WVU defensive assistant Steve Dunlap has pretty much seen it all in the college game and on the recruiting scene. The longtime defensive coach has recruited across the eastern part of the U.S., and even extended into the frozen wastes of Canada while an assistant at Syracuse. So, while he acknowledges there have been some questions about the Big 12, it's been pretty much business as usual during the recruiting process.
"Other than the coaches at the high schools mentioning it, I can't see where it's hurting anything," Dunlap said with a wry smile. "Really, kids are excited to play good competition, regardless of where it is. And obviously, we've been doing well [on the field] so I hope that will continue."
Dunlap's primary recruiting areas aren't within the Big 12 footprint, so it stands to reason that many of his targets in Western Pennsylvania don't have the Big 12 on their minds first and foremost. Still, the potential of facing off against Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and the like has to help at least a bit in the recruiting process. So too does the departure of Pitt from the Big East – how many potential Panthers will be excited about facing Duke and North Carolina State?
An item that is more on Dunlap's mind is getting familiar with the territory. While he has cris-crossed the area before, he might not have been paying as much attention as he might.
"Remember, I was a coordinator at West Virginia' so I've been a lot of different places," he said. "I used to ride around with [former WVU assistant] Dave McMichael], but I wouldn't pay attention to where we went," he laughed. "But I've spent a lot of time in western P.A., and my wife is from a Pittsburgh area high school, so I'm familiar with it. It's really been a local recruiting area for us, so I haven't had any problem getting back in touch with the coaches."
As Dunlap has hit the trail, he does so with an eye toward filling West Virginia's immediate needs. That may sound like a bit of a no-brainer, but Dunlap explains that it wasn't always that way.
"Today, all recruiting goes on a need basis. You just don't have as many scholarships as you used to have. If you don't fill your needs, you are making a terrible mistake. When you had 95 or 104 scholarships, you'd recruit a guy because he was a great football player and then figure out where to play him. You can't do that any more."
Dunlap has been doing that quite well so far this year, helping West Virginia get off to a strong start in his region with the commitments of Deshawn Coleman and Hodari Christian. The latter is especially important, as WVU needs to increase its numbers at linebacker with its change to a base 3-4 defense.
That change has gotten a great deal of attention during the off-season, with some observers believing it holds advantages over West Virginia's previous 3-3-5 scheme. However, it does have similar features, in that the front can change to a 4-3 rather easily, with the use of a linebacker (called the "buck" in West Virginia's current parlance") moving down to the line.
That might seem like a big change, but for Dunlap, it's just a recycle of a scheme used at WVU some 15 years ago.
"There are some quirks to the scheme that are different than before, but you can move in and out of a three-man front, so it's not too different than before," he said. "For this defense, that linebacker is exactly what Canute Curtis and Gary Stills were." (They were called rush linebackers in those days.) "They are guys that are big and fast enough to rush the passer, but agile enough to drop back into pass coverage."
One challenge facing Dunlap and the defense is the fact that two primary contenders for playing time at the position missed valuable practice time during spring drills as they recovered from surgery. Dunlap is confident both can overcome that obstacle.
"Jewone Snow is still a young guy, but we want to try him there because of his physicality. Terence Garvin is an experienced player, and a three-year starter, so I don't expect him to lose anything by moving."