the outside looking in.

Along the front, 3-star OT Oyenmwen Uzebu is the highest-rated guy who has us on any kind of short list, but there are a couple of other 3-stars (Kievan Myers, Treyvion Shannon) that seem to view us favorably, as well.

Now let’s head to the other side of the ball, where we have several dudes making eyes at us that would take this class to the next level. First among them are Isheem Young and Kwantel Raines, a pair of safeties from PA. We’ve had pretty good fortune there in the past, and locking up either of these guys would be huge.

Young is a 5’10 200 pounder from Philly who’s rated 4th nationally at his position and 45th overall. The good news is that we are currently one of 4 schools that he has medium interest in but the bad news is that the other three are Penn State, Ohio State, and Clemson. Tough competition all three, and even with our recent track record of putting defensive backs in the league you can’t help but feel like he’s a long shot.

Raines, on the other hand, is from right up the road in Aliquippa and seems to be a very big fan of ours. He’s rated as the 13th best safety prospect in the country, and at 6’3 195 he has the frame and athleticism to grow into that prototypical hybrid type that’s not only perfect for our 3-3-5, but is also all the rage in the NFL right now. For all of his considerable physical gifts though, it’s his instincts that really jump out on tape. Check his highlights; it’s basically just 4 and a half minutes of him being in the right place at the right time:

Kwantel defensive highlights

And did I mention that he’s Dravon Askew-Henry’s cousin? No? Well he’s Dravon Askew-Henry’s cousin. We’ll reportedly have to fend off Pitt and Penn State for his services, but when you add in the fact that we were the first school to offer him way back when, it looks like it could be a match made in (almost) heaven.

Continuing with the D-back trend, we’re also looking good with regards to a pair of corners.

The first is Jayce Rogers, a 3-star from Valdosta, GA who’s fielding offers from Iowa, App State, and USF in addition to ours. At 5’8 he’s probably a bit undersized for what we like to do, but it’s encouraging to see that he has us as a strong front-runner.

The other is Patrick Jolly. Jolly is a 3-star athlete from Florida, and at 6’1 180 he does have that length and athleticism that Tony Gibson likes in his corners. Some of the stuff I’ve read lately seems to indicate that he’d prefer playing offense, but he’d be a solid signing for us regardless of what side of the ball he ends up on.

Moving into the front 7, there’s the linebacking trio of James Miller, Jacquez Jones, and Kenneth Brown. Miller seems like he’s headed to LSU and can probably be crossed off, but it looks like we’re in with a decent shout for the other two. Jones definitely favors Ole Miss but says he’s planning to visit Morgantown in the coming month before making any decisions, while Brown is a relative unknown who’s sure to remember that we were his first offer when his recruitment inevitably picks up. You wouldn’t say that any of these guys are must-haves considering our youth and depth at the position, but they’d be nice additions nonetheless.

Then there’s Dante Stills.

I argued last year that we shouldn’t be put off when in-state recruits choose to take their talents elsewhere because it’s never been our M.O. and there usually aren’t many worthy of hanging our hats on anyways. Somehow this one feels different, though. Stills isn’t just another local kid, he’s a legacy, the son of former Mountaineer great Gary, and he grew up 25 minutes down the road in Fairmont.

What’s more is that he looks like he can actually play. Stills is big and strong, but is surprisingly light on his feet, and is already able to play with that bend that all great d-lineman need to create leverage and be successful. That 4-star rating is legit, and fending off the likes of Oklahoma and Florida for his signature would be a psychological victory as much as anything; a signal of our intent to challenge those types of teams for these types of players going forward. Simply put, adding him to the three we already have would put the group into the conversation to be our best defensive line class ever.

What’s next?

Securing verbals from a couple of those big names, and hanging on to the few that we already have. Pretty straightforward, really. The foundation of a very nice class is already in place, and 4 or 5 more of the guys mentioned above would bring it home nicely. The priorities should probably be Stills and Raines, but overall I feel pretty good where we are with most of them. Best thing we can do now is win some damn football games.

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