It’s almost impossible to win without a good quarterback in today’s NCAA. Dating back to the beginning of the College Football Playoff in 2014, the national champion quarterbacks include Mac Jones (Heisman finalist), Joe Burrow (Heisman winner), Trevor Lawrence (Heisman finalist), Tua Tagovailoa (Heisman finalist), Deshaun Watson (Heisman finalist) and Cardale Jones.
While the strength of the team around those quarterbacks, who all played on perennial powerhouses, certainly attributes heavily to the team success, it’s no coincidence football’s most important position is the man standing under center.
West Virginia has had some stellar quarterbacks over the years, players like Pat White, Geno Smith, Will Grier, but how many of them have been highly-touted recruits actually signed out of high school by WVU?
With 2022 Arizona 4-star quarterback Nicco Marchiol committing to WVU today, how many 4-star quarterbacks has WVU signed since 2005, and what were their impacts in Morgantown?
According to Rivals, five 4-star quarterbacks have signed with WVU since 2005, not including Marchiol, and their impact on the program has varied greatly.
In 2007, WVU signed dual-threat quarterback Bradley Starks from Orange County High School in Orange, Virginia. Starks (6-foot-4, 190 pounds) was the 12th-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2007 class, a class headlined by NFLers Tyrod Taylor and Cam Newton.
With offers from Iowa State, Marshall and Temple, Starks ended up at WVU and immediately redshirted. The Mountaineers moved Starks to wide receiver during his redshirt season, and he ended up turning into a decent wideout during his time in Morgantown. He caught 65 passes for 890 yards and seven touchdowns in three seasons.
A solid collegiate career for Starks, but his time as a 4-star quarterback for WVU never really started.
In 2009, WVU signed one of the greatest quarterbacks in program history: Eugene “Geno” Smith from Miramar High School in Miramar, Florida. Smith (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) was the 3rd-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2009 class. A highly-recruit prospect out of high school, Smith turned down Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Louisville, Miami, Michigan, Oregon and South Florida to enroll at WVU.
After playing sparingly as a freshman, Smith broke out as a sophomore by leading the Mountaineers to a 9-4 record while passing for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. As a junior, Smith staked his claim as one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
Against Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl, Smith rallied WVU from a 14-7 deficit to crunch the Tigers 70-33 in one of the most memorable games in WVU history. He threw for 409 yards and six touchdowns to cap a 4,385 yards, 34 touchdown season individually and a 10-3 season for the Mountaineers.
With sky-high expectations in 2012, Smith led the Mountaineers to a 5-0 start and Heisman expectations, but a five game skid ended his Heisman hopes and WVU’s season. Regardless, Smith was one of the top passers in the nation with 4,205 passing yards and 42 touchdowns.
Finishing his career with 11,662 passing yards and 98 touchdowns to just 21 interceptions, at a completion percentage of 67.4, Smith has a 3,000-yard advantage over former Mountaineer Marc Bulger for career passing yards, a 27 touchdown advantage over Grier for career passing touchdowns, and owns the single-season records in passing yardage and touchdowns.
It’s fair to say he was successful as a 4-star quarterback signing for the Mountaineers. Maybe too successful for some.
In 2010, WVU signed Barry Brunetti from Memphis University School in Memphis, Tennessee. Brunetti (6-foot-0, 205 pounds) was the 3rd-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2010 class. With offers from Duke, Louisville, Memphis, Marshall, Mississippi State, Penn State, Purdue and Tulsa, Brunetti joined a quarterback room that featured an emerging Smith.
With just nine pass attempts as a freshman, Bonetti announced after the season that he was going to be leaving WVU. With a young Smith ahead of him, he didn’t have much of a future, so he transferred to Ole Miss to finish his collegiate career. Playing sparingly with Ole Miss, Brunetti finished his career with 701 passing yards and seven touchdowns and 708 rushing yards and seven more touchdowns.
Brunetti stuck with the position and finished his career at Ole Miss, but he was unable to make an impact at WVU.
The next 4-star quarterback in Morgantown didn’t arrive until 2014 in the form of William Crest from Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Crest (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) was the 7th-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2014 class (a class that featured Watson and Grier). Crest turned down Maryland, North Carolina, Rutgers, UTEP, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Crest actually started his freshman season on a high note, completing three passes and rushing 27 yards and a touchdown in his one game, but a shoulder injury forced him to take a medical redshirt. Upon returning to the team as a redshirt freshman, he was moved to wide receiver and saw sporadic action as a receiver and quarterback.
With former WVU quarterback Skylar Howard firmly holding the starting spot during Crest’s time in Morgantown, he was reduced to spot plays at quarterback and just 24 rushing attempts and four catches as a redshirt freshman and sophomore before not seeing the field as a junior. He didn’t return for his senior season, and his collegiate career ended unceremoniously.
In 2015, one of the most interesting commits in NCAA football history signed with the Mountaineers. David Sills V from Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton, Marlyand signed for WVU twice actually.
As a 7th grader, Sills signed for USC, one of the youngest recruits to ever sign for an NCAA team — especially a team like USC. As Sills got older, garnering attention as one of the best recruits of all-time as just a freshman, USC went through multiple head coaches and Sills began to reconsider his decision. He would eventually de-commit from USC and signed with WVU in 2015.
Sills was the 15th-ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2015, and he attempted to play quarterback at WVU. With Howard still in place as a starter, Sills played his freshman season sparingly as a wideout. With Grier brought in to play quarterback following the season, and Sills still hoping to fulfill his destiny as a quarterback, he transferred to community college for a season.
Following just one season at El Camino College, Sills returned to WVU and, finally committing to being a wide receiver, became one of the best wide receivers in the country. Sills racked up 125 catches for 1,966 yards and 33 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons, establishing himself as an elite red-zone threat.
As a wide receiver, Sills became an All-American, Biletnikoff finalist for the Mountaineers. His quarterback career may have fizzled out, but he was one of the best wide receivers in the NCAA during his time as a Mountaineer.
So while some WVU 4-star quarterbacks have gone onto success (Smith and Sills as a receiver), they’ve just as often gone onto obscurity (Crest and Brunetti).
Marchiol enters his WVU career as one of the most heralded quarterbacks in team history, and with incumbent stater Jarret Doege about to enter his redshirt senior season, Marchiol could be on the fast track to competing for the starting spot earlier in his time in Morgantown.
A talented recruit out of Arizona, Marchiol controls his destiny, and it appears he’s set up for a fruitful career for WVU.