WVU defense will have in-state feel this season

MORGANTOWN — The WVU football depth chart — one that doesn’t matter to  coach Dana Holgorsen — is littered on the defensive side with Mountain State natives.

Reese Donahue, from Cabell Midland, is entering his second season as a starter at defensive line. Next to him on the line are brothers Darius and Dante Stills, who thrived at Fairmont Senior. Morgantown alum Stone Wolfley adds depth at end.

Behind them at linebacker is Dylan Tonkery, a redshirt-sophomore from Bridgeport. Another former MHS standout, Shea Campbell, has worked his way into getting major reps at practice at outside linebacker.

In the secondary, Charleston-native Derrek Pitts is penciled in as the No. 1 cornerback.

In the 2019 recruiting class, the Mountaineers already have commitments from the top three defenders in the state according to Rivals.com — University’s Amir Richardson, Capital’s Kerry Martin and Martinsburg’s Dewayne Grantham.

There’s no doubt that the defensive talent in West Virginia has grown, but defensive coordinator Tony Gibson doesn’t believe his recruiting tactics have changed in the last three years. He looks for the best players regardless of where they’re from, it just so happens many are right under his nose.

“Any kid in any state that can help us in the Big 12,  then we’re gonna recruit them,” Gibson said. “Right now, with Reese, Tonkery, Pitts, Darius, Dante, all of the guys that we’re counting on, are good players and we feel that they can help us win the Big 12.”

One big difference between the instate players and others, according to Gibson, is pride. There’s not a lot of extra motivation that needs  spread with West Virginians since wearing old gold and blue is something they’ve dreamed about since they began playing football.

“It means that much more to them every Saturday and when they put that Flying WV on, it’s special,” Gibson said. “I bet if you talk to them and ask them about it, they’d get a little emotional. You can’t replace that part of it, when it means that much to a kid to come out and represent his home state, and those guys have done a great job. I feel like all of those guys are going to be able to help.”

Gibson was right about Donahue, who had to gather his thoughts when asked about what it means as a state native to play for the Mountaineers.

“It really has been an honor playing here — it’s been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, ever since I was about 8 years old watching guys like Pat White and Steve Slaton thinking how I want to eventually play on that field,” he said.

The influx of major Division I talent in West Virginia has done well on the WVU defense, but others, especially offensive linemen, have decided to go elsewhere. Huntington’s Darnell Wright, a 5-star recruit according to all recruiting services, eliminated the Mountaineers two weeks ago when he released his top eight.

Spring Valley’s Doug Nester is committed to Ohio State and teammate Zach Williamson is headed to Louisville. The 2017 class was more of the same, with Huntington’s Billy Ross going to North Carolina, Spring Valley’s Riley Locklear going to Tennessee and Capital linebacker Dorian Etheridge going to Louisville.

Donahue believes the state’s three-week workouts and  out-of-season coaching have helped.

“West Virginia, as a state, is doing a lot better things,” he said. “We were a little bit behind the times with football compared to some other states and I think the state as a whole is  growing in talent level. Even with the rules and regulations before, we weren’t allowed to have camps over the summer. We’re finally starting to catch up with everybody.”

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