Long Island Back's Early Choice Leads To WVU

Powerful running back Jason Gwaltney made one of the earliest verbal commitments to WVU in recent memory, and he tells BlueGoldNews.com the reasons for his decisions.

"I hadn't planned on committing so soon, but I wanted to get the pressure off so I could concentrate on my senior season," Gwaltney told BlueGoldNews.com on the way home from his visit to West Virginia on Monday. "I want to be able to focus on winning another championship, and my dad thought it was a good idea to go ahead and get it out of the way."

Along with his half-brother Scooter Berry, Gwaltney visited WVU on Monday. He was accompanied by his father, Richard Berry, an uncle, and a family friend. It was Jason's first visit to the Mountain State, and he found many things to his liking.

"I just liked the surroundings and everything about it," the softspoken star said. "The facilities were great.

"It's in a nice quiet town, and the campus was beautiful. Really, everything about it was beautiful. I just liked it all."

Gwaltney was going to be one of the most highly recruited running backs, if not players, in the nation this year. He easily had half the Division I teams in the country contacting him or trying to set up visits. He's visited Penn State, had Syracuse beating down his door, and had Boston College, southern Cal and pretty much all of the Big Ten slaivating for visits. So what made WVU stand out?

"Coach Hand started recruiting me early, and he was just sincere. He didn't sugarcoat anything," the North Babylon steamroller said. "He tells me like it is, and he's honest. He told me he thought I could help the program."

That last statement, of course might be a bit of an understatement. Gwaltney, led by his half-brother at fullback, piled up yards and touchdowns this year for North Babylon. He's only some 700 yards away from the all-time Long Island rushing record, held by Jerone Pettus, who is currently at the University of Wisconsin. At his current pace, he'll shatter that record, and by the time his senior year is over he'll likely own every rushing record on the Island.

Gwaltney is quick to credit his half-brother Scooter, for paving the way to many of his yards.

"It's nice to know that we can do it. We share a bond on the field," Gwaltney said of the relationship that he and Scooter have. "We read on each other and key on what the other one does because we know each other so well."

The final link in the chain that bound Gwaltney to WVU was the Mountaineers' rushing tradition. Although West Virginia features the spread offense, the recent history of backs like Amos Zereoue (another Long Island native), Avon Cobourne and Quincy Wilson drew his attention.

"Running the ball and the backs at schools factored into my decision," the Long Island powerhouse noted. "Running the ball is a tradition at WVU, just like it is at my high school. We take pride in running the ball, and I wanted to go somewhere that runs it."

Gwaltney's North Babylon High School team certainly fits that bill. They ran the ball on the order of 98% of the time last year, loading up with two tight ends, a full house backfield and pounding the ball without letup. Gwaltney faces defenses stacked to stop him, but knows that's part of the process.

"It does get tiring," Gwaltney said of opposing defenses that sometimes put 11 men in the box, "but we do what we do in order to get the win.

Gwaltney, who says his commitment to WVU is firm, is also on solid ground academically.

"I just took SAT for the first time and I think I did fairly well. I'll have about an 80 average [in classes] at the end of this year, so I think I should be ok."

With the ink barely dry on the signatures of the Class of 2004, WVU has gotten off to an awesome start with the commitment of Gwaltney, who is a magnet player that could well draw other high profile recruits to West Virginia.

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