MORGANTOWN — When Neal Brown stepped to the podium in the Milan Puskar Center on Friday afternoon to address the media, he looked like a man who has had the pedal to the floor since arriving in Morgantown 11 months ago.
Brown didn’t look bad, just tired. Now with his first season as the West Virginia University football coach behind him, it is time to get set to do it all over again.
The new Mountaineer coach arrived on campus in January and has been busy ever since. First it was holding the previous regime’s recruiting class together. Then it was spring ball into the summer before fall camp and finally the actual season. WVU posted a 5-7 record in Brown’s first year, but he said he knows that result is well below what is expected at West Virginia. He is, however, pleased with the progress made in 2019 and excited about what the future could bring to the Mountaineers.
“(Our) 5-7 record is obviously not good enough,” Brown said. “It doesn’t meet the standard here, and I’m well aware of that. However, we were only favored in two out of our 12 games and I was pleased with how we finished the season. I thought we played our best football in November over the last three weeks of the season. I’m excited about our future and I’m excited about where we’re going. We played a ton of first- and second-year players. We return a really high percentage of production on offense and defense, but we have some holes to fill on special teams.”
With the games finished for 2019, Brown and his staff have now turned their attention to the recruiting trail. Brown said last week was a contact week where he and the other WVU coaches hit the road for some face time with recruits who are already committed and others “we’re trying to get in the boat,” Brown said. The contact period runs through next week while West Virginia has two Junior Days set up for December. Of course, there is also the start of the early signing period this month, which begins on Dec. 18.
Brown said he expects most, if not all, of West Virginia’s committed recruits to sign National Letters of Intent on Dec. 18. From there, the Mountaineers continue work on attempting to build on the experience and momentum gained from an up-and-down 2019 season. That season ended on a high note with two wins — both on the road — in the final three games.
“Huge offseason for us both in the recruiting aspect and development,” Brown said. “Really, kind of our focus and what I said ... to our team last Monday is we’ve got to be one of the most improved teams in the country next year. I think the key areas of improvement for us, offensively, is run-game production. If we want to make strides offensively and make strides as a football team we’ve got to be able to run the football better. Defensively, we’ve got to increase our takeaways. Those are the two biggest statistical pieces we’ve got to make strides in.”
Should I stay or should I go?
There are several new Mountaineer names in the transfer portal, Brown said.
Most notably is that of tight end Jovani Haskins. After starting his collegiate career at the University of Miami, Haskins transferred to WVU but never really caught on with the Mountaineers and found himself in some trouble as camp began last summer. He was charged with fleeing an officer, reckless driving and driving on the left side of the road in Morgantown just before the start of fall camp in August, and in November he pleaded guilty to the charges.
Brown also said redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Adam Stilley, a former standout at Martinsburg High, has put his name in the transfer portal.
One player who could make a return to Morgantown for the 2020 season, though it appears unlikely, is receiver George Campbell.
The Florida State graduate transfer was West Virginia’s top scoring threat in 2019. Campbell only caught 19 passes this season, but seven of them went for touchdowns. Brown said Campbell has applied for a sixth year of eligibility and added he feels good about the chances the appeal is approved by the NCAA, but Campbell posted a farewell message to Mountaineer fans on his Instagram account earlier Friday morning.
One standout who will be staying put is defensive lineman Darius Stills. The junior, who was named to the All-Big 12 first team this week, tweeted Friday that he would return for his senior season.