Football, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU’s transfer class making a big impact during turnaround season

MORGANTOWN — Somewhat unheralded during the offseason, West Virginia’s class of transfers has made a major impact so far during the Mountaineers’ turnaround 2023 season.

Despite not pulling in any star players and very few from fellow Power 5 programs, WVU’s class of transfers is making contributions at nearly every level of the team’s offense, defense and special teams.

“As you go through this, and this is still relatively new, you find out what your niche is,” WVU coach Neal Brown said on Monday. “Not only what type of players you’re looking for, but what’s the best fit.”

WVU only added one player who was a full-time starter at a Power 5 school, wide receiver Devin Carter from NC State. Only a handful of others, defensive backs Anthony Wilson (Georgia Southern), Montre Miller (Kent State) and Keyshawn Cobb (Buffalo), were even starters at the Group of 5 level.

In lieu of adding bonafide starters, the Mountaineers instead went after role players who they believed had the potential to make positive contributions.

“We’ve made some mistakes, but we’ve had some big hits too,” Brown said. “We have a better system for why we hit on some kids and why we missed on some kids.”

A prime example is tight end Kole Taylor, who transferred from LSU. Taylor only had 17 total receptions in three seasons with the Tigers, but leads the Mountaineers with 25 catches this season.

“I love being here,” Taylor said. “I love playing for West Virginia and I love playing for Coach Brown and Coach (Blaine) Stewart.”

Carter is right behind Taylor with 23 receptions and leads the team with 414 yards. Taylor is second with 305.

“Going into the year we really felt like Kole and Devin were going to be the two guys who had played quite a bit of football,” Brown said. 

Also making an impact at receiver is Marshall transfer EJ Horton, who is fifth on the team with 10 catches and 201 yards.

Transfers have made the biggest difference on defense despite the fact that Miller and Cobb, both game-one starters, are out with season-ending injuries.

Beanie Bishop (Minnesota) has become the team’s top cornerback. Not only does he lead the Mountaineers with four interceptions, but he leads the nation with 17 pass breakups.

Even beyond his role on the field, Brown said Bishop’s biggest contributions have come in the locker room.

“We added guys that are making contributions, but they’re really good in the locker room too. That may be as big as anything,” Brown said. “Beanie, to use him as an example, he’s done a really good job from a mentoring standpoint.”

Also on defense is a bevy of transfer linemen that have given WVU one of the deepest and most effective fronts in the Big 12.

While none of them are starters, Tyrin Bradley (Abilene Christian), Fatorma Mulbah (Penn State), Tomiwa Durojaiye (Kentucky) and Davoan Hawkins (Tennessee State) have all made contributions this season.

Maybe the best transfer of them all has been kicker Michael Hayes from Georgia State. The junior has missed just one kick all year, going 12 of 13 on field goals and 31 of 31 on extra points.

“The major goal of mine was to play the biggest football I could possibly play,” Hayes said of his decision to transfer. “I accomplished just about as much as I could there at Georgia State…I just wanted a bigger stage.”

The transfer portal is never all about success, however, and Brown knows the Mountaineers are destined to lose some talent when the transfer window opens back up this offseason. 

“I think you’ve got to work to retain your best players, you’re not going to retain every player that you want to retain, that’s what it is,” Brown said. “Then in your positions of need, you’re going to have to be really aggressive.

“When it opens up again in the not-too-distance future I think we’ll have a lot more hits than we do misses.”