Planting Recruiting Seeds

West Virginia started a pipeline, and it's running right through Texas, a state as rich in prep football players as it is in oil.

The Mountaineers inked five Texas products in the last two years and another from Oklahoma. Those were areas that West Virginia never tried to explore during Don Nehlen's 21 years.

The reason for this new interest and this new success is because of WVU co-defensive coordinator, defensive recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach Todd Graham.

"To be honest, you can't go down to Texas unless you have an in," Graham said. "The Texas high school football coaches are a tight-knit fraternity. Coaches aren't going to send their kids 1,200 miles to play for someone they don't trust."

Enter Graham, born in Mesquite, Texas. He served as Allen High's head football coach and athletic director from 1995-2000. He was also an athletic director at Carl Albert High in Midwest, Okla., and is a graduate of and coached at East Central College in Oklahoma.

West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez knew Graham from the latter job. The two met for the 1993 NAIA national title when Rodriguez's Glenville State (W.Va.) squad lost the championship to East Central. Graham was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at that time. Rodriguez was head coach and offensive coordinator for the Pioneers, and he admired Graham's defensive scheme enough that the two kept in touch. It was an easy step from there to Graham's hiring before last season.

And from that, recruiting seeds have started to spring. You go where you know in recruiting, and Graham knows Texas and Oklahoma. That's the reason WVU recruits there. Still, it's nearly impossible to recruit the entire state, which is the size of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia combined. So the coaches pick players from pockets, from areas and people and schools they know.

"That's the only way to do it," Graham said. "Knowledge of where to go is huge. Heck, you say you recruit Texas, my lord, that's five states. You've got Oklahoma in there, too, and it's impossible for one person to recruit that. You say you recruit Texas, you better know what areas."

Consider: The Mountaineers inked two players – Garland High's Keith Mills and Allen High's Shane Graham – last season, and signed three Lone Star state players this year Ennis High's Broderic Jones, Allen High's J.T. Perry and Krys Williams, from Mesquite) and another from Oklahoma Jay Henry, of Jenks High in Tulsa).

Of those, Graham had an in with Henry because of his collegiate coaching, knew of Mills (who departed this past fall after growing home sick) from facing him in the prep ranks. Same with Jones, who gave Graham's defense fits. Shane Graham is Todd's nephew – and a Mountaineer walk-on, Bo, is his oldest son – and Graham coached Perry, a game-breaker, during the wideout's freshman and sophomore seasons.

With 268 5A football programs (the largest class) and 1,300 high schools overall, Texas is a hot bed for recruiting. It ranks second in yearly production of Division I players, behind California. Florida, a traditional Mountaineer recruiting haven, is third.

"It's a population thing, but Texas has some other factors helping as well," Graham said. "The emphasis on football there is incredible. They have spring practice for 21 days. That's more than Division I-A football. I have seen great football a lot of places, but Texas is right up there."

And West Virginia isn't taking the rest after the home state Longhorns and Aggies skim the cream of the crop. The Mountaineers search for skill, and, according to Graham, they got it this season.

"See, we are not going down there taking third-shelf guys," Graham said. "If we had done that, we would have signed five or six guys. We signed three guys who are all the best in the state, including the two best receivers in my mind."

Whether that's coachspeak remains to be seen. But the athletes Graham brought in have credentials few others in the WVU program, at least in recent years, have matched.

Part Two of this indepth look at WVU's Texas recruiting will be posted tomorrow here on BlueGoldNews.com

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