NCF On The Trail: West Virginia Mountaineers

Even though almost 10 months remain until the next national singing day, teams across the Big 12 have jumped off to fast starts in putting together their 2015 classes.

To catch you up on all the recruiting storylines that have developed so far, we checked in with ESPN.com senior national recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree and Big 12 recruiting reporter Damon Sayles for their takes:

Which team has impressed you the most with its 2015 recruiting?

Crabtree: With all of the questions West Virginia faced in the offseason and the product the Mountaineers put on the field in 2013, you would think they would be struggling out of the gate with the 2015 class. But it has been the exact opposite. WVU has 10 commitments, including from one of the best receivers in the country, Jovon Durante. West Virginia is selling kids on an opportunity to play early and make a big difference in getting the program back on track. Plus, it has gone back to its roots and mined the very familiar recruiting territory of Florida for some of its best pledges.

Sayles: As much as I like what Texas Tech and TCU have done so far, I have to tip my hat to what West Virginia has accomplished. The Mountaineers have a pair of ESPN Junior 300 players in safety Kendrell McFadden and Durante. The Mountaineers are recruiting the state of Florida well; five of the 10 pledges are from the Sunshine State. West Virginia is off to a fast start, and with the program fresh off a successful spring game, more big-time commits could be coming soon.

Who has disappointed?


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All told, Big 12 schools signed 187 high school players last week.

Where are the Big 12 schools getting their players? I examined every conference class to determine that answer.

The state of Texas, as expected, dominated the yield. But Big 12 schools mined talent from 23 different states and the District of Columbia.

Some thoughts on the data:
  • Even as the competition for talent has exploded there, the Lone Star State remains the lifeblood of the Big 12. There’s no question that Texas is being more nationally recruited than ever. Alabama, LSU, Stanford, Oregon, Notre Dame and even Boise State landed top-15 players from the state. That’s a huge change from just three years ago, when only one top-15 Texas player signed outside Big 12 country. But even as the demand of SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten schools has expanded, the number of Texas players signing with Big 12 schools has remained consistent. I went back and added up the Texas players who signed with current Big 12 schools in 2009. The tally was 114, only six more than the 2014 total. The Big 12 is still building its class depth in Texas, even if the clash for the elite talents in the state has become even more fierce.
  • How important is Texas to the Big 12? Big 12 schools signed 108 players from the state and only 79 elsewhere.
  • Texas supplied players to every program in the Big 12 except West Virginia. Surprisingly, former Big 12 state Missouri was tied with Florida as the next state that's spreading out its talent, sending eight players to five Big 12 schools. Evidently, Big 12 schools have retained ties to the Show-Me State, even though the University of Missouri is now in the SEC.
  • Combined, Baylor, TCU, Texas and Texas Tech signed a total of 14 high school players from outside Texas.
  • With the SEC encroaching on Texas, several Big 12 schools returned the favor in SEC country. Last week, the Big 12 signed seven prospects from Louisiana, compared with just three in 2009. All told, the Big 12 plucked 29 players from the states of Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi, including five ESPN 300 prospects.
  • No school has shifted its recruiting focus in the last five years more than Oklahoma. Dating to the Bud Wilkinson era, the Sooners have always depended on Texas players. And while that still remains the case, the Sooners are opening another pipeline to California. OU landed four players from California and only seven from Texas.
  • While Oklahoma has focused west, its Bedlam rival has turned the other way. Oklahoma State has now landed a recruit from Georgia in each of the last four classes. Cowboys defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer grew up and went to college in Georgia, and that connection clearly is paying off on the recruiting trail.
  • With only one FBS prospect in state, West Virginia is the most creative Big 12 school when it comes to recruiting. The Mountaineers have yet to make any inroads into Texas, which could come as the school settles into the Big 12. In the meantime, West Virginia signed players from six different states, not including Washington, D.C. West Virginia had the most Florida players, with five.
  • The Big 12 didn’t get much out of the Kansas high schools this year. Only three players signed with Big 12 schools from the state. Kansas, however, is fertile ground for junior-college help, this year included.
  • The state of Wisconsin tied for ninth in Big 12 signees, thanks to Iowa State, which signed all three Big 12 players there.
  • West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas State each signed just one in-state high school player.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: One of the better defensive back prospects in Florida is heading to Ohio State, and Urban Meyer is a big reason why; this weekend is Missouri’s chance to impress a number of top 2015 prospects; and one of the top 2015 prospects is making rounds on unofficial visits.

Meyer seals it for Edwards
Three-star safety Ben Edwards (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian) gave high marks to Ohio State assistants Tim Hinton and Chris Ash for playing a role in his decision to commit to the Buckeyes on Tuesday. But it was head coach Urban Meyer who made the biggest difference. “Who wouldn’t want to play for Coach Meyer?” Edwards said. “People down here in Florida still love him and talk about him all the time. He won two national championships and has always had winning teams. My family is also comfortable with me playing for him, so he definitely played a big factor in my decision.” Edwards picked Ohio State over offers from about 20 other teams.


