Early Visits

West Virginia's Thursday night win over Maryland brought a handful of verbal commitments and potential recruits on campus, but the numbers were obviously down from a typical Saturday contest due to the slate of high school games the following night.

Headlining the verbal commitments on hand were quarterback Charlie Russell and running back Terence Kerns. Russell, of course, has about a ten-minute drive to get to Mountaineer Field, and is expected at every home game this year.

For Kerns, the story is a bit different. Accompanied by his mother, this was the Kerns' first visit to a college football game, and they were obviously wowed by the experience. Kerns studied West Virginia's players for every possible second during pregame warm-ups, taking in every drill, every stretch, every bit of prep work.

On the flip side, Kerns looked even more impressive than he did during his visit to West Virginia's football camp in June. The two-sport star looks more like a player that has been through a year or two of Mike Barwis' strength and conditioning than a senior finishing up his final year on the high school gridiron.

Some of the other players on hand included Brian Gamble of Washington Massillon (Oh.) High School, Sean Baker of Canfield, (Oh.) High, Ryland Newman of Jefferson (W. Va.) High School, Derek Long of Morgantown High, junior Jerry Kelly of Fairmont (W. Va.) High School and Shayne Hale of Gateway (Pa.) High School.

Gamble, who made the trip with several of his Massillon teammates, is an outstanding two-way performer at running back and safety for the Tigers. His size and style of play make him a perfect prospect for any of WVU's three safety positions, and his speed is something the defensive coaching staff covets as well. Currently, he has offers from Akron, Eastern Michigan and Ball State, and will certainly get many more if his academics round into shape.

Baker, another safety prospect from the Youngstown, Ohio area, likewise has offers from mainly MAC schools, and is looking for scholarships from bigger schools. Penn State and Ohio State are high on his list, but his visit to WVU shows the Mountaineers have his attention as well. He, like Gamble, could fit at any of WVU's three safety spots.

The attention on safeties isn't surprising, as WVU defensive backs coach Tony Gibson will have to rebuild depth at that spot next year. With senior Abraham Jones departing, WVU will have no one with experience behind returning starter Quinton Andrews, thus playing time will be available at the position. It's also possible that West Virginia might go the junior college route for immediate help at the spot, as well as sign one or two freshmen to fill the long-range plan.

A junior to watch that was on hand for the game was Shayne Hale, the leader of the Gateway High School defense and a sure bet to be one of the top-rated players in Pennsylvania in 2008. At six feet, four inches and 220 pounds, Hale is a monster linebacker who also has excellent speed. He takes on blocks and gets rid of them, and can also cover the entire field with his speed, which has been clocked between 4.5 and 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Hale is just the type of playmaker WVU will need at its outside linebacker positions as the first decade of the millennium draws to a close, and the Mountaineer coaching staff will no doubt be working hard to get his commitment.

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