The Mountaineer football team didn't have the benefit of any home basketball games during the first three weekends in January which is a definite disadvantage for the Mountaineer staff. Other than the first weekend, which was dead period in terms of recruiting, WVU had plenty of recruits in for official visits during those weekends. Though sometimes the logistics of getting recruits, and their families which often visit with them, to basketball games and situated with tickets, can be a hassle, the opportunity to show prospects a big event with a rabid crowd is always a benefit.
"It helps out because it gives our recruits an opportunity to see our fan support," said Hand. "And we're also excited to see the great things Coach (John) Beilein and his staff are doing. They're doing an incredible job, and we're thrilled for them. They're good coaches, and they deserve it.
"And it also helps us. Success breeds success, and there's nothing like going in into the Coliseum with 12,000 or 13,000 screaming fans. That's a big home court advantage for the basketball team, and it also helps us when we take a football recruit to a game. We tell them, ‘Imagine this, but with 65,000 people in Mountaineer Field.' It's a great atmosphere."
The Class of 2003 signs on the dotted line today, but WVU did add seven new enrollees a couple of weeks ago at the start of the new semester in early January. Of the mid-year enrollees, five will get an opportunity to participate in spring practice – defensive back Ridwan Malik, defensive lineman Pat Liebig, quarterback Dwayne Thompson, lineman Chris Malamet, offensive lineman Michael Watson. Another, wide receiver Eddie Jackson, is a transfer from Washington who can practice with the team for the next year, but as a transfer, he must sit out the 2003 season. The other enrollee is running back Kay Jay Harris, a junior college transfer who will be transferring his credits from WVU back to his original school, Garden City (Kansas) Community College. He can not start working out with the Mountaineers until he receives his degree from Garden City, which should happen this spring.
All the other newcomers are participating in winter strength and conditioning workouts, and though Herb won't get his hands directly on any of these until spring practice starts in March, he has heard good reports from West Virginia's strength and conditioning staff.
"We have had some real high praise from some of the new kids we brought in," said Hand of the mid-year enrollees. "It appears that they are very good workers. I know they were anxious to get going. Ridwan Malik was chomping at the bit to get here, and so was Pat Liebig. Those guys signed with us last February, as did Dwayne Thompson, and they were anxious to get going. We were fortunate enough that Jason Hardee (a junior college transfer who has been enrolled at WVU since January of 2001 but has had to sit out because of academic problems) was able to practice with us for the bowl when he finally became eligible. So we were able to see him in action a little bit. You could tell he's going to be a good one.
"Chris Malamet graduated high school early to get enrolled in time to go through spring drills, and he's doing a nice job. Mike Watson is a junior college offensive lineman, and we have high expectations for him. It's a good looking group, and we think some of them can help us this fall."
Of those newcomers, Watson will be thrown into the mix the quickest. West Virginia has to replace three starting offensive linemen from the 2002 roster, and the Mountaineers brought Watson in with the idea that he would compete for one of those jobs right away.
"Most of the time when you recruit a J.C. guy, you want to find an immediate impact player, because they don't have a whole lot of time to develop," noted Hand, who along with his wife Debbie, has three children. "Mike is a two-for-two guy, meaning he's already been redshirted. He's got two years of eligibility left, and two years in which to use it. So he's got to develop quickly. He needs to have a great spring, and he's got to learn quickly how things operate, because he's going to be thrown right into the fire. We've seen enough of him on film that we know he physically is capable of handling things. Now it's just a matter of how quickly he picks up the system. It's up to him, but we do think he could really help us in replacing Lance (Nimmo) at the left tackle."
Hand's job is really never done. After the Feb. 5 signing date, he'll catch his breath for a few seconds and then dive into work for the Class of 2004.
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