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Neal Brown’s In-State Recruiting Push Paying Dividends

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Blue-chip football recruits are not something you see a lot of among West Virginia natives, so when the Mountain State does produce a top player fans of the state’s only Power 5 program expect the Mountaineers to be heavily involved in the recruiting process.

That challenge had been much easier said than done prior to Neal Brown’s arrival at WVU as the head coach in January of 2019, but in the time since recruiting has been one of the many things Brown has started to change when it comes to how the Mountaineers’ handle their business.

The work Brown and his staff put in was evident when Spring Valley High offensive tackle Wyatt Milum, the state’s top recruit in the Class of 2021 and the No. 6 overall offensive tackle in the country according to 247Sports, committed to West Virginia in March. The Mountaineers made a late push during the last recruiting cycle to land Huntington High five-star offensive lineman Darnell Wright, who would eventually chose Tennessee over WVU, but the signs were present. Brown and his staff were serious about keeping the top players in West Virginia at home.

“It’s really personal with them,” Spring Valley coach Brad Dingess said. “They genuinely care about the kids, and they do talk about what the program and university can do for them, but they genuinely do care about the kid.

They want to help (Milum) reach his goals that he has. It’s all about relationships and of course being from West Virginia you have that connection with the university. With the new staff coming in, those guys are going to be there the whole time he’s there. He can really see himself playing there. There is a certain culture that Wyatt is looking for and (WVU) just checked all the boxes for him.”

Dingess is no stranger to college coaches sniffing around Spring Valley’s Wayne County campus. The Timberwolves have emerged as one of the state’s top Class AAA programs and in recent seasons have been sending players to the highest level of college football as a high rate. Former Spring Valley standout lineman Doug Nestor saw playing time as a freshman at Virginia Tech last season — same for Zach Williamson, another lineman, at Louisville. A few years prior to that the Timberwolves saw Riley Locklear go on to play at Tennessee.

The Mountaineers do have some history at Spring Valley. Former WVU standout Eli Wellman starred for the Timberwolves in high school, and current WVU player Graeson Maleshevich was Milum’s teammate prior to graduation.

“(Milum) and Graeson have a good relationship,” Dingess said. “He had good (relationships) with Nestor and Williamson, who is at Louisville, too, but Graeson being (at WVU) helped. He wanted to play for his home state, and he didn’t want to leave. He takes pride in being from West Virginia, and it meant a lot to him to get that opportunity.”

Spring Valley is a team known for finding creative ways to move the ball on the ground, but the Timberwolves aren’t generally thought of as a big threat to beat teams through the air. For Milum — listed at 6-foot-6 and 273 pounds by 247Sports, that opens the door for questions about his ability to pass block. Dingess, however, said there should be no concern about his star tackle in that department.

“Wyatt can do it all,” Dingess said. “He’s a really good pass protector. I think he does well pass-blocking. You don’t see it that much in film, especially last year because we didn’t throw the ball that much, but he does a really good job with that. Wyatt’s pad level is — for a human that size to play as low as what he does — it’s something special. He tries to hurt you every play, and that sticks out.

His work ethic is second to none. That guy works his tail end off. He’s a great leader and a great teammate. He’s great to be around.He just shows up to work every day. It’s hard to find that in high school kids.”

Of course, being blessed with the size and athletic ability Milum possesses doesn’t hurt either.

“Being 6-7, 295 puts another notch in the belt,” Dingess aid. “It helps.”

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Tom has spent the last decade as a sports journalist based in West Virginia, most recently as the WVU beat writer for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and with previous stops at the Charleston Daily Mail, the (Fairmont) Times West Virginian and the Daily Independent in Ashland, Kentucky. He was born and raised in Cross Lanes, West Virginia -- where he currently resides -- and is a 2010 graduate of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University.

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