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Will Mountaineers cash in on 'poaching season?'

It's that time of year again. No, it's not time for people to break their week-old New Year's resolution, or time for the kids to head back to school, or even time to fall into a deep depression because another college football game will not be played for another seven and a half months.

It's poaching season.

That's right. This time of year, college coaches are getting hired, getting fired or "resigning" (ahem, Mack Brown). With all of the upheaval and only four weeks until National Signing Day, this leaves recruits around the country with second thoughts, and advantageous coaches prepared to offer new opportunities.

Over the years, West Virginia has been both a victim and a winner from this tumultuous season. Just last year, the Mountaineers were the beneficiaries, particularly thanks to the hires of Tony Gibson and Brian Mitchell. When Gibson arrived from Arizona, two of the Wildcats' prized commitments - linebacker Brandon Golson and wide receiver Mario Alford - immediately called to schedule an official visit. The same happened with defensive end (and East Carolina commit) Dontrill Hyman. Eventually, all three flipped their commitments to the Mountaineers, signed in February and made substantial impacts last fall.

In 2014, change elsewhere - rather than in Morgantown - could be beneficial for the Mountaineers.

  • Miami - Let's start with the "bad news" first. Al Golden was assumed to be heading from Miami back to his alma mater, Penn State, over the weekend, and West Virginia was set to reap the rewards of that change. On the surface, it may not sound like a positive move for the Mountaineers - an excellent head coach and recruiter essentially moving into their back yard. However, West Virginia is battling with the Hurricanes for more recruits than it is with Penn State.
  • In all, the Mountaineers hosted three Miami commits for official visits: athlete Brandon Powell, cornerback Nigel Bethel and outside linebacker Mike Smith. A source tells me Powell, an early enrollee, was fully prepared to enroll in Morgantown this week had Golden announced he was leaving on Sunday. The three-star prospect admits he would have enrolled somewhere other than Miami, but did not wish to name the school. Had Golden elected to return to his alma mater, there's a decent chance WVU would have ended up with at least two (Powell and Bethel) of those three, if not the entire trio.

  • Penn State - Again, this may come as a surprise to most who do not follow recruiting religiously, but the Mountaineers and Nittany Lions simply have not clashed on the recruiting trail that much. Of Penn State's 19 current commitments, only three received offers from West Virginia - Middletown (Del.) wide receiver Chris Godwin, Swansboro (N.C.) wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins and Gilman (Md.) cornerback Troy Vincent.
  • Thompkins re-affirmed his commitment this week, but both Godwin and Vincent say they still need time to think about their situation and see who the new coach is going to be before deciding. Godwin trained at times with current West Virginia wideout Daikiel Shorts, while Vincent - son of the former NFL corner of the same name - camped in Morgantown last summer.

  • Louisville - This is where the Mountaineers could really take advantage, if they choose to do so. With Charlie Strong off to Texas, the Cardinals' class is falling apart. Three players have already decommitted or flipped to another school, while several more are looking around.
  • Two players who remain committed but say they will look into other are schools are Fort Pierce Central (Fla.) defensive end Rashawn Shaw and Smallwood (Fla.) wide receiver Desean Blair. Shaw tells me that shortly after the news of Strong's departure, Mountaineer assistant coach JaJuan Seider reached out to him.

    "He told me their doors are still open to me and that I can come up and play for them," he said. "He said that I'm the pass rusher they are looking for and that it will be a second family being up there."

    Shaw had already been talking to Seider, his area recruiter, for weeks, but says the absence of a head coach at Louisville cemented his intentions to visit Morgantown. He is planning that trip, as well as stops at Duke and Virginia before Feb. 5, National Signing Day.

    Blair has been committed to Louisville since April, but plans to check out Purdue, West Virginia and Nebraska. He originally had a visit set for Morgantown on Jan. 17, but a last-minute offer from the Cornhuskers has those plans up in the air. The one aspect working in WVU's favor is that he is a former teammate of current Mountaineer safety Malik Greaves.

    Although he has elected not to speak with the media since the news of Strong's departure, Northmont (Ohio) defensive end Terry Ramsey could be the name to watch most closely. The three-star prospect was down to Michigan State, Louisville and West Virginia, planning to visit the three schools in that order in successive weeks. Heading into the trips, WVU was his leader, but Strong convinced him to commit to the Cardinals before he ever made it to Morgantown.

  • Assistant coaches TBD - Much is made in the media and among fans of head coaching changes when it comes to recruiting. However, departures of assistant coaches mean more to recruits in most situations. These coaches are the ones who have been building a relationship with the players for months, if not years (head coaches' contact is limited by NCAA rules), and the players also know that they will spend far more time with their position coach than the head coach.
  • That's why you saw the flips of Alford, Golson and Hyman late in the process last year. In the case of Hyman, he had been recruited by Mitchell for four years, dating back to high school. There was little doubt he would be following him to Morgantown.

    Again, there are no changes expected on West Virginia's staff, but there will be plenty of movement elsewhere. Those moves will come to a head during the annual coaches' convention Jan. 13-15 ... which just so happens to coincide with the restart of the contact period. Then the real fun begins.

    For more coverage of West Virginia recruiting, visit www.eersports.com.

     


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