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Early Offer: 2015 begins now 

February, 7, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: The ink was barely dry on the letters of intent for 2014 class when one of the best for the 2015 class came off the board; and what schools and recruiters have jumped out of the gate with success with players that won’t sign for another 360-plus days.


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Signing day: Big 12 wrapup

February, 5, 2014
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As hectic of a day as it was, national signing day was a success for all Big 12 programs. Coaches were up early manning their fax machines and showing excitement with every national letter of intent submitted via fax.

Nearly 250 football players signed letters of intent to play Big 12 football on Wednesday. Here are five of the biggest storylines -- and a bonus storyline that could have an ending Thursday -- from the conference.

Oklahoma takes over top spot in Big 12

In the past 48 hours, everything seemed to go Oklahoma’s way.

[+] EnlargeMichiah Quick
Courtesy of Nike ESPN 300 ATH Michiah Quick was a big part of Oklahoma's final rush, a rush that gave the Sooners the top class in the Big 12.
After getting a Tuesday commitment from ESPN 300 safety Steven Parker II (Jenks, Okla./Jenks), the Sooners got Wednesday pledges from ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) and high three-star offensive tackles Kenyon Frison (West Valley City, Utah/Granger) and Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge).

All four players were a part of Oklahoma’s signing class of 26 on Wednesday -- helping the Sooners take over the top spot in the Big 12 class rankings. Oklahoma’s class is No. 13 nationally, three spots better than previous top dog Texas.

Oklahoma in previous years has been very good at finishing strong in recruiting. It managed to sign Frison, who committed to Utah last February before decommitting last month, as well as Brown, who had been committed to Tennessee since May before making an 11th-hour change.

Strong, Longhorns get their DTs

New Texas coach Charlie Strong wanted two players he recruited to play at Louisville, and by Wednesday afternoon, he had them.

ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford (Hilton Head, S.C./Hilton Head) and three-star defensive tackle Chris Nelson (Lakeland, Fla./Victory Christian Academy) signed with the Longhorns and were two of 23 to submit national letters of intent. They also helped erase the sting of the Longhorns losing three four-star defensive tackle commitments in LSU signee Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren), Oklahoma signee Courtney Garnett (New Orleans/St. Augustine) and Texas A&M signee Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) last month.

Collectively, Ford and Nelson recorded 235 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 35 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. The duo also had 37.5 tackles for loss.

Receivers ‘No. 1’ to Baylor coach

Baylor coach Art Briles made a bold statement about his new wide receivers -- one that might be challenged by some but co-signed by others.

“The thing that we feel really good about,” Briles said, “is that we've signed the No. 1 receiving class in America -- I don't think that's up for debate.”

Briles has an argument with four ESPN 300 receivers in K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant), Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), Ishmael Zamora (Houston/Alief Elsik) and Chris Platt (Willis, Texas/Willis). The quartet helped to give Baylor a top-25 national recruiting class.

Rhoads fired up about lone in-state signee

To say Paul Rhoads is excited about his top-ranked signee, ESPN 300 wide receiver Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale) is an understatement.

While Rhoads is pumped about the entire class, there’s something special about Lazard, as he is this year’s only in-state signee. Lazard, No. 148 in the ESPN 300, had opportunities to sign with other programs, but he chose to honor his original commitment and also follow the footsteps of his father Kevin Lazard, who played in the secondary for the Cyclones in the early 1990s.

“This is a young man who has gotten phenomenal national attention and was recruited by the traditional historical programs in college football and kept on turning them away to stay true to his word to be an Iowa State Cyclone,” Rhoads said in a statement of Lazard, the No. 2 prospect out of the state of Iowa behind Alabama offensive lineman signee Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls).

West Virginia adds depth in class

Adding depth was the objective for West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, as he signed 22 players on Wednesday. Holgorsen was fortunate to add depth from coast to coast.

Of the 22 commits, only one -- three-star offensive tackle Amanii Brown (Morgantown, W.Va./Morgantown) -- is an in-state signee. The Mountaineers hit points all over the Lower 48, from California to Texas to Florida, to get players who can be contributors early and help the program return to star status.

West Virginia’s class is led by five ESPN 300 players. Running back Donte Thomas-Williams (Durham, N.C./Hillside), the class’ top-ranked player, was the last to commit early Wednesday afternoon. He joins defensive back Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), linebacker Davonte James (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) and receivers Lamar Parker (Miami/Booker T. Washington) and Jake McCrary (Miami/Coral Reef) in the class.

Bonus: Could the Sooners add one more?

LSU signed 22 players on Wednesday. The Tigers were hoping to sign 23.

Deondre Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass) has been verbally committed to LSU since July, but the ESPN 300 defensive end also has high interest in Oklahoma. There were conflicting reports on Wednesday regarding whether Clark actually signed and submitted his letter of intent to LSU.

ESPN’s David Ching said an LSU spokesperson confirmed the letter of intent was at LSU and cleared compliance. Outside reports, however, say Clark did not submit the letter of intent, and a tweet from Clark's Twitter account said that “nothing is final.” His mother Dorshell also told The Oklahoman that her son “has not signed with LSU.”

Oklahoma City schools were closed on Wednesday because of bad weather, so Clark didn’t fax anything by way of Douglass High School. He is expected to announce his final decision on Thursday.

If it's true that Clark has not signed with LSU, look for Oklahoma to be a key player in his final decision. Ranked No. 273 in the ESPN 300, Clark has built a great relationship with the Sooners' coaching staff, particularly defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery.
Donte Thomas-Williams (Durham, N.C./Hillside) was expected to choose West Virginia on Wednesday, and the ESPN 300 running back didn't disappoint the Mountaineers.

Thomas-Williams becomes the program’s 22nd commit and the fifth ESPN 300 member of the class. The 6-foot, 217-pound running back chose West Virginia over Vanderbilt, North Carolina State and Florida State, among others.


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Bold predictions: Big 12 

February, 4, 2014
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One of the best things about national signing day is that, every year, it provides a last-minute surprise. Whether it involves a solid commit with an 11th-hour flip or an uncommitted player choosing a school to shock the masses, the day is good for full-fledged entertainment.

As we prepare for Wednesday, here are five bold predictions that we might see happen within the Big 12:


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Big 12 recruiting roundtable 

February, 4, 2014
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National signing day is now just 24 hours away. To get you ready, we checked in with our ESPN.com recruiting experts for their takes on the major storylines in the Big 12.

Senior national recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree and Big 12 recruiting reporter Damon Sayles took time from their extremely busy schedules this week to address a few questions:

Oklahoma is closing strong here. With a few blue-chip players still in play, could the Sooners end up with the top class in the Big 12


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Key recruiting visits -- Big 12 

January, 31, 2014
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It’s the last week of official visits, which means one last chance for coaches to make an impact before national signing day.

While many athletes have decided where they want to play college football, there are still a few players looking to use this final week as a measuring stick. Here are eight players to keep an eye on as they make an official visit. Also included are two 2015 players who will make junior-day appearances.


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Ultimate 300: Big 12's top classes 

January, 30, 2014
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The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is bigger than football, but it’s always a fun topic of discussion when the rivalry talk turns to past success. It’s a conversation starter with the release of the Ultimate ESPN 300 class rankings, which ranks every top recruit since 2006. Oklahoma has a dozen players in the Ultimate ESPN 300; Texas has nine.

Here is a look at the top five Big 12 programs that have consistently put together stellar recruiting classes since ESPN began ranking recruits:

1. Oklahoma

The Sooners might start slow some years, but each year they continue to put together top recruiting classes that produce talent that can compete with any team in the country. The 2006 class was one of Bob Stoops’ best, as it produced the No. 1 running back in DeMarco Murray, a future Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Sam Bradford and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. With players such as offensive lineman Trent Williams, wide receiver Ryan Broyles and tight end Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma is one of the most consistent teams in college football. Stoops produces winners.


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Big 12 class rankings analysis 

January, 29, 2014
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With a week left until national signing day, Texas Tech climbed one spot, and Texas and West Virginia each fell a spot in the latest ESPN class rankings.

Clemson and Texas flipped spots, putting the Tigers at No. 13 and the Longhorns at No. 14. Oklahoma remained at No. 16, Baylor stayed at No. 18 and Oklahoma State remained at No. 26.

Texas Tech switched places with Northwestern, moving up a spot to No. 34. West Virginia, however, traded with North Carolina State and moved down to No. 38. Here is an in-depth look at the Big 12 class rankings:


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Most important targets: Big 12 

January, 28, 2014
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In eight days, many of the nation’s top athletes will seal their college futures with a signature. Between now and Feb. 5, college programs will look to do one of two things, either use a final official visit to sway an uncommitted target or do all it can to flip an already-committed player.

In the last week of recruiting, here is a look at some of the most important remaining targets who could find a home in the Big 12.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

January, 27, 2014
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As expected, this was one of the busiest weeks in the Big 12 from a recruiting standpoint. Teams were looking to fill in last-minute vacancies, and players were looking to finalize their college plans. TCU proved to be the big winner in the conference, landing six 2014 commits and two more commits from the 2015 class. Kansas wasn’t far behind, as the Jayhawks got verbal commitments from five three-star players for the 2014 class.

Here are some of this past week’s highlights:


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Key recruiting visits -- Big 12 

January, 24, 2014
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With less than two weeks remaining until national signing day, every official visit is huge -- for the athlete and for the program. Some schools are in need of elite athletes more than others.

Here are 10 names to keep an eye on as they take their official visits to Big 12 schools:

1. ATH Lorenzo Joe (Abilene, Texas/Cooper)
Visiting: TCU


A two-hour trek eastbound to Fort Worth is making some Longhorns fans wonder -- and, perhaps, worry. Joe, an ESPN 300 athlete, has been committed to Texas since August 2012, but with the coaching transition from Mack Brown to Charlie Strong, Joe has checked out other options just to make sure Texas is the place for him. Look for TCU to roll the red -- or purple -- carpet out for him.


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National signing day is in 15 days, and while many athletes have finalized their college plans, several questions remain. Will the committed players stay committed? Will the Big 12 programs steal away some of the top players? Will the world be surprised by last-minute changes?

There will be several storylines to watch from now until signing day, but here are five to definitely keep your eyes on:


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