The ESPN 300 list of recruits has long been the standard of highly touted high school athletes. Each year, programs race to sign the players before other schools have the opportunity to do so. The success of a program’s recruiting class, in the eyes of many fans, often hangs in how many of these players a school does or doesn’t get.
From 2012 to 2017 the Mountaineers signed 12 players from the ESPN 300 list. You would expect to recognize the names of these players but you likely won’t. Why? Because eight of the twelve signees never saw significant playing time in Morgantown. The exceptions would be Dravon Askew-Henry, who has been a star at safety and Shelton Gibson, a fifth round draft selection last year. Brandon Ferns from the 2016 class hasn’t been able to contribute due to injury but still has four years of eligibility remaining. Jovon Durante fits into a separate category because he was forced to transfer due to family issues after recording over 700 yards for the Mountaineers. The other eight signees never saw the field in any significance; in fact most never dressed for a game. In the end, all eight left the program on their own or were dismissed from the team.
The poor results from the ESPN 300 signees has hurt the program through reduced numbers, a depletion of talent and a loss of depth that the team badly needs. Despite these poor results Head Coach Dana Holgorsen and his staff need to continue to recruit these highly sought after athletes. If West Virginia wants to be a successful program and try to make the next leap to become an elite program then it has to pursue top talent. The focus should be on better evaluation and development of these players.
ESPN also has a JUCO 50 list that ranks their top junior college players in the country. Since the creation of that list in 2013, WVU has signed five of these players. Unlike the list of ESPN 300 players these are all very familiar names to Mountaineer fans.
Mario Alford had 1497 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons before being taken in the seventh round of the NFL draft. Dreamius Smith has 945 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns in a backup rushing role. Rasul Douglas was first team All-Big 12 in 2016 and tied nationally for the most interceptions with eight. Douglas then went on to be a third round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kyzir White has been a star in the secondary for the Mountaineers the last two years and stands to have a legitimate shot at an NFL career. Kyzir was selected as a second team All-Big 12 player this year. Kelby Wickline has added key depth at offensive tackle in 2017 and stands to be a key player moving forward.
In addition to these touted JUCO 50 recruits, West Virginia has signed some other very good players from JUCO colleges since 2013. Kevin White in his senior year alone had 1447 yards and 10 touchdowns before becoming the 7th overall selection of the Chicago Bears. Ka’Raun White has caught 1836 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career so far. He only needs 22 yards in the bowl game to become a 1000 yard receiver in the 2017 season. Skylar Howard filled a significant void at quarterback while starting for two years and threw for 60 touchdowns. Nick O’Toole was a three year starter as a punter and a favorite among Mountaineer fans. Mark Glowinski played very well at guard and went on to become a 4th round pick by the Seattle Seahawks.
Ezekiel Rose started several games towards the end of this year, had a key interception against Kansas State, with another year of eligibility left. Elijah Battle contributed significantly in the secondary for the last two years. Justin Crawford has rushed for 2244 yards and 11 touchdowns. Crawford was selected as second team All-Big 12 and will have his chance at being drafted this spring. David Sills came to WVU originally, left to a JUCO to try and play quarterback and then returned to WVU this year. He was selected as a first team All-Big 12 performer and is finalist for the Bilentnikoff. The JUCO 50 was first created in 2013 but if you get back to 2010 another star name appears, Mountaineer legend Bruce Irvin.
As we move towards future recruiting classes, West Virginia will continue to pursue and sign top tier talent. The 2018 class currently contains three ESPN 300 players in Dante Stills, Kwantel Raines and Woodrow Lowe III. With those three signees gives WVU 15 ESPN 300 commits since 2012. In that same time period Oklahoma has 53 and Texas has 75. For West Virginia to compete for championships with those schools in the Big 12 it is going to have to develop and keep more talent on campus. If WVU can keep their ESPN 300 signees and continue their success with JUCO players then it will position itself to contend for Big 12 Championships.