Signing Day: Gibson, WVU flip RichRod recruits
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - A year ago, National Signing Day for West Virginia was mostly absent of surprises except J.T. Washington's decision to back out of a commitment to the Mountaineers and join Arizona.
The Wildcats had recently hired three WVU defensive assistant coaches and one, David Lockwood, had gotten to know Washington quite well.
Jump ahead a year to Wednesday's letter of intent day. The Mountaineers had their newly hired Arizona coach and Tony Gibson turned two Arizona commits into WVU signees.
"It happens in recruiting," Gibson said. "Some people say it's unethical, but that's what it has become right now. I'm not trying to say it in a bad way. That's recruiting and some guys are calling kids and trying to steal them at the end.
"Everyone is doing it. Is it right? Is it wrong? That's for somebody else to judge other than college coaches who are only trying to get the best guys for their program."
Gibson's two players, receiver Mario Alford and outside linebacker Brandon Golson, were among the 25 players to sign with WVU and the three players to make decisions that benefited the Mountaineers. Safety Jeremy Tyler was uncommitted and picked WVU over Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Texas Tech.
Seven junior college or high school players enrolled last month and signed letters Wednesday. The other 18 junior college and high school players signed Wednesday. Rivals.com ranked WVU's haul No. 24 nationally, Scout.com No. 26 and ESPN No. 32.
"We identified the guys that wanted to be here," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We put together a list of 18 people that we thought would sign and all 18 signed."
Gibson was one of the three assistants Holgorsen hired last month and each had a hand in arranging Holgorsen's second recruiting class, the first to make the most the 2012 Orange Bowl victory.
"My first week here, Dana says to me, 'Stay in the office and get to know your players,'" WVU cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell said. "The next day I was on the road to see Daryl Worley, Al-Rasheed Benton, Marcel Lazard. I hit the ground running. I didn't have time to sit and take account of all the things I had to get down, like moving my family, learning the scheme, learning my locker combination."
Gibson got to work on recruiting Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania for next season, but also swooped into Georgia Military College to get Alford and Golson to visit and ultimately change their minds.
New receivers coach Lonnie Galloway, who coached the 2008-10 seasons and worked three months on Holgorsen's staff in 2011 before leaving for Wake Forest, helped the recruitment of Alford and Cleveland receiver Shelton Gipson, who is arguably WVU's top offensive recruit.
In addition to getting a head start in Atlanta, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for next season, Galloway defined his role as a "friendly face to talk to."
"I let them know I was going to be their coach here," Galloway said. "On recruiting weekends, I was just a presence around the guys to have the whole staff together."
Mitchell, hired after his contract as East Carolina's defensive coordinator was not renewed, delivered Hinds (Miss.) Community College defensive end Dontrill Hyman, who with Alford and Golson gave WVU nine junior college players.
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Hyman had been committed to ECU two years ago, but wouldn't have qualified academically. Mitchell helped Hyman to Hinds, where he was a second-team all-American his first season. Mitchell said Hinds Coach Gene Murphy and defensive coordinator Dwike Wilson, who Mitchell called a "great friend of mine," literally hid Hyman from schools for two years.
"We were able to protect him and keep him off the radar," Mitchell said. "It's all about relationships. When he made all-America, Coach Murphy said, 'You're going to bring me another all-American, but I'll make sure you get this all-American.'"
Hyman had 113 tackles 25 tackles for a loss and 21.5 sacks in 18 games the past two seasons. Defensive line coach Erik Slaughter hopes to plug Hyman in as a starter at defensive tackle in place of graduated Jorge Wright. He'd been recruiting Hyman the past year, but knew Hyman was committed to Mitchell.
He said Hyman called and was ready to visit WVU when he found out Holgorsen had hired Mitchell.
"Once I wasn't part of that program any longer, Dontrill opened it up and I said, 'Why not West Virginia?'" Mitchell said. "He was more than welcome to come up on a visit and he saw a need."
Hyman ended up choosing WVU over Mississippi State and LSU and helping the Mountaineers with one of their biggest recruiting needs. Hyman, Benton, Golson, defensive end Marvin Gross and outside linebacker d'Vante Henry are projected as edge pass rushers.
"We put a strong emphasis on guys that could rush the passer," Holgorsen said. "Everybody said that our woes defensively were pass defense-related so we should get as many cornerbacks as we could, but that is a very uneducated statement. You better find defensive lineman that can rush the passer."
The Mountaineers had almost no upsets and saw no committed players sign elsewhere. Clairton (Pa.) safeety Tyler Boyd stuck with his commitment to Pitt rather than opt for WVU or Tennessee. Florida receiver Jacky Marcellus, who committed in June, and Florida defensive back Marquion Lane, who was uncommitted before Wednesday, signed what WVU called a letter of commitment Wednesday. Pennsylvania running back DeShawn Coleman will do the same today.
"This year we signed 25 players and what I would call the 'gray area,' there are probably only about five, which on a percentage I would say is pretty good," said coordinator of recruiting operations Ryan Dorchester. "That was something we focused on as a staff, just trying to identify kids who academically are a little better off because we invest a lot of time, energy and money in kids. If they qualify, it's all for naught."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.