No recruiting visitors? No trips to see prospects? For the West Virginia University football coaching staff, so far, it has been no problem.
The Mountaineers have seven verbal commitments so far in the 2021 signing class. Of those seven, three of them announced their pledges after the coronavirus pandemic left college coaches unable to trek to recruits’ towns for a visit and for recruits to come to campus.
WVU football coach Neal Brown said that, though there are new hurdles clear in recruiting due to the pandemic, there remain plenty of inroads the Mountaineers can make.
West Virginia’s crop of seven verbal commitments ranks the Mountaineers 33rd in college football according to 247Sports team rankings. Of the seven, two are four-star prospects and the other five are three-star prospects.
One of those four-stars, Massillon, Ohio, running back Jaylen Anderson, announced his commitment April 16, well into the time of social distancing. Spring Valley’s Wyatt Milum is the other four-star.
Two more commitments — Gardendale, Alabama, quarterback Will Crowder and Dublin, Ohio, defensive end Hammond Russell — also committed after the pandemic shutdowns. Crowder committed on April 7 and Russell committed on April 10.
WVU’s pandemic plan for recruiting was a two-pronged approach, Brown said in a recent video conference. The first prong dealt with prospects who already were familiar with the Mountaineer program.
“The plan was to continue on with the people who have been on our campus multiple times and guys that were close to making decisions, to continue to move down that path with them,” he said. “I think our staff has done a nice job, we’ve maintained good relationships.”
Then came the second prong, for prospects who hadn’t yet come to Morgantown, who were planning on visiting in the spring and early summer before the pandemic dashed those hopes. Brown and staff didn’t want to lose any momentum, so rather than bringing the prospects to campus, the coaches are bringing the campus to them.
“We’ve done virtual tours,” Brown said. “We’ve done infomercial-type videos on who we are. We try to take each of our important aspects of our program to the student-athletes and their families, whether it’s nutrition, strength and conditioning, facilities, academics, all those types of things. We continued to build those relationships in the hope that when the dead period’s over, we can get them on campus.”
The way the pandemic has changed how college football programs recruit has reaffirmed one concept for Brown and surprised him in another. It reaffirmed for him that peer pressure is real in recruiting, that people can make decisions based on the momentum of social media. What has surprised him has been the number of prospects who have committed to schools before they ever stepped foot on campus to visit.
Brown wonders how many of those commitments will stay firm when prospects can officially sign.
“I’ve said this publicly, it’ll be interesting to me when signing day rolls around, how many of those commitments of guys who are committing that haven’t been on that campus, how many of those stick,” he said. “You always read about decommitments and all that kind of stuff, there’s a high percentage of those guys that commit, those guys stick.
“They stick because most people make educated decisions. They’ve been on campus multiple times. It’ll be interesting to me that how many of these commitments will stick that haven’t been around campus, haven’t visited with the coaches, haven’t visited with the team.”