MORGANTOWN — For the second straight year, the transfers out of the WVU football program since the end of the season to the start of spring camp are one of, if not the biggest, topics for the Mountaineers.
Much has been made about the players leaving since the start of 2021, with nearly an entire recruiting class-worth (37 since January 2021), but the trend continued this year, with a few key contributors deciding to play elsewhere.
Three starters — wide receiver Winston Wright, cornerback Daryl Porter Jr. and linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo — have all entered the NCAA Transfer Portal, with Wright (Florida State) and Porter Jr. (Miami) already making decisions.
Porter Jr., and perhaps even-more-so Chandler-Semedo, were surprises, considering remarks each made on social media prior to leaving. In January, Porter Jr. retweeted a post from Kansas City Chiefs DB Tyrann Mathieu that those who are unwilling to work hard and put in the effort use the portal to find an easy way out.
A month later, Porter entered the portal and left to join the Hurricanes.
Chandler-Semedo said in November that he was done playing for the Mountaineers following his senior season, and would not use his extra COVID-19 year of eligibility. But in January, he announced he was coming back to play one more season at WVU.
Then, in February, he entered the portal and will play elsewhere in 2022.
Head coach Neal Brown spoke on Chandler-Semedo during his opening spring news conference Thursday, saying there is no ill-will in the end.
“I think he’s a good kid. I don’t have anything negative to say,” Brown said of Chandler-Semedo. “I don’t think it serves myself or our program to get up here and talk about guys that have left. For whatever reason, he decided to leave and we’re going to coach the ones we got. He made a decision. The one thing about him is, I was as surprised when he came back (in the first place). He came to me sometime in December and said that he was coming back. That was a surprise to me. Then, I think his feelings changed over the course of a five- or six-week period, and he can answer to that.”
Defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley echoed the same, saying he’s excited to coach the players in the program and his approach is the same regardless of Chandler-Semedo was there or not.
Chandler-Semedo had 257 tackles over the last four seasons for the Mountaineers, who are coming off a 6-7 season and loss to Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Former Syracuse linebacker Lee Kpogba is expected to fill Chander-Semedo’s void at Mike linebacker.
Brown also said he was going to try and address linebacker through the portal, even if Chandler-Semedo was still on the team.
And that is the crux of the portal for Brown — you win some and you lose some.
“You have potential flight risks, because you have guys maybe it’s something going on at home they’re having issues with that may cause them to leave, maybe it’s somebody that if they don’t get a starting job, you know either them or their parents are going to really push them to leave, so you have to kind of anticipate,” Brown said.
“In most cases, you hope it doesn’t happen, but you still have to plan. The ones that are really hard are the ones that come out of left field. To our credit, we’ve probably had two of those. I get an email from compliance saying somebody went over there. That’s how it works. I don’t think some people know that. Ninety-nine percent of people handle it the right way, but sometimes you just get notes from compliance and that’s what it is. But these aren’t blindsided deals. These are things you kind of anticipate, you kind of make plans and say if this happens, then we need to be able to react this way. Now if it doesn’t happen, then we don’t have to. You say OK, these guys could potentially leave. Then you try to make your plans if they do, and if they don’t, great.”
Brown mentioned a small change along the offensive line, the only position switch on the team heading into spring practice.
Tackles Brandon Yates and Wyatt Milum will switch sides, with Milum moving to left tackle and Yates moving to right.
Yates started all 13 games last season at left tackle, while Milum became the starter at right tackle as a true freshman halfway through the season, but being left-handed, the left side is a more natural fit for Milum, resulting in the switch, according to Brown.
A few injuries to key starters will cause them to miss all of spring, though Brown believes they could be ready for fall camp.
Tight end Mike O’Laughlin suffered a season-ending injury toward the end of last season and his injury is the most significant, as Brown said he hopes he can be ready by the start of fall camp in August.
The other is to defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor, who got hurt after the bowl game. Brown said Mesidor should be ready to go by the start of summer workouts in June.
WVU is already thin at tight end with T.J. Banks and Charles Finley transferring out, so with O’Laughlin out, it will be an opportunity for Treylan Davis, Victor Wikstrom and Colorado State transfer Brian Poledney to get valuable reps.
To replace Mesidor, Brown said this will be an important spring for sophomore Sean Martin, who came along toward the end of last season.
Linebacker Exree Loe will miss the spring because of an injury he suffered at Kansas State in November, and defensive lineman Edward Vesterinen will also be out recovering from an injury suffered in the bowl game. Brown said he expects both to be ready to go come summer workouts.