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January 23, 2009

West Virginia reloads with out of state prospects

BLUEFIELD One year ago, Bill Stewart and the West Virginia coaching staff had to hit the recruiting trail with plenty of uncertainty surrounding the program.

Not this year, and it shows. The Mountaineers have been focused on recruiting since the season ended with a win over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Their focus has been good.

Among the 23 players that have verbally committed some of whom have already enrolled are seven 4-star prospects, as rated by rivals.com.

The 'Eers early haul includes six offensive linemen, five defensive backs, along with a trio of running backs and three receivers, all of whom are 4-star prospects.

West Virginia's win over the Tar Heels completed a 9-4 campaign, the first season for the 'Eers under Stewart.

Several Mountaineers have played their final games, including quarterback Pat White, considered to be the best player in school history.

Others missing in '09 will be receiver Dorrell Jalloh, offensive linemen Ryan Stanchek and Greg Isdaner, linebacker Mortty Ivy, defensive back Ellis Lankster, kicker Pat McAfee and long snapper Adam Hughes.

Still, the 'Eers return plenty of weapons, especially on defense. Yet, the Mountaineers have been busy rounding up reinforcements.

So far so good. According to rivals.com, West Virginia is 19th nationally in recruiting, and first in the Big East, ahead of Rutgers and South Florida. The national leaders include LSU, Ohio State, Texas, Southern California and Alabama.

The Mountaineers have dipped into nine states, pulling seven players from Florida, four from Ohio and three apiece from Virginia and Pennsylvania. The lone West Virginia prospect is Cole Bowers (6-5, 288, an offensive lineman from Cabell-Midland in Ona. Bowers is the second ranked prospect in the Mountain State behind quarterback C.J. Crawford, who has committed to Marshall.

Among the 4-star commitments are Tavon Austin (5-8, 156), a running back from Baltimore, and a trio of receivers, led by Logan Heastie (6-2, 192), Stedman Bailey (5-10, 186) and Deon Long (6-0, 175).

Austin is the 13th ranked running back in America, according to rivals.com. As a junior, Austin ran for 2,553 yards and 32 touchdowns.

A pair of Florida imports, defensive back Michael Carter (5-11, 154) and quarterback Eugene Smith (6-3, 182), are also highly-rated prospects. Defensive end Tevita Finau (6-5, 275) has already signed a letter of intent as part of the '08 class.

Smith is a third ranked dual threat quarterback in the nation. As a junior, he threw for 2,222 yards, 25 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also ran for seven scores.

Carter is the 12th ranked cornerback in the '09 class.

West Virginia rarely hesitates to play a freshmen if they can help.

The Mountaineers signed 23 players for the '08 class and several received significant minutes, including defensive back Robert Sands, running back Mark Rodgers and tight end Tyler Urban.

Austin is one player who could see the field soon. WVU struggled last season to find someone to spell Noel Devine. Other incoming running backs are Shawne Alston (5-11, 220) and Daquan Hargrett (6-0, 180). All three run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds or less.

Joining Carter as defensive back prospects are fellow Floridian Jonathan Scott (6-3, 190), along with Arthur Render (6-0, 185), Terence Garvin (6-2, 200) and Darwin Cook (6-1, 180).

Cook and Heastie are the fastest of the recruits, breaking the 40 in four seconds.

West Virginia went heavily after offensive linemen. In addition to Bowers, they've added three prospects from Pennsylvania in Pat Eger (6-6, 260), Curtis Feight (6-6, 270), Nick Kindler (6-6, 275), along with Ryan Spiker (6-4, 295) and Jordan Weingart (6-2, 287).

A pair of linebackers from Ohio have committed, including Branko Busick (6-1, 220) and Chris Snook (6-3, 222). Defensive tackle Dominik Davenport (6-0, 268) joined Alston in choosing West Virginia. Both played at Group AAA power Phoebus in Hampton, Va.

Brodrick Jenkins (5-10, 177), recruited as an athlete from Florida, rounds out the class of 23. More players could be added in the next two weeks.

Verbal commitments aren't binding. Letters of intent can be accepted on Feb. 4. The first Wednesday of each February is known as national signing day for high school prospects across the nation.

West Virginia opens its 2009 season on Sept. 5 by hosting the Liberty Flames, a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team that plays in the Big South Conference.



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