This saga actually resembles a fairy tale.
Let’s call it “Neal and the Beanstalk.”
It all began on Jan. 5, 2019, when West Virginia University hired a new, young head football coach named Neal Brown. To say Brown hit the “country roads” running is an understatement.
That’s because he didn’t have a choice.
Brown had only 31 days to persuade the best college prospect in the Mountain State — Spring Valley High School’s Doug Nester — to sign with the Mountaineers.
That’s all — 31 days.
National Signing Day hung over Brown’s head, looming just 31 days away on Feb. 6 — the first Wednesday in February.
So, Brown got busy. He headed for Spring Valley High School and the Nesters’ home in Kenova. Brown already knew that the 6-foot-7, 320-pound Nester had decommitted from Ohio State. That gave him at least a fighting chance to sway Nester toward the Mountaineers.
But, in the end, Virginia Tech had been wooing Nester longer, so he chose the Hokies over the Mountaineers.
Nester spent two seasons in Blacksburg, Virginia. In 2019, as a true freshman, he played in 11 games and started 10 at right guard. In 2020, Nester played in eight games and started seven at right guard.
He wasn’t happy, however, so he entered the transfer portal.
That was Brown’s cue. He immediately began harvesting those seeds he had sown two years earlier.
“We tried as hard as we could for that month that we were here and recruiting out of high school,” recalled Brown. “And I think how we handled that month with his mom and his dad and Doug and his sisters ... then, when he made his decision that it wasn’t going to be West Virginia the first time, our response to that was positive.
“And then when he made the decision he was going to leave (Virginia Tech) and he went in the portal, then obviously he had some relationships with our players (former high school teammates Graeson Malashevich and Owen Chafin). But also that relationship that we established there within that month we were recruiting him paid off.
“We’re glad we have him now. And we look forward to him playing a big role for us over the next couple of years.”
It didn’t take long for Nester to start turning heads during WVU’s spring practice.
“Doug Nester showing up certainly helps the room,” WVU offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said enthusiastically. “We can’t deny that clearly if you are in years two and three, the place where you know the offense, the calls and all those things. That is an advantage.
“He’s a sharp guy and we’ve got to catch him up as quickly as possible. We’re on our way. He’s easy to learn and a joy to have here. And so we’ve got to make sure and push him, but there are some things that will be hiccups just because he’s learning a new offense.
“But, for the most part, heck, he has played football up front. He’s got a strong reputation for being a tough guy and he cares. He’ll pick it up pretty fast. We’re encouraged to kind of see him grow quickly here, and I’m glad he’s here.”
It’s all because Brown planted those seeds.
“He’s good,” said Brown during a Zoom meeting. “He missed the first practice because he got contact traced from a class he’s in here. I felt his last two days he has been impressive. We are playing him at both guard and tackle. We’re trying to dual-train a lot of those guys up front on the offensive line.
“You can see as he learns what we’re doing, and learns what the expectations are and then what his job is in each scheme, you can see him starting to play with more confidence and being more physical.
“I’m excited about him. I think he can be an upper-level Big 12 offensive lineman, without a doubt.”
So, that’s the saga of “Neal and the Beanstalk.” And what’s the lesson to be learned?
Patience is indeed a virtue.