When Raleigh Collins III toured Morgantown while in the process of figuring out where he wanted to attend college for the next four years, he had a rather special tour guide.
Unlike most high schoolers, he had West Virginia’s top running back actively — and willingly — leading his recruiting visit when he was in Morgantown over the summer. WVU star senior running back Leddie Brown showed him around town, offer a few tips for collegiate success that he’d picked up over the years and did a bit of recruiting in his own right.
And when Kevin Thomas, another prospective student-athlete, visited WVU earlier this year, Brown and his family hosted him at their house in Morgantown for the weekend.
Why is the star running back so accomodating to a pair of incoming college freshmen? Oh, that’s just because all three hail from Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Neumann-Goretti has produced a couple of top recruits in recent seasons, including former Alabama linebacker Christian Barmore, and Brown has been one of the more well-known recruits in the last half-decade. If their careers go to plan, four-star wide receiver Kevin Thomas and three-star linebacker Raleigh Collins could be the next stars to emerge from the school.
Collins actually committed to WVU first, about a week before Thomas, and he tried his hardest to make it a package deal with the teammates — one of his best friends.
“After I committed, I kind of tried to pull Kevin, like, a lot,” Collins said. “I think he was leaning toward Michigan State, and I think me and Leddie kind of did influence him a little bit. I wanted to keep that Goretti pipeline going.”
However, Thomas was leaning WVU the entire way — even if he didn’t want to let Collins know right away.
“I knew I was going to commit to West Virginia for a while before Raleigh — Raleigh actually committed before me,” Thomas said. “But I wanted to keep it a secret, so I was seeing what schools liked him the most. I was trying to keep West Virginia in the conversation. But I didn’t want to tell him I was going to commit, I wanted to keep that a surprise.”
It’s no surprise now as the pair have continued the pipeline started by Brown, turning Saints into Mountaineers.
Thomas and Collins have both been regular visitors to WVU this season, both in Morgantown for an upset win over then-No. 15 Virginia Tech, and Brown’s hospitality has extended far past guiding the pair around Morgantown. Brown and his family hosted Thomas and another top WVU commit during a visit this season.
“Leddie is like a big brother to me,” Thomas said. “I actually stayed with him, I went down to the Texas Tech game, and I stayed with him. I was at the house with his family — me and Nicco. I talk to him all the time. He’s telling me what to expect when I get to school, what I should and shouldn’t do, telling me to stay focused.”
— Kevin “KJ” Thomas (@k_thomas8) October 6, 2021
Thomas has greatly enjoyed both games this season, expressing his love for the fans, atmosphere and game day experience at Milan Puskar Stadium. “I was getting goosebumps just watching it,” Thomas said, “it was amazing.” And even with WVU losing against Texas Tech, Thomas said he had a lot of fun at the game.
Marchiol committing to WVU was one of the factors in Thomas deciding to give his signature to the Mountaineers, but it goes deeper than anyone one player in choosing to attend WVU.
“My main thing was my relationship with the coaches,” Thomas said. “I had a great relationship with the coaches, and when I went on my visit, that’s when I knew I wanted to be there. During COVID, all we could do was talk on the phone, but seeing them in person, they don’t just tell you what you want to hear, they show you that you really mean something to them.”
Collins felt a similar bond with the Mountaineer coaches, building a rapport with the staff since Day 1 of being around the program. Collins attended a 7-on-7 camp over the summer and played well in front of the coaching staff. So well, in fact, that he was invited back for a one-on-one. So Collins came back a few days later and to spend quality time with the coaching staff, meeting with Brown and special team coordinator/inside linebackers coach Jeff Koonz in depth, and it was history from there.
“Me, coach Chad Scott, coach Neal Brown and coach Jeff Koonz talk like every day,” Collins said. “Just telling me, what do you have going on in practices, what I’ve got going on in practices, what I can improve on and things like that. So, I think their coaching staff does a great job keeping in contact with their recruits.”
However, while Collins attends Neumann-Goretti in Philadelphia, his family actually hails from West Virginia. But they were Marshall fans before he could convert them to blue and gold.
“My family is from West Virginia, so that’s also kind of a key factor in the process. … They’re a Marshall family. But they said that they’re bleeding blue and gold now. So, I flipped them.”
Collins managed to flip his family to WVU, and if Collins, Thomas and the WVU class are successful, they’ll manage to flip a couple more recruits to WVU in the coming month.
As part of WVU’s strongest recruiting class in a decade, ranked at No. 23 in the nation according to 247Sports and Rivals, the commits across the board for the Mountaineers have been vocal in what they’re trying to build in Morgantown.
Collins and Thomas are no different in enjoying the hype that surrounds the class — but both want more.
“It’s honestly an honor, I’m honored,” Collins said. “This class, we’re working on a few more players to bump up into the Top 15, so if we can do that I think we’re going to be very, very excited and just getting to see when we finally do get on campus and play, get to see what we can really do.”
Thomas is just as excited to reward the excitment felt across the Mountaineer fanbase with tangible results. The hope felt by fans, Thomas said, motivates the entire class.
While Collins and Thomas are inching closer and closer to playing at Milan Puskar Stadium next season, their high school careers are almost over. After starting the season 1-1 at Neumann-Goretti, the Saints are 8-1 (7-0 in the Philadelphia Catholic – Blue Conference).
Collins wanted to win out to finish the season, and so far, he’s accomplished his goal. As Thomas said, you’ve gotta be tough to play in Philly, going up against the Neumann-Goretti team every day, but that intensity and passion had led to one last chance.
A first round playoff match up against Lansdale Catholic on Saturday at 9 a.m. could be the final game of their careers, but it could also be the start of their final playoff run too.