MORGANTOWN — During the last week of November, WVU football fans saw something that undoubtedly made their blood run cold. Pictures of top-ranked recruit Rodney Gallagher adorned in Penn State regalia were plastered on social media as the Mountaineers’ top commit in its 2023 class was visiting the Nittany Lions.
Gallagher, a four-star prospect from Laural Highlands High School in Uniontown, Pa., had verbally committed to WVU all the way back in May, but the late push by PSU had many concerned, including WVU coach Neal Brown.
“There’s always concern,” Brown admitted during his national signing day press conference Wednesday. “I’m always concerned until I get the text that says they’re signed.”
Thankful, this story has a happy ending for the Mountaineers as Gallagher signed with WVU during the early signing period on Wednesday and will officially be a Mountaineer next year.
Brown does not blame Gallagher for taking the Penn State visit; in fact, he completely understands why he went to Happy Valley.
“The family did a really good job (communicating),” Brown said. “We were in a timeframe there before (WVU athletic director) Wren (Baker) was hired when some of that was going on. They were open and said, ‘this is what we’re doing.’”
At the time, former WVU AD Shane Lyons had just been fired and Brown’s future in Morgantown was up in the air. While he was concerned about Gallagher’s status, he said the communication between them was strong.
“You feel better when you have that communication rather than a recruiting staffer says they saw a picture on social media of so-and-so visiting there,” Brown said. “Anytime it’s kind of behind your back or without you knowing, that’s where you know this kid says he’s ‘committed’ but that’s not the case. But they were open, they took trips.”
During his signing day event Wednesday at Laurel Highlands, Gallagher said his relationship with Brown was what brought him to WVU.
“They supported me from day one and they’ve been recruiting me hard for all of my four years (in high school),” Gallagher said. “When I first met Coach Brown, I just knew from the start he was a great guy and he did a lot for me and my family just being there for us. I think he’s given me the opportunity of a lifetime and it’s hard to pass up something like that. I’m excited to play for him and I’m just ready to be a part of the program.”
Landing Gallagher was important both because of his talent as a four-star receiver, but also because it proved that Brown and WVU can land top local talent even when a recruiting powerhouse like Penn State is in the race. With Uniontown a mere 20-some miles from Morgantown, Gallagher grew up a WVU fan and was considered a local recruit by Brown.
“Rodney was probably as integral a recruit that we’ve had here in my tenure,” Brown said. “We treated him like a local player the whole time. The exit I get off at my house every single day says ‘Uniontown.’ He has a PA address, but he’s a local product and probably the most highly recruited guy maybe outside of (Spring Valley’s) Wyatt (Milum) within our local area since I’ve been the head coach here. It was integral that we went and got him.”
When Penn State wants to sign a player, it usually works out for the Nittany Lions, especially for in-state prospects. In the 2023 class, PSU signed three of the top four in-state recruits with Gallagher being the exception at No. 3. But it wasn’t just Gallagher that WVU pulled from the Keystone state — the Mountaineers signed five of the top 30 recruits from Pennsylvania according to 247Sports, also signing linebacker Josiah Trotter (Philadelphia), running back Jahiem White (York) and linemen Cooper Young (Downington) and Nick Krahe (Harborcreek).
“We’re back in Pennsylvania,” Brown said. “It’s been a process, but we signed five Pennsylvania guys in the class today.
“Everyone here had options; we beat a lot of really good people. Not just on Rodney Gallagher, but on a lot of these guys. We beat a lot of really good people for several of these players and that’s what you want. You want to make sure you’re going out for the top guys.”