West Virginia Signs Three Running Backs, Two Wideouts & A Tight End In 2016 Class

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's class of 2016 filled needs, both immediate and for the future. Here, Lonnie Galloway and JaJuan Seider break down the recruits at receiver and running back while we delve deeper into their possible contributions for the upcoming season.

Galloway, above, details signing two players out of Maryland in Steven Smothers and Marcus Simms. Smothers, a Scout four-star player rated the 27th-best receiver nationally, is a triple threat in that he has the potential get touches at West Virginia in the similar style to Tavon Austin. Austin lined up as a receiver, running back and kick returner, and though Galloway cautions against players thinking they're the next to emerge at Austin's level, he notes that Smothers has a similar skillset. The 5-11, 150-pounder totaled 1,164 all-purpose yards as a senior, including 556 receiving and 192 on the ground. He caught 15 touchdown passes, and scored three times on the ground, part of his 65 career TDs to go with a 20.3 yards per catch average.

"He's a special football player and (Smothers and Austin) do a lot of the same stuff," Galloway said. "But Tavon comes around once in a lifetime."

Smothers will need to add strength at the collegiate level, but will have an opportunity to play immediately, much like Jovon Durante. Smothers' best asset is his straight line speed paired with elusiveness. The two-time consensus All-State first-teamer is "special with the ball in his hands,” Scout National Recruiting Analyst Brian Dohn said. “He has great acceleration, and the speed to score from anywhere on the field. He can also impact the kick and punt return game because of his breakaway ability."

Galloway also pulled Simms, 6-1, 175 pounds, out of Sherwood High in Olney, just outside Gaithersburg. Simms enrolled early, and is already taking classed at WVU. He will be available for the spring session, and should nicely compliment a receiving corps which returns Durante, Shelton Gibson and Gary Jennings, as well as an improving Ka'Raun White and the vastly underrated Daikiel Shorts. Shorts, who led the Mountaineers in receptions last season with 45, really started to excel at the end of the season, and is primed for a major senior season.

Simms, another consensus All-State first team selection, recorded 43 receptions for 1,020 yards and 20 touchdowns last year while hauling in 36 catches for 712 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. Simms gets vertical quickly after the catch, and high points the ball well against corners and safeties. A more physical player than Smothers, Simms is a solid run blocker who uses his strength and tenacity well. His ability to spend a full spring and summer in the program prior to the fall camp gives him a significant jump on his true freshman season.

In the backfield, West Virginia turned to the junior college ranks in an effort to replace part of the skillset departure of Wendell Smallwood after the back declared for the NFL draft. Justin Crawford, a 6-0, 200 pound back out of Northwest Mississippi community college led the school to its first juco national championship since 1992 while being named the Spalding NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year. A two-time NJCAA All-American, all-region and All-MACJC first-team selection, Crawford's two-year career totals at Northwest CC show 3,161 yards rushing, an average of 6.7 yards per rush and 30 touchdowns. He also amassed 41 receptions for 700 yards and six scores and averaged more than 20 carries per game for his career while becoming the school's all-time leading rusher.

Scout ranked him as the nation’s No. 42 best running back coming out of high school, and as the 23rd-best player in junior college this season. The four-star recruit took a late official visit to West Virginia on Jan. 29 and pledged then, choosing the Mountaineers over Missouri and South Carolina.

"He's a tremendous player and a kid that does it all," Seider said. "He doesn't turn the ball over, and he's a willing blocker. Great with the ball running and receiving. A finisher. He fits our offense as the multi-purpose back we want, and he can play in space."

Crawford has the same build and some of the same skills as Smallwood, though expecting him to match the output and become even a top five rusher in the Big 12 - let alone take the rushing title - would be unfair. But once Crawford acclimates to the offense and makes the adjustment to the speed of the game at the Power Five level, he can be a major threat both in the run game and catching passes out of the backfield. This is a very solid pick-up for West Virginia, and it gives it another player to compliment Rushel Shell and challenge Donte Thomas-Williams and Jacky Marcellus for significant carries as the more explosive back.

Seider also inked Kennedy McKoy (6-2, 195 lbs.) and Martell Pettaway (5-9, 200 lbs.), giving West Virginia versatility. McKoy, who also enrolled early, rushed for 1,871 yards and 24 touchdowns on 310 attempts last season, and also had 43 receptions for 683 yards and seven touchdowns. The North Davidson High (N.C.) recruit also racked up 2,061 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2014 while establishing school records for single-season rushing yards (2,061), career rushing yards (5,331 yards), single-season rushing touchdowns (27) and career touchdowns (58).

"He's a kid we have targeted for awhile," Seider said. "He's the back that we want every year because of what we do. He's the Charles Sims, Wendell Smallwood type of mold. He plays in space, is good with the ball. That kid checks all the boxes. Tremendous player and 4.0 student."

Pettaway, out of Detroit's Martin Luther King High, had to overcome stereotypes about the region's talent level, especially to Seider, who grew up in Florida and still considers the state the nation's best at the prep level.

"He dominated the game I watched, and I thought it was just him playing in Detroit," WVU's running backs coach said. "Then I saw him in an all-star game and that first carry he went for 72 yards. That validated what I thought he was. He runs between the tackles, runs through people, he's violent with his feet, always moving forward. he has a low center of gravity, and he's a guy who gets extra hard yards."

Well-built at 200 pounds on the 5-9 frame, Pettaway led MLK to a 14-0 record and the state championship  - where they beat Lowell 40-38 on a last-second Hail Mary pass. Pettaway rushed for 1,629 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior, and more than 1,300 as a junior with 15 scores and an average of 8.6 yards per carry. Th recruit also played in the 2016 Semper Fidelis All-American game, where he roomed with fellow WVU recruit Jake Long, a cornerback out of Columbus. Pettaway, a Scout three-star player, was named the top back in Michigan, the No. 11 running back in the Midwest Region and No. 46 running back nationally.

"I'm trying to come in and help the run game," Pettaway said. "They have had some good runners there, and I want to build on that. I want the running game to continue to be solid for their whole season. And I had a great connections with the coaches. I like the atmosphere, the rolling hills, just really liked the school."

Pettaway picked West Virginia over offers from Cincinnati, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and in-state power Michigan State. West Virginia also signed tight end Trevon Wesco, a 6-4, 275-pounder who is a former high school receiver for Musselman High. Wesco spent two seasons at Lackawanna junior college, but missed all of last year with a knee injury. Now healed, the WVU coaching staff expects him to slim down into the 240-pound range and become both a blocker and more of a vertical threat downfield than what Cody Clay was able to become. Wesco has good athleticism and rated as a top three juco tight end by some services.

"He's already more naturally athletic than Cody Clay," Seider said. "He played quarterback in high school and he carries that 270 pounds of weight well. He will trim down coming off that knee surgery. He'll start running and get his feet under him."

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