With his new offensive coordinator and eventual successor Dana Holgorsen in attendance, Stewart spoke to a crowd of media members about the unique challenges of recruiting players who knew they would have only one season under Stewart’s tutelage.
“It’s not about me. Let’s talk about [the signees],” Stewart said.
“I think it speaks volumes about the staff and where we are as a program, what we’ve done in the past. When six guys come on board in January, that speaks volumes to me. To see these 17 young men want to be Mountaineers ... I want to really brag, not only on our coaches, with the transition and the job they did with coaches coming and going ... but I want to brag on the student-athletes that are here ... they