James Madison West Virginia Football

WVU quarterback Austin Kendall (12) and head coach Neal Brown talk during the second half of the Mountaineers’ opening win over James Madison.

When Neal Brown arrived in the Mountain State as the new football coach at West Virginia University, he inherited a flawed roster.

Brown was hired in January, meaning the window for recruiting before National Signing Day was a short one. Also consider in some cases Brown needed players who could step on campus and be ready to play right away as opposed to taking a few seasons to develop.

More than that, however, Brown needed players who were not only a good fit on the field but off the field as well. For a first-time Power 5 head coach dealing with all the things that come with that title, an extra touchdown was not going to be worth an extra headache.

The best way for Brown to find those players was among graduate transfers, and after one game it appears the players the first-year WVU coach plucked from other programs came to Morgantown ready to play.

“We were in culture-building mode this summer,” Brown said. “We were really choosy about who we brought in. Down the road, when I feel better about the makeup of our locker room, it will be based a little more on talent than what they bring into the locker room.”

All four graduate transfers who came to West Virginia to play for Brown this season chipped in during WVU’s season-opening win against James Madison. Now they’ll be tasked with taking that show on the road when the Mountaineers visit Missouri on Saturday (Noon, ESPN2).

Oklahoma transfer quarterback Austin Kendall was the first of the four to arrive in Morgantown, and while he did show the rust of a player who has not been the full-time starter since high school, he also got better as the game went on. Kendall finished 27 of 42 for 260 yards and two touchdowns in the 20-13 win against JMU, but the degree of difficulty goes up this week against Mizzou and preseason All-SEC defensive back DeMarkus Acy.

“I was a little amped up and ready to let it loose,” Kendall said of his debut WVU performance. “I’ve got to settle down now. I’ve got one game under my belt and I have to make these plays now.”

Receiver George Campbell was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, but his collegiate career was hit hard by injuries during his time at Florida State. In his first game at West Virginia, Campbell’s first catch in a Mountaineer uniform was also his first college touchdown.

Defensive end Reuben Jones came to WVU after graduating from Michigan to help add depth to a defensive line going through some serious schematic changes. Jones finished his first game at West Virginia with two tackles, a sack and a tackle for a loss.

Brown said he knew people close to Jones and that was how the two connected. He liked what he heard about how Jones handled himself on and off the field, which put him squarely on Brown’s radar.

“That’s one of the first things [Brown] said when I got here,” Jones said. “He wanted me to be part of a good culture, come in and bring positivity to the team. Not that he thought I was going to bring negativity, but he told me it was about culture and about leadership, and I needed to bring that to this team during our first year. I kind of dove into that with both feet. I try to do what I can as far as leadership, helping guys and doing what I can do.”

Then there was Louisiana State transfer punter Josh Growden, who did not arrive at WVU until after the start of preseason camp.

Growden, who is originally from Australia, was a short-yardage punting specialist last season at LSU, and with a degree in hand was poised to return to Australia before the connection with Brown and West Virginia was made. The Mountaineers needed a punter in a bad way, and in his first game Growden, who kicks left-footed, got plenty of work. He had eight punts for 323 yards — a 40.4-yard average — with a long of 60 yards.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Growden said. “I was going to go back to Australia and not go back for my fifth year at LSU. I was going to go home but this kind of popped up through my punting coaches in Australia.

“They asked me if I’d come, so I said, ‘Why not?’ I could have my fifth year, have a Senior Night — my parents could come over for it. I thought it was a pretty cool way to finish my career.”


After years of trying uniform combinations that had not been previously attempted, WVU — for the second consecutive week but this time as the visitor — will wear what many consider to be the traditional look Mountaineer fans were used to. West Virginia will wear its blue helmet with a white jersey and yellow pants on the road Saturday at Missouri, while the Tigers have announced they will wear white helmets with black jerseys and white pants.

Contact Tom Bragg at tom.bragg@wvgazettemail.com or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports. Read Tom’s WVU sports blog at http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/wvu/