Neal Brown wants to fill holes with transfers, but it’s not the be-all and end-all

Gold and Blue Nation

The NCAA Division I Council recently approved a waiver to help teams recoup some roster spots after players depart from the transfer portal — and West Virginia is looking to use this rule to strengthen its roster ahead of 2022.

This waiver lets teams sign as many as 32 scholarship players — including the regular 25 scholarships plus seven transfers — helping teams replace players that have departed from their own programs. This is huge for many teams, including West Virginia, who have seen an uptick in outgoing transfers over the last year.

As fresh as the ruling is, Neal Brown is still figuring out what exactly it means for his team, stating that there is “some fine print” that he needs to sort out — but he’s already figuring out how he will utilize those extra opportunities.

“It definitely is going to allow us to take probably another D-lineman than we thought high school-wise, it’s gonna allow us to take probably another high school and another transfer DB, another body at linebacker, probably two more wideouts,” Brown said.

Outgoing transfers have been a topic of conversation around Morgantown in recent weeks — just in October, the defensive duo of Darel Middleton and Kerry Martin Jr. both entered their names in the portal, hurting the team’s depth. Those two are just the latest in a string of departures from the program, but West Virginia is just one of hundreds of programs across all levels of college athletics to feel the effects of this trend firsthand.

Likewise, Brown and West Virginia have been greatly benefited by the arrival of transfers. Tony Fields II, a current Cleveland Brown rookie, joined WVU as a graduate transfer from Arizona and made an immediate impact on the defense, leading the unit to lead the Big 12 in several key categories. Just a year prior, George Campbell, a pickup from Florida State, led the team with seven receiving touchdowns — all of which happened to be thrown by transfer quarterbacks. Even the last signal-caller to get votes for the Heisman Trophy, Will Grier, made the switch to West Virginia from Florida.

Brown doesn’t want the portal to be the be-all and end-all of the program’s recruiting strategy, however. Given their experience and development already in college football, additions from the transfer portal can be a risky pick. They can be a Campbell or a Fields or a Jalen Hurts, or they can be more like a Middleton, who departed the program just two months after coming on board.

“You’re gonna have some hits, and you’re gonna have some misses, and it’s the same way with recruiting high school kids,” Brown said. “But with high school guys…you can develop them. Just because we’re struggling, you’re not gonna see this wholesale, we’re gonna go transfers in large numbers….I don’t think that’s the right way to get to where we want to get to.”

That philosophy is already reflected in Brown’s recruiting track record. West Virginia currently has 17 commitments in its 2022 class, which 247Sports ranks at No. 24 nationally and third in the Big 12.

Still, Brown is looking to utilize the portal to its best potential for his team. In fact, he says that he already has, teasing a potential addition — but not giving a name, position, or any other identifying factors. Brown did specify, however, that WVU will likely bolster its defensive second and third levels with transfers, with an “aggressive” push to add to the offensive line.

“We do [have to utilize the portal],” he said, “but you’re not going to see us…go and say, let’s go and get 15. That’s not the recipe, not from me anyway.”

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