Who’s staying, who’s going? Breaking down the first six key decisions of the offseason for WVU football

Gold and Blue Nation

The defense is staying stacked, while the offense has already lost one player at three key skill positions

Mountaineers running out onto the field led by Dante Stills (55) and Doug Nester carrying the state flag (72) (PHOTO: Jamie Green)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As has become the norm across the sport, the days following the end of the season for WVU football have been fill with decisions, announcements and fan reaction. 

Since Tuesday’s loss to Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, at least five Mountaineers have made major announcements about their football futures. Some players are planning to return for an encore season in Old Gold and Blue, while others are preparing to find a new home. 

Here’s a recap of the biggest announcements so far, and how the return or departure of those players will impact the program in 2022:

Staying: Dante Stills (defensive lineman, entering fifth season) 

The Fairmont native had two words for Mountaineer fans Sunday afternoon: “I’m back.” 

West Virginia’s star defensive lineman led the roster in tackles for loss (15.0) and sacks (7.0) in 2021. He earned All-Big 12 First Team accolades in the process. 

Stills now intends to return for a fifth season with the program, and will once again anchor a talented defensive line that features the likes of rising junior Akheem Mesidor and rising redshirt senior Taijh Alston. Together, that trio racked up 34 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks last season. 

Stills, a legacy Mountaineer, is also choosing to follow a different path than big brother Darius, who entered the NFL Draft after his senior season instead of taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic. Darius Stills, a former consensus All-American, went undrafted last spring. 

Staying: Josh Chandler-Semedo (linebacker, entering fifth season) 

Though he had previously hinted that his WVU career would end after the season, Chandler-Semedo recently announced that he wants to play another season in Morgantown

Like Stills, his return will be huge for the Mountaineers, as they’ll retain both their top pass rusher in Stills and leading tackler in Chandler-Semedo. 

The veteran Mountaineer recorded 110 total stops in 2021, tying for second place in the Big 12. He’s the first Mountaineer to rack up more than 100 tackles in a season since David Long did it in 2018. Long is now a Tennessee Titan.

Transferring: Jarret Doege (quarterback, one year of eligibility remaining)

While WVU is going to be set on defense, it will have to replace key performers at multiple positions on offense, including quarterback. 

Doege, who has been West Virginia’s starting signal caller since the end of the 2019 campaign, recently announced that he will transfer

Doege was the second-leading passer in the Big 12 this season, throwing for more than 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns. But, he also threw 12 interceptions, averaging just under an interception per game. 

The quarterback has already transferred once before: he came to WVU at the beginning of head coach Neal Brown’s tenure after a short stint at Bowling Green. The Mountaineers went 14-12 over the course of three seasons in games in which Doege started. 

With Doege departing, there will likely be a quarterback competition at WVU for the first time since that 2019 offseason. Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall beat out Jack Allison for the starting job that year, but Kendall later relinquished the role to Doege for the final three games of the regular season. 

As things stand right now, the Mountaineers don’t possess a quarterback with starting experience. Redshirt freshman Garrett Greene played some significant time in a reserve role in 2021, while true freshman Will Crowder completed two passes against LIU. Incoming four-star recruit Nicco Marchiol could also compete for the starting job when he enrolls in January. 

Brown hasn’t brought in a transfer at quarterback since Kendall and Doege each arrived during the 2019 offseason. 

Transferring: Winston Wright Jr. (wide receiver, two years of eligibility remaining)

West Virginia’s top wide receiver from the last two seasons is also leaving the program. 

Wright led WVU in receptions (63), receiving yards (688) and receiving yards per game (52.92) in 2021. He also tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions with five.

It’s possible that rising redshirt sophomore Reese Smith could fill Wright’s role in the slot next season. Smith made 11 appearances and caught 12 balls this season. 

Wright could play up to two more seasons of college football, thanks to the NCAA’s COVID-19 eligibility waiver. 

Transferring: Jackie Matthews (defensive back, two years of eligibility remaining) 

The former junior college All-American appeared in all 13 games in 2021, making eight starts. He played at both safety and cornerback, and his interception against Oklahoma was one of the highlights of his season. 

The Mountaineers are now forced to replace three key players in the defensive secondary. Along with Matthews’ departure, safeties Alonzo Addae and Sean Mahone have each exhausted their eligibility. 

But fellow defensive back Charles Woods was one of the breakout players of the season on defense for WVU, while Nicktroy Fortune and Daryl Porter are each expected to bring their experience back to the program for another season in 2022. (Fortune missed the second half of the 2021 campaign due to injury.)

In addition, WVU inked five defensive backs, including four-star recruit Jacolby Spells, on National Signing Day in an effort to rebuild depth in the secondary. 

Leaving: Leddie Brown (running back) 

This impactful announcement came before the Guaranteed Rate Bowl: West Virginia’s leading rusher decided to forgo the bowl game in order to focus on preparations for the NFL Draft. 

Brown eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in consecutive seasons at WVU. He led the team this season with 1,065 rushing yards on 223 attempts, scoring 13 rushing touchdowns. 

But the Mountaineers do have some depth at this position. Tony Mathis started at running back in the bowl game, and ended the season by posting a career-best performance in the win over Kansas. 

What’s next?

As the offseason gets underway, recruiting continues for Brown and his staff.

West Virginia’s 2022 signing class already ranks among the top 25 in the nation according to Rivals, and it could continue to grow: a one-year waiver from the NCAA allows football programs to sign their usual 25 student-athletes, and then replace up to seven additional athletes who transfer. This effectively increases the maximum size of West Virginia’s 2022 signing class from 25 players to 32.

In addition, at least nine members of that 2022 signing class are expected to enroll early at WVU and begin taking classes this month.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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