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Be careful what you wish for

MORGANTOWN - Even the best of college football's recruiters have their regrets. It just comes with the territory.

It is a wholly inexact science in which identifying and wooing prospects is only half the battle. Then comes the task of developing those players, some of whom, once they arrive on campus, can have deficiencies in character or work ethic or simply personality.

If even a third of the players a coach successfully recruits wind up realizing or exceeding expectations, well, it's like a batter in baseball - hitting .333 makes one an all-star.

In more than two decades of recruiting South Florida for West Virginia, Doc Holliday had his hits and misses. No doubt he regretted a few of those misses.

Today, though, he can't help but lament a couple of his more recent successes because they have come back to haunt him.

For the third time since moving from WVU to become Marshall's head coach in 2010, Holliday will face a Mountaineer team on which his handprints are still visible. The teams meet at noon today at Mountaineer Field in the last scheduled game between the two and perhaps the final time ever.

It will certainly be the final time Holliday has to face a couple of the most successful recruits he ever enticed to Morgantown - quarterback Geno Smith and wide receiver Stedman Bailey, both among the most highly acclaimed college players in the land.

"If I knew then what I know now,'' Holliday said this week, "I wouldn't have recruited them for WVU.''

Indeed, Smith and Bailey have already been a thorn in their former recruiter's side. That's especially true about Smith, the Big 12 preseason player of the year and a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Two years ago in Huntington, a then-sophomore Smith orchestrated 96- and 98-yard scoring drives and threw a 2-point conversion pass on WVU's final two possessions to force overtime in a game the Mountaineers would win 24-21. It was Holliday's home debut as MU's coach and he appeared well on his way to a huge win with the Herd up 21-6 and driving for an insurance touchdown with 81/2 minutes to play.

Then last season Smith threw for 249 yards and two touchdowns and Bailey caught five passes for 76 yards and a score in barely three quarters of a weather-shortened 34-13 West Virginia win.

If that's not enough to make one regret ever steeping foot into the Smith or Bailey households in South Florida, nothing is.

"Yeah, I would think so,'' Bailey said. "But if it wasn't for him we probably wouldn't be here today, so I appreciate Doc for that.''

Indeed, if it weren't for Holliday, Smith and Bailey probably would not be at WVU.

"He was always the guy who would pop up when I didn't expect it,'' Smith said of his days at Miramar High School, from where both he and Bailey graduated in 2009. "But that's the thing I liked about the guy. He was persistent and he ultimately got me here and I'm happy for it.''

Perhaps if Holliday had not been able to convince the pair to come to Morgantown the Mountaineers still would be where they are today, ranked No. 11 in the country and with one of the most explosive offenses around. Perhaps the staffs of Bill Stewart or Dana Holgorsen - who inherited the pair when he arrived last year - might have come up with similar talent elsewhere.

But Holliday's success in bringing the pair to WVU has certainly been a boon to the program, and even if he regrets that once a year now that he's at Marshall, Smith and Bailey certainly do not.

"Since he left here I know he's started on a new chapter and he's focused on that,'' Bailey said. "But I do remember last year before the game started I went over and spoke to him and it was all smiles. I've got nothing but love for Doc Holliday.

"He did a great job recruiting us and he made us feel at home here.''

And Holliday certainly has to retain some pride in the fact that two of the players who have helped elevate WVU to its current heights are there in large part because of him. Earlier this week he was effusive in his praise for both, even saying that Smith should, not could, win the Heisman.

"I'm happy that he has so much respect for me,'' Smith said. "Me and Doc had a really good relationship. I haven't been able to talk to him lately because he's at Marshall now, but he was the guy who recruited me.''

Regrettably so for Holliday.

"Yeah, I've heard that,'' Smith said. "But he was a persistent guy. That's the reason I came here. He would show up at my practices and come to my house and meet my family, and that's something a lot of recruiters didn't do. That's what makes him such a great recruiter.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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