Football, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Brown, WVU learned tough lesson from departed 2020 recruiting class

Evaluating college football recruiting classes is tricky work. Several outlets assign rankings to classes based on the quality and quantity of signees, but truly evaluating how good a recruiting class can take years.

It is not until three or four years later that you can really start to say how good or bad a signing class really was, based on how those players developed and how many became starters or contributors. 

WVU’s 2020 signing class is much easier to judge, however. The 2023 season will be the fourth for the 2020 signees and only five members of the 21-man class remain with the Mountaineers — Garrett Greene, Zach Frazier, Sean Martin, Jairo Faverus and Taurus Simmons, who withdrew his name from the transfer portal this week.

Even though Greene, Frazier and Martin all profile as starters for 2023, to lose the other 16 signees makes the class all but a failure. Even if none of the other 16 had become starters, to lose that much depth is disastrous for a program.

The transfer portal claimed 15 of the recruits with the other, David Vincent-Okoli, leaving the team after being charged with sexual assault. Vincent-Okoli was acquitted of the charges last summer.

The obvious question here is why did so many of the 2020 signees jump ship? As usual, playing time appears to be a big factor for many of the players’ departures, but the other common thread among the group is geography. 

In the 2020 class, WVU signed five players from Florida, three from Georgia and two each from Alabama, Maryland and New Jersey. Of those 14, only Greene, a Florida native, and Simmons, from Georgia, remain. Not all of the players who have transferred from WVU have found new homes yet, but the ones that have almost unilaterally moved closer to home.

Only four of the players so far have made lateral transfers to a Power 5 school. Daryl Porter Jr., a Florida native, and Akheem Mesidor, who played high school football in Florida, both landed at Miami, Jackie Matthews transferred to his native state at Mississippi State, and Sam Brown, from Georgia, went to Houston. (While not currently a Power 5 team, Houston is joining the Big 12 next season.)

Only two others have even stuck in Division I so far, with Florida natives Quay Mays at Arkansas State and Avarius Sparrow at Middle Tennessee State. New Jersey native Chris Mayo could as well, with offers from Akron, UMass and Eastern Michigan, but he has not yet made a decision.

WVU cast a wide net with the 2020 class and those players have, almost unanimously, chosen to leave Morgantown and return closer to home.  Aside from Greene, two of the other holdovers, Martin and Frazier, are West Virginia natives and Faverous came from the UK.

Seemingly learning from what happened with the 2020 class, WVU coach Neal Brown went with a more local focus when signing WVU’s 2023 class last month.

“Our primary area always wants to be within a six-hour radius,” Brown said on signing day. “There’s underlying factors, now more than ever, why that’s where you spend your most time. They can get to your campus more frequently and then there’s not the draw to go home.” 

For the 18-man 2023 class, Brown signed five players from nearby Pennsylvania — the most from any one state— two from Ohio and one West Virginian. 

This strategy is an effort to stave off the flow of future transfers leaving to go back home. However, bringing in outside talent is still necessary, as WVU signed four players from Florida and two from Georgia, although they brought in none from Alabama.

“Not only during our time here, during the entire history of football in the modern era, you’re not really able to find all your needs within your six-hour radius,” Brown admitted. “Those other states have been really good to us. You have to fight to keep (players from transferring), but they’ve been really good to us and we’re not going to abandon those, the Floridas and the Georgias.”

Even if those players eventually transfer, Brown sees it as a necessary risk to build WVU’s program the right way.

“There’s going to be those moments where you develop a really good player and you might lose him,” Brown said. “But those few occurrences should not deter us from what our real objective should be, which is to bring guys in — like we’ve done way before I was here — and develop guys through processes and the infrastructure. I think that’s still the best way.”

Like with the 2020 class, it will take several years before we can confidently evaluate the quality of WVU’s 2023 signees, but if even half of them are even just still on the team in three years, it would be an improvement from 2020. 

TWEET @CodyNespor