Prep football: Number of D-I signings on rise
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Unlike six other high school seniors in West Virginia, Morgantown wide receiver Blaine Stewart won't be playing football at a Football Bowl Subdivision school in college thanks to a scholarship.
Stewart will be catching passes for Football Championship Subdivision James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va., this time next year. The son of former West Virginia Coach Bill Stewart nevertheless is an apt exemplification of the Mountain State's Class of 2013: full of talent, but needing to break free of the external forces surrounding it to be granted the opportunity to excel in college football's upper regions.
West Virginia prep players did that in significant numbers Wednesday, when seven players signed letters of intent to play at what is still commonly referred to as the Division I level. That group is larger than any graduating from the state in the same year since the turn of the century.
"To be part of the Class of 2013, with a lot of special players, I'm honored to be part of this," Stewart said Wednesday afternoon.
"It's been a fun process. It's been a lot of hard work, and a lot of not knowing where I was going to end up, but I'm lucky to have this opportunity for myself."
George Washington High School produced three FBS signees, the most of any school this year. The Patriots also had 2013's prize Mountain State recruit, two-time Kennedy Award winner and Parade All-American running back Ryan Switzer, who finalized his commitment to North Carolina in a ceremony at the school alongside teammates Dustin Crouser - headed to Charlotte - and Jordan Clay, who is bound for the Air Force Academy.
Switzer was inundated with congratulatory tweets throughout Wednesday, including a digital thumbs-up from ESPN anchor and North Carolina alumnus Stuart Scott.
"I just checked out some of hilights (sic) on YouTube. Dude can play ... bein a former wideout. Nice to see good ones," Scott tweeted late Wednesday morning.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound GW standout appeared overwhelmed by the outpouring of support he received, offering a simple tweet in response.
"Wow!! What an experience! Can't even describe! Thanks for all the love! The future begins now!!" Switzer wrote.
The trio of GW signees gave Patriots Coach Steve Edwards Jr. five Division I products in the last three seasons. Cody Clay (West Virginia) and Duran Workman (Army) went to the top level of college play following the 2010 season.
Like Edwards, Morgantown Coach John Bowers has produced his share of Division I players. He said that while the 2013 class is special, it should be more common.
"There is always good talent in the state. Players are working hard to put West Virginia on the map," Bowers said. "I could legitimately see 10 per year in this state."
Bowers' lone D-I product this season, Stewart overcame not only the stereotypical slights of West Virginia players assigned by many large programs - among them the state's lack of competition and lack of population - but a much more personal obstacle: the loss of his father prior to his senior season.
Bill Stewart died in late May last year.
"Blaine Stewart has overcome great loss," Bowers said. "His dad has laid the foundation, along with (his mother) Karen, to mold a fine young man. He is as good a person as he is a football player.
"He has great faith in God, he has an unmatched work ethic. His versatility is unmatched."
The Morgantown senior, a close friend of Switzer's who said the GW star's workout regimen pushed him to improve his own, said he was grateful for the outpouring of support he has received from the people of the state.
"That means so much to me, just to feel like the whole state has my back, I can't tell you how good that feels," he said.
Huff Award winner Elijah Wellman is the only in-state scholarship player headed to West Virginia. The Mountaineers landed numerous invited walk-ons from the state Wednesday, including Shady Spring punter Houstin Syvertson, GW linebacker Trevon Johnson, Morgantown defensive back Shane Commodore and Greenbrier West lineman Zack Johnson.
No in-state player accepted a scholarship to play at Marshall.
Other Mountain State players heading to Division I programs include Hunt Award winner Eugene German, who will join Crouser at Charlotte, and his Martinsburg teammate, wide receiver Cedric Brown, who will go to Ohio.
David Gaydosz, who led Cabell Midland to its first Class AAA state title game appearance and was named the National Football Foundation's Player of the Year, did not sign with a school Wednesday.
"He has so many different opportunities, and they're so different that we're still working everyday to sort through and find what he wants to do," Midland Coach Luke Salmons said. "He went up to Akron last week, and they didn't offer him, so he's looking at other options."
Salmons said Gaydosz is considering FCS Coastal Carolina, among several other FCS schools.
The last glut of D-I signees to emerge from West Virginia did so following the 1999 season. The following winter, eight players - including three from Class AAA state champion Parkersburg - inked D-I offers. Among them was Capital's Darrion Scott, who went on to play at Ohio State and later with the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins of the NFL.
Others from that group included Morgantown's Ronnie Rodamer, who went on to play at Notre Dame, and the Big Reds' Scott "Babe" Davis, who played at Penn State. Musselman quarterback Todd Mosby, who won the 1999 Kennedy Award, was the only in-state player to receive an offer to play at West Virginia that year, but he tragically died in March of 2004, during his junior year at the school.
Princeton's Tyrone Gilliard eventually played for Pitt, but only after he spent a year in prep school after his high school graduation.
Signing Day 2000 marked the end of an era of sorts for West Virginia prep football players. The number of D-I scholarships dropped sharply the next year, and have leveled to an average of three or four per year for the last seven seasons.
"I think, I hope it's a turning point," Salmons said of the large recruiting class of 2013. "There's a lot of good kids, the big thing is I think West Virginia gets a bad rap because of the level of competition and all that, and I think that's garbage.
"Crouser's a good kid and a heck of a player. Eugene German is a great player. I shook hands with him at the title game and he really impressed me as a good young man, too. There's kids here who can play."
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.