Keeping the West Virginia kids here at home. That’s been a priority for Neal Brown and his coaching staff. It seems that strategy is paying off as there are currently 21 homegrown Mountaineers on his roster. Now, that does include players that were already on the roster when Brown came to Morgantown in 2019, new recruits, and transfers. However, it doesn’t matter how they ended up in the program, it’s about making sure they keep their talents here for as long as possible.
“If there is talent in the state we feel we can win with, Coach (Brown) identifies it and will say we are going to do everything we can to make sure we do not get outworked on that kid,” tight ends and inside receivers coach Travis Trickett said. “I think you see its reaped benefits. There were other kids here before we got here as a staff that other schools recruited and there’s a reason why.”
There’s been an uptick in high school talent here in the state and not just when it comes to football. If you look at various WVU athletic programs, including men’s basketball and soccer, you’ll see it on display. The success of the WV natives here in Morgantown continues to grow and it seems the potential of high school athletes around the state is climbing with it.
“There’s a handful of guys every class that are really good at their sport, can be any sport, but especially football in West Virginia,” senior defensive lineman Dante Stills said. “It’s really about exposure and I feel like a lot of our guys are getting that exposure now so they can play at the highest level in college. This is Power 5, this is the Big 12 Conference. I am happy that the West Virginia kids are finally getting the notice they deserve.”
The 21 homegrown players on the roster represent 13 different high schools here in the state:
Bluefield – Kaulin Paris (K/P), Sean Martin (DL)
Bridgeport – Noah Drummond (OL)
Capital – Kerry Martin Jr. (S)
Cabell-Midland – Jackson Oxley (OL)
Cross Lanes – Casey Legg (K/P)
Fairmont Senior – Zach Frazier (OL), Dante Stills (DL)
Hampshire – Evan Staley (K)
Keyser – Shawn Lee (OL)
Martinsburg – Davis Lee (DL)
Morgantown – Preston Fox (WR), Nick Malone (OL), Cam Rice (DL)
Spring Valley – Bryce Biggs (OL), Owen Chafin (RB), Graeson Malashevich (WR), Wyatt Milum (OL), Doug Nester (OL)
Tyler Consolidated – Markquan Rucker (RB)
Wheeling Park – Quamaezius Mosby (S)
Now, they always say there’s strength in numbers, and when a good chunk of the numbers come from right here at home, there’s no denying that strength gets taken up quite a few notches — especially on the offensive and defensive line.
For all athletes here at WVU, donning the Gold and Blue is something to take pride in, but when it’s worn by one of West Virginia’s own, it just means more.
“It’s great to play alongside Doug and Wyatt. I didn’t play against those Spring Valley guys in high school,” Frazier said. “I’d say it’s a lot different, well not different, but a lot more special playing beside the West Virginia guys. We can all relate to each other and it’s really special.”
While some of these athletes did have the opportunity to compete against each other growing up, a number of them now have the privilege of playing alongside their former high school teammates in college. For quite a few of them, including the former Polar Bears Frazier and Stills, the familiarity goes back to the very beginning of their football careers.
“I played my first year of football with him and then high school,” Frazier said of Stills. “He definitely made me a lot better at a younger age because physically, I wasn’t there at the time, and he was because he was two years older than me.”
Frazier may not have had the same physicality as Stills at the start, but as Stills recalls, that definitely had changed by the time Frazier made his way to high school.
“I will always remember this story. I was a junior when he finally came into high school. He was a freshman and was probably as strong as me, Darius and the older guys,” Stills said. “We were like man, this guy is not human! He is abnormally strong. He’s a big guy. He’s confident. I think he is ready to play. He’s developed and is probably going to be one the best offensive lineman in the conference for sure.”
There’s this saying here that goes something like West Virginia is a place that gets in your blood and stays with you forever. For Coach Trickett, that statement couldn’t be more true. He may not be a native of the state, but his connections to it and the football program run deep. Trickett, a WVU grad, was a student assistant from 2003-07. His father Rick served two stints with the Mountaineers as an assistant coach (1978-79, 2001-06) and his brother Clint was the starting quarterback during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
“I moved a lot, a lot as coaches kid. I went to school here and like I told the guys — it’s just different. It’s just different,” Trickett said. “There’s a little more of us against the world mentality and there’s more… I don’t know.. when you hear Country Roads, it just different.”
For the 21 West Virginia born and raised, it really just is different.