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Ryan Pritt: Neal Brown getting it right on recruiting

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On Monday night, National Geographic Channel kicked off its six-week-long “Sharkfest,” the network’s welcome alternative to the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” which has become nothing more than celebrity worship and oceanic gore porn in recent years.

If you know me at all, you know it was more than enough to rev me up. There’s an alternate universe where I have a bit more work ethic and scientific talent and I study sharks for a living.

As for my bucket list? That’s easy: cage, great white, me. I’ll get back to you on number two.

But it’s just part of what’s been a sharky week already. I took the family to see “Jaws” in a movie theater on Sunday night, which I suggest any of you do if given the chance. Then, on Monday afternoon, I did some research for a story on Long Island University’s football team. That piece will run this week as part of a 12-part series taking a look at every WVU football opponent this fall.

Not to give away too much, but — spoiler alert — the Long Island Sharks may be the worst team that WVU has ever played. That’s not an indictment of anyone, just an observation. However, as for the nickname? The logo? The color combination of baby blue and yellow?

Yeah, I’m in. Buy me a hat, I’ll rock it.

At my house this week, I’ve certainly eaten like an apex predator — the best part about throwing a Fourth of July bash may be the leftovers — and though I didn’t do it in the same time frame, I may be pushing Joey Chestnut in terms of total hot dog intake this week.

But, alas, if anyone or anything has been a shark in the water of late, it’s WVU coach Neal Brown and staff. In terms of recruiting, Brown and company are gobbling up big-time commitments seemingly every day.

On Monday, it was running back Justin Williams out of Dallas, Georgia. The day before, it was cornerback Jacoby Spells of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Since the beginning of June, Brown has landed seven prospects through verbal commitments and has won some key battles over rival schools. Williams, for instance, had offers from Louisville, Nebraska, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Tennessee and USC, among others. Within the Big 12 Conference, Kansas and Kansas State had also extended an offer.

In Spells, Brown stole a player from Miami right out of its own backyard. Spells also had offers from LSU, Florida, Georgia, Auburn and Texas A&M, among others.

Depending on where you look, the value of the 2022 class differs. 247sports.com has WVU with the 38th-best class so far while Rivals has the Mountaineers at No. 25. There’s even disagreement among the players as Spells is listed as a four-star recruit according to 247sports and a three-star recruit by Rivals, while the opposite is true for Williams.

I’m no recruiting guru by any means. Stars don’t directly translate to points, either scored or given up, and at the end of the day, those are the only numbers that really matter.

But at the same time, you would have to be hopelessly oblivious to dismiss it all together. It’s certainly no accident that the same schools that are in the championship hunt each year are, by and large, the same schools that top class rankings by the time recruiting is done each year.

X’s and O’s. Jimmys and Joes. All are important at the game’s highest level.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that as part of the COVID-19 pandemic, official visits were canceled a year ago, and still, even in an all-important second year under Brown, WVU was able to secure the 40th-best class nationally according to 247sports, 42nd according to Rivals. Certainly solid if unspectacular.

But there’s little doubt that Brown and his staff are doing something right at these visits. It can’t be just a coincidence that official visits opened on June 1. Consider that six of the seven commitments since then have taken their official visits to Morgantown and committed to WVU after. That includes quarterback Nicco Marchiol, a four-star player on both Rivals and 247sports.

What is the appropriate takeaway? Obviously, there’s still a long way to go to even get these players and the 2022 commitments that will follow to campus. There’s another season of high school football to go, and the relentless attempts by other programs to try and get players to flip.

There’s even longer to go before any of them would see the field in a Mountaineer uniform, much less make an impact. But it’s hard not to be encouraged by the surge in momentum and the success this staff is seemingly having on one of the more important battlegrounds in college football.

So, a tip of the cap is warranted at the least. Even if that cap may have an opponent’s logo on it.

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