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WVU in Mix for Top In-State Football Recruits, but Some Could Land Elsewhere

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West Virginia’s renewed effort to land the top football recruits from within its own state’s borders is well documented, so with more seniors-to-be around the country committing to colleges every day it seems like a good time to check in on some of the Mountain State’s top prospects and where they appear headed for college in the fall on 2021.

Zeiqui Lawton – DE – 6-2, 240 pounds – South Charleston High

Lawton, pictured above with South Charleston coach Donnie Mays, burst on the scene several seasons ago as a freshman at SC and it has been no surprise to seem him develop into one of the top players in West Virginia with the Black Eagles. He is a big guy with speed and agility not common among in-state defensive linemen, but also not unheard of (current Mountaineers Dante and Darius Stills being recent examples during their time at Fairmont Senior).

WVU was among Lawton’s top five schools along with Boise State, Oregon, Cincinnati and Illinois when he put a list out in early May. The Mountaineers appear to be in a good spot with the SC star, but don’t count out North Carolina State. The Wolfpack came in with a scholarship offer in June, and NCSU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson (a Boone County native) was WVU’s main man on the in-state recruiting beat during his most recent run as an assistant coach in Morgantown. Gibson knows the Country Roads quite well.

The Kanawha Valley has been on a solid run of producing FBS prospects with players such as Kerry Martin (Capital High – WVU), Dorian Etheridge (Capital – Louisville), Derrek Pitts (South Charleston – WVU before transferring to Marshall), Grant Wells (George Washington – Marshall), Turan Rush (Capital – Eastern Michigan by way of a junior college) and Martin’s younger brother Kerion (Capital – Marshall) all making the leap in recent years. Lawton appears poised to be among the next in that group.

Wyatt Milum – OT – 6-foot-6, 273 pounds – Spring Valley High

Spring Valley’s most recent monster offensive lineman — legitimately one of the top players in the country at his position — committed to the Mountaineers in early March and does not appear to be in much danger of changing his mind. Stranger things have happened, and recruiting always finds a way to be weird but I would be shocked if Milum ends up anywhere other than Morgantown.

Bryce Biggs – OT – 6-foot-6, 270 pounds – Spring Valley High

No typos there — the Timberwolves really do have giants on both ends of their offensive line. Biggs has not been as heavily recruited as his teammate, but does hold more than a few Group of 5 scholarship offers. So far, he has offers from Marshall, Akron, Kent State, Arkansas State, Eastern Michigan, Southern Miss, Western Kentucky and a handful of FCS schools. Biggs does not currently have an offer from any Power 5 schools, which includes WVU, but if there is a 2020 season and he plays well — especially with all the attention that will come for Milum — it probably won’t hurt his stock. Maybe Biggs shows out as a senior and all the Spring Valley guys get a house together in Morgantown. Biggs doesn’t receive the hype Milum does, but the kid can play.

Ethan Payne – RB – 6-foot, 205 pounds – Poca High

If Lawton is the Kanawha Valley’s best defender, Payne is the KV’s best offensive player. As a junior in 2019, Payne had one of the best seasons by a running back in West Virginia high school football history as he broke the four-decade old record for most points scored in a season — previously set in 1978 by Pineville’s Curt Warner, who went on to star in college at Penn State before a career in the NFL.

Payne ran for 2,845 yards and a staggering 49 touchdowns last season in helping lead the Dots — one of the great turnaround stories in recent West Virginia high school football history — to a 10-0 regular season record for the first time since the 1970s.

The good news for fans hoping to see Payne stay in West Virginia to play college football at the FBS level is that appears very likely to happen. The bad news, however, for WVU fans hoping to see Payne stay in-state to play college football is he recently committed to play at Marshall.

Naimeem Kearney – RB – 5-foot-8, 185 pounds – Martinsburg High

Kearney does not appear to be on the FBS radar quite yet, but the standout running back for Martinsburg’s powerhouse program holds offers from several Ivy League schools — Dartmouth, Pennsylvania, Harvard and Princeton to be exact. He also has scholarship offers from Georgetown and Youngstown State.

John McConnell – P – 6-foot-4, 190 pounds – Morgantown High

McConnell has shined for Morgantown High and impressed at kicking camps, earning a spot among the nation’s top punters for the Class of 2021 according to 247Sports. However McConnell, like Poca’s Payne, has committed to Marshall.

Gage Michael – QB – 6-foot, 175 pounds, Fairmont Senior High

Michael, a quarterback who is not afraid to tuck the ball and take off running, is another among the group of talented in-state players that aren’t really on the radar of top-tier programs. Michael, however, has verbally committed to Kent State and also holds a scholarship offer from Robert Morris.

It is worth noting that Isaiah Johnson is not listed here. Johnson, considered among the nation’s elite cornerback prospects, recently moved with his family from Bluefield to California. The Mountaineers are among Johnson’s top schools, but Southern California is probably the favorite to land his services at this point. He is still listed as an in-state recruit in the 247Sports database, but with his cross-country move I think it’s fair to say he’s no longer among that group.

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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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