|West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen talks to reporters Wednesday afternoon at the Milan Puskar Center.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen believes his coaching staff was able to accomplish what it set out to do on signing day.
The Mountaineers were looking to add depth along the offensive line, at wide receiver and in the defensive secondary, and more than half of this year’s 22-player recruiting class is made up of guys in those three areas.
Holgorsen said his assistants were able to beat out many other top programs to get the guys in this year’s signing class.
“We haven’t changed our recruiting areas and the recruiting areas that we wanted to attack were the same recruiting areas that we’ve been attacking for years,” said Holgorsen. “There is good talent in Ohio, obviously, and bringing Coach (Tony) Gibson back to pull kids out of Pennsylvania has paid dividends for us; bringing Lonnie Galloway back to be able to get into Baltimore and (Washington) D.C., and get a couple of kids out of there and then go down into North Carolina a little bit, which is where he’s from.
“And then getting Coach (JaJuan) Seider to attack Florida, and now Coach (Damon) Cogdell, who has only begun the process of getting into South Florida,” Holgorsen added. “If we keep attacking those areas that have made West Virginia successful, then we need to go after the guys that can help us win the Big 12 because we’re not just trying to fill out slots.”
Holgorsen was also shopping for a future quarterback and running back, and his assistants were able to land both of the players that were No. 1 on their recruiting board at those two spots.
Quarterback William Crest comes from Dunbar High - Tavon Austin’s former high school in Baltimore - and brings an impressive set of credentials with him to Morgantown. The four-star recruit passed for more than 2,200 yards and 17 touchdowns during his senior season and was considered one of the top prep players in Maryland.
“Adding William Crest has been on our minds for quite some time now,” said Holgorsen. “He’s been the No. 1 target on our board for well over two years. We’ve spent a lot of time with William and we’re excited about him joining our program.”
Durham, N.C., running back Donte Thomas-Williams was a signing day present for the Mountaineers, although Holgorsen was reasonably confident that the four-star prospect was going to come through for the good guys on signing day.
Thomas-Williams combines a rare blend of size, speed and ball skills that all recruiters are looking for and he turned down a host of schools to play for the Mountaineers.
“He was important along the lines of the same way we attacked William,” noted Holgorsen. “He was the one that we recruited the hardest of the running backs that we were involved with. We developed a good relationship with him to the point where we kind of cut ties with the rest of the running backs and focused on him.”
West Virginia was able to pull a pair of four-star wide receiver prospects out of Miami in Coral Reef product Jacob McCrary and Booker T. Washington’s Lamar Parker. Both appear to have the skills and athletic ability to come in and help right away if some of the returning players falter.
“The three guys that you have to get excited about are the three guys that we signed last year – Kevin White
, Mario Alford
and Daikiel Shorts
,” said Holgorsen. “They look a million times better than they did last year and having all three of those guys coming back will put us light years ahead of where we were last year.”
Therefore, that means talented players such as McCrary and Parker won’t be thrown to the wolves this fall – if they get playing time it will be because they earned it.
“I’m so excited about moving forward and not having to deal with that,” said Holgorsen of is team’s lack of depth the last two seasons. “I probably won’t have to deal with that for the rest of my coaching career.”
Perhaps the top-rated player in West Virginia's signing class actually comes on the defensive side of the ball in Aliquippa defensive back Dravon Henry – the first Aliquippa player the Mountaineers have been able to land since Charles Fisher headed down I-79 in the mid-1990s.
The West Virginia coaches believe they not only landed the No. 1-rated prospect in Western Pennsylvania, but also the entire state of Pennsylvania in Henry.
“We can rant and rave about Dravon Henry,” said Holgorsen. “He was the No. 1 player in Pennsylvania and could have gone anywhere in the country. Can he come in and play right away? Probably so, but the need for him to come in and be an every down player on defense is not what it was a year ago.”
, a 6-foot-1-inch, 233-pound linebacker from Springfield, Ohio, was a four-star recruit who possesses ready-made size to provide immediate help if needed. He's already enrolled in classes in Morgantown.
The five offensive linemen signed this year includes a late surprise when the Mountaineers were able to flip Philadelphia’s Dontae Angus from a prior commitment to Florida.
Holgorsen said Angus has the biggest hands he’s ever seen and an amazingly slim midsection for a guy who weighs 330 pounds.
“Coach (Brian) Mitchell did a good job of locating him and he kind of just hung in there with him and brought him on campus the last weekend we could have visits,” said Holgorsen. “Dontae had a great visit and his mother had a great visit. He told us he was coming on a Saturday night and he said he didn’t want to leave.”
Six of the 22 players signed this year are already enrolled in school, including junior college quarterback Skyler Howard
, who will be able to participate in spring drills coming up in March. Mountaineer offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson identified Howard in early December as the mid-semester enrollee he wanted after closely evaluating 24 other top junior college quarterbacks.
“He was 11-1 at junior college last year so he has game experience when he gets out there this spring,” said Holgorsen.
ESPN.com rated West Virginia’s haul 37th in the country and sixth among Big 12 teams, with the Mountaineers bagging six four-star prospects and 16 players rated a three-star or better.
Overall, Holgorsen is pleased with where his scholarship numbers are now after coming off a disappointing 4-8 season in 2013.
“We have 70 or 71 scholarship guys going through spring practice and I’ve never had that many before,” he admitted. “That’s a high number and then you add another 25 walk-ons to that list and you’ve got 100 guys that you can practice with.
“That means we can play a lot of football.”