MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Players like Will Grier, Tony Fields II and more produced at high levels for the West Virginia football team after starting their collegiate careers elsewhere.
Impact transfers are not new to WVU, but the program really hasn’t seen a full crop of inbound players generate as much production as head coach Neal Brown’s most recent group of newcomers has.
“As you go through this – [and] this is still relatively new – you figure out kind of what your niche is,” Brown said. “And then not only what type of player you’re looking for, [but] what type is the best fit, and we’ve made some mistakes in the last couple years, but we’ve also had some big hits too, and I think we’ve got a better system for our hits [and] why we hit on some kids [or] why we missed on some kids.”
Thanks to the transfer portal, players like Beanie Bishop Jr., Tyrin Bradley, Anthony Wilson, Fatorma Mulbah, Davoan Hawkins and more have elevated the production of the defense to heights it did not see last year. The Mountaineers allowed the second most passing yards per game (262.7) and points per game (32.9) in the Big 12 in 2022. This season, only three schools are allowing fewer air yards per game, and WVU is surrendering almost nine fewer points per game (24.3) than it did last season. Former transfers Lee Kpogba and Mike Lockhart are also developing nicely in their second year in Morgantown to contribute to those totals as well.
Brown believes the impact of his inbound transfers goes even further than their success on the stat sheet.
“We added guys that are making contributions, but they’ve been really good in the locker room too,” he said. “I think that may be as important as anything.”
Bishop – a safety transfer from Minnesota – is perhaps the most impactful player so far this year out of all Brown’s offseason acquisitions. He currently leads the nation in pass breakups (17) while tallying the second most interceptions in the country (four).
Even for his first season in the WVU locker room, he is providing less-experienced players something from which to learn.
“He’s done a really good job from a mentoring standpoint,” Brown said.
On offense, WVU’s top-seven receivers from the 2022 season all moved on from the program this offseason, and it was evidently clear Brown needed to replace his top pass catchers with immediate impact players through the transfer portal.
Through nine games, NC State transfer Devin Carter has more receiving yards (414) than any other player on the team by over 100 yards. LSU transfer Kole Taylor leads WVU in receptions (25), and he has the second most receiving yards (305) and touchdowns (three) of all Mountaineer pass catchers.
The WVU coaching staff promised Taylor last winter that he’d be an integral part of the offense should he come to West Virginia, and so far, that is certainly the case.
“They’re holding true to what they said,” Taylor said. “I love being here. I love playing for West Virginia, and I love playing for Coach Brown and [tight ends coach Blaine] Stewart and the West Virginia offense.”
In total, 51% of WVU’s receiving production has come from first-year WVU players that arrived from the transfer portal.
Former transfers Doug Nester, Ja’Quay Hubbard and Brandon Yates are three of seven offensive linemen that are contributing to WVU’s impressive ground attack that is averaging 218 rushing yards per game.
Along with both veteran and younger transfers, WVU has seen its fair share of freshmen carrying a bulk load of responsibilities on both side of the ball. Brown knows he needs to put in as much effort into making those players feel at home as he does securing commitments in the transfer portal.
“I think you’ve got to work to retain your best players,” he said. “You’re not going to retain every player that you want to retain. That’s kind of what it is, and then [with] your positions of need, you’re going to have to be really aggressive.”
Brown thinks that FBS programs will have to deal with yearly roster turnover of 30% or more each year. When you hit at a similar rate that he did this offseason, that number seems less daunting.
“When [the transfer portal] opens up again in the not-too-distant future, I think we’ll have a lot more hits than we do misses,” Brown said.