The announcement that West Virginia landed Jackie Mathews, a heralded junior college defensive back from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, was great news for a defense that needs all the secondary help it can get facing high-powered Big 12 offenses.
It’s also good news to see WVU coach Neal Brown successfully navigate the JUCO recruiting waters. At West Virginia, Brown doesn’t have the luxury of relying strictly on high school blue chippers to fill out his roster. West Virginia ranks near the bottom in available in-state blue chip recruits https://www.sbnation.com/college-football-recruiting/2017/12/18/16780636/best-recruits-2019-state-rankings
So like his predecessor, Dana Holgersen, did to varying degrees of success, Brown will need to explore less traditional avenues of accruing players.
JUCO is an excellent source of good players. The junior college route isn’t without its drawbacks. As anyone who’s watched the Netflix docuseries Last Chance U https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Chance_U can attest, JUCO players are in junior college for a reason. Sometimes it’s academic issues. Sometimes it’s emotional issues. Sometimes is criminal issues. If they didn’t have these issues, these players would either have gone to D-1 schools straight from high school or, if they did, they would still be with the school they signed their letter of intent.
But without access to a treasure chest of in-state talent, the Mountaineers need to absorb some of these issues and take some risks. Sometimes it works https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/players/kevin-white-6.html. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s an angle that Brown must navigate.
The other route Brown must take advantage of is the transfer portal. And here, the first-year West Virginia coach is already off and running. The Mountaineers top two quarterbacks are transfers. Their third also was, until Jack Allison recently left the program to return to the portal. Historically, some of WVU’s best quarterbacks have been transfers. Jeff Hostetler came from Penn State; Will Grier from Florida. Jarrett Doeged is the current starter and likely will be for the next two years. Brown recruited Doege not from high school, but accrued the signal caller from Bowling Green.
Like JUCO, transfers have their issues. Otherwise they wouldn’t be transfers. But unlike junior college players, D-1 transfers most often are leaving situations that just didn’t work out, football-wise. And those players, as transfers, are likely to be more judicious in their college selection as transfers than they were as wide-eyed high school prospects.
Fans love watching a five-star prospect sit at a table and put their school’s baseball cap on his head as he announces his collegiate commitment. The hope and promise of that day is catnip to rabid college football supporters. Building a program near exclusively on high school talent works for Alabama, Georgia and Notre Dame.
Schools like West Virginia need to be more creative. It’s promising to see Brown doing so early and successfully.