Let’s begin with why colleges tend to not recruit the Mountain State in football and break them down one by one:
- The talent does not match other states
- Players are behind in terms of training and football IQ
- It isn’t efficient to scout/recruit
~The talent does not match other states~
So how about the obvious: West Virginia athletes are inferior to Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland- let’s not even talk about Texas and Florida. We, former West Virginia players and coaches, admit that on the grand scale, the state does not match up with fanatical football heavens. West Virginia has roughly 1.8 million residents. The smallest bordering state in terms of population is Kentucky with 4.4 million (2.5x larger). So, why would we expect to have the same amount of top talent when other states have such larger populations?
The crazy thing is that despite the low population, the 2019 class had 16 football players sign Division 1 scholarships. Every athlete came from a school that was in the top 60 largest high schools in-state (enrollment) with the exception of Braden Price of Wheeling Central (private school in Wheeling, WV). Statistically speaking, that’s a 25% rate of finding a Division One football player in 60 schools. The percentages go up alarmingly at the very top where six of the twelve biggest schools had a Division One signee (50% rate). And, that is just players who managed to go so above and beyond that they broke the West Virginia stigma to get offered. This argument will be revisited later.
The Class of 2019 gave us Darnell Wright and Doug Nester- two of the most touted recruits in the nation. Wright was ranked the #2 player in the entire country and a five star recruit could have went to anywhere in the country. In the 2020 and 2021 classes, Zach Frazier (Fairmont Senior), Sean Martin (Bluefield), Wyatt Milum (Spring Valley), and Isaiah Johnson (Bluefield) already have offers from every Power 5 conference available. We can at least debunk that West Virginia does not have at least top tier players.
The interesting thing is that these top players sometimes don’t always win the top awards or honors. We understand the potential > high school ability argument for recruiting, but all these players did not just crush other in-state players. Spring Valley, despite having Nester and Milum, lost three consecutive state titles to Martinsburg. The Bulldogs are currently riding a 40+ game winstreak and dominate Virginia and DC teams as well. How many players held D1 offers for the Bulldogs on these teams the last three years? Three (and none were highly recruited). Call it great coaching, great programming, but you don’t dominate that long without some incredible talent.
The point: You could visit the 12 biggest schools and see six Power 5 players. To think that alongside these players aren’t worthy D1-AA and D2 players in bulk is irrational. Not only does West Virginia have elite five star recruits, those recruits are tested and lose to other in-state teams- thus some level of untapped talent pool must exist.
~Players are behind in terms of training and football IQ~
Out of all the reasons, this one makes the most sense. However, give us a second and we might change the perspective of it all. West Virginia definitely tends to fall behind with modern athletic rule changes. We could sit and argue all day about off-season time allowed to practice, all-star game participations, contact regulations, etc., but we should all be able to agree that: more time practicing/training with coaches = better players and a better product. If you don’t believe that, go watch NFL Thursday Night Football and see how much two less days of preparation can change a team.
Many Mountain State players face a culture change in college when it comes to things such as Spring Ball. Where this is a commonality in places such as Florida all the way down to the Youth League level, it is brand new for in-state players. In a counter argument, the growing narrative that multiple sports actually produces finer players fits here since the void of spring football is filled with a high rate of basketball, wrestling, and baseball.
Training can be subjective. While some programs emphasize bench, squat, and deadlift numbers, others take a “modern” plyometric philosophy of sport-specific exercises. Both training styles have produced winning teams. As with any of the poorer states, the bulk of small schools just tend to not have a full-out off-season training program due to players playing other sports in higher demand and the lack of resources/equipment.
These two setbacks can produce smaller, weaker, and slower players on average as well players with a lesser understanding of the game with less complex football schemes. The coaches simply do not have time to install the type of offense/defense they might truly want to run. However, if you haven’t paid attention, some teams are dominating the field and have remained on top for long periods. The modernization of football has arrived in West Virginia but only for a few teams.
We ask to consider a different perspective. This applies more for levels under Division One. This is a perfect way to find diamonds in the rough. Perhaps, great players with underdeveloped bodies or great bodies with underdeveloped technique. These players slip through the cracks but probably would like a next level opportunity. Could you look at a 6’5 beanpole that played four-ways and say “What if we put 70 pounds on him in the next four years?”. We believe, with this perspective, that there are many potential hidden players that could be brought on in partial scholarships but at least given the opportunity to gain the full.
The point: We agree that West Virginia, as a whole, lacks in rules and regulations for the advancement of training and football concepts. It is coming along quickly though from the top down. We see the raw talent as a opportunity to get potentially high levels players who are under trained and mold them into the players they could be. The risk / reward is great.
~It isn’t efficient to scout/recruit~
Finally, the main argument we have heard from colleges for years:to accompany the lack of talent and football advancement, it plainly isn’t worth it to search through the mountains for players. This typically does not apply to edge cities such as Huntington, Wheeling, and Martinsburg or “on the way cities” like Charleston and Beckley. This argument actually does not pertain to the top schools in the state. For the most part, they receive looks but again, seemingly only for the very top talent. For some reason, the players battling and pushing these five-star recruits automatically must be D2 or D3 without hesitation.
So, this argument excludes the top products and focuses more on the rest with specificity on smaller schools. Every year, we see a group of players be offered prolifically by Mountain East schools (Division 2). However, despite the fact that double digit colleges deemed them worthy of scholarship, it rarely appears that a Group of 5 or Division 1-AA offers these same players. What gives?
We aren’t advocating that every multiple D2-offeree is higher than that, but we would figure that they might get bites more commonly. We believe it comes down to the concept that several schools take that “they just aren’t worth the time to go find” thus, they don’t look hard. We can disagree and counteract this several points.
Players have begun selling themselves on social media. It’s rough and new, but it is cleaning up. We are planning to release some guides on bettering the approach and fixing film. The point being that players are willing to come to you but an open mind is needed without a stigma. On top of obvious communication advancement, you have several new rising places to observe and scout in a single sitting. Selling ourselves, we literally have gathered every notable player and then some in the entire state in a scout sheet designed by tips from college recruiters. For your own opinion, the 304 Elite Camp in May invites coaches to watch a day long of drills, 1v1s, 7v7s, and linemen competition that has a large amount of players. One paper, two events, and you have seen the state!
If that doesn’t scream opportunity, we don’t know what does. We aren’t pushing for colleges to devote the same time to West Virginia as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, or Texas… we are just saying there is plenty of great players who go overlooked and can be either developed or make immediate impacts. With a state that has borderline-the lowest college graduation rates, players will take the opportunity even if it out-of-state and far from home! In 2018 alone, Mountain State former walk-ons had team captain roles at Marshall and WVU while under-recruited players such as Tyson Bagent was a national phenom as a true freshman for Shepherd, being nominated for the Harlon Hill Trophy, after being passed up on the top level. Also, don’t forget Trevon Wesco of Musselman, who went JUCO before ending up at WVU before now being a rising prospect for the NFL Draft.
The point: With the accessibility to social media, our scout sheets, camps/combines like the 304 Elite, there is no excuse to giving small time to literally seeing an entire state. The diamonds are there. They are willing to attend your own camps if it means a potential offer. Take advantage of these hungry players and get them before they prove themselves somewhere else lower or higher as a walk on.
So here’s our three reasons for recruiting the state, plain and simple:
- The talent is proportionate, if not higher, to the state’s size
- WV is modernizing, and the underdeveloped players are potential gems
- With the 304 Elite and our Scout Sheets, an entire state can be scouted in one document and two events