MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As the 2019 season wore on, it was made perfectly clear what the West Virginia football team needed to address quickly, and the early signing period was also a strong indication that the offensive line and defensive backfield needed to be pieced back together.
However, both needed fixed for two different reasons.
The offensive front struggled with depth concerns all season, but it also struggled on the field. The interior of the line was juggled around, trying to mix and match for a combination that worked best, but that combo was never found through 12 games. The tackle spots, manned by Colton McKivitz and Kelby Wickline, are now gone.
“Early on, we identified we needed to add offensive linemen,” head coach Neal Brown said.
And add offensive linemen he did. Of the 18 signees, four were along the offensive front, and Brown believes more will follow in the coming months.
The first Letter of Intent the Mountaineers received Wednesday morning, which was the first day of the early signing period that lasts until Friday, was Fairmont Senior’s Zach Frazier. Brown said Frazier, as one of the top in-state prospects, was a priority regardless of his position, but it didn’t hurt that he projects to be a center.
Center was a revolving door for WVU this season, rotating between Chase Behrndt, Josh Sills and Briason Mays.
“I think he is going to, perhaps, be a dominant player at center for us,” Brown said. “He’s got great football instincts, is intelligent and loves West Virginia.”
Brown got a chance to see Frazier play against Bridgeport and was impressed with his pad level, and while Brown wouldn’t say if Frazier — at 6-foot-3 and 296 pounds — could play in 2020, he didn’t rule it out.
“When I watched him live and saw the pad level he played with and how he used his hands, it led me to believe he may be able to contribute early,” Brown said. “He has a really good football mind. How well he’ll transition is to be determined, but my hope is he’ll transition well and quickly.”
The Mountaineers also added interior lineman Jordan White out of DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Md. White, at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, did not play football as a junior, but exceeded expectations as a senior against great high school competition.
“If you watch his film, his senior film is as good as you’re going to find from an offensive lineman,” Brown said. “He finished blocks, he plays nasty and I mean that in a positive way.”
As for the tackle spots, Chris Mayo, a New Jersey native who comes in at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, may be physically ready to play as a true freshman, but will be raw in his first year. Brown, though, believes Mayo will play a major role down the line.
“Chris Mayo is integral to the future of our offensive line,” Brown said. “He’s going to be college-ready when he gets here. After he committed to us, he shut it (his recruitment) down.”
Lastly, juco transfer Tairiq Stewart, of ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y., could have an immediate impact. After losing 80 pounds over the last year, Stewart is a healthier 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds.
“I think that shows his commitment,” Brown said of Stewart’s weight loss. “He’s long, he’s big, he’ll be a tackle for us. I think he’s a guy that has a chance to be a factor for us next fall.”
As for the defensive backs, West Virginia signed four, including a safety and three cornerbacks. The Mountaineers graduated three corners, and only five traveled to the last game against TCU. Nicktroy Fortune, Tae Mayo and Dreshun Miller are expected to be the favorites to win the job, but Jairo Faverus, David Vincent-Okoli and Daryl Porter Jr. could factor in.
Faverus is a native of the Netherlands and played at Bristol Academy of Sports in the United Kingdom, while Vincent-Okoli is another Marylander out of The Bullis School in Gaithersburg. Brown also said Vincent-Okoli could fit into the return game on special teams.
Porter Jr., the son of former NFL player Daryl Porter Sr., is a high school recruit who also comes from a winning background at American Heritage High in Florida.
“He’s a guy that’s got football smarts off the charts,” Brown said. “He can come in and he can play multiple positions. We’re going to start him at corner.”
With the losses of Josh Norwood, Kwantel Raines and JoVanni Stewart (who transferred and signed to rejoin former head coach Dana Holgorsen at Houston on Wednesday), the safety spot was also thin. Jackie Matthews is a juco product who just won the national championship at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
“He’s a winner,” Brown said. “Takes Pinson Valley to a state championship as a senior in high school, wins a national championship at junior college. He’s a winner, he’s versatile and he can play any of the positions in the secondary.”
Running back was the only position that the Mountaineers didn’t get a signing, but Brown said running back will be addressed before the start of spring camp. As it stands, they have three scholarship running backs on the roster — Leddie Brown, Alec Sinkfield and Tony Mathis.
QB — 1
RB — 0
WR — 3
TE — 1
OL — 4
DL — 3
LB — 2
DB — 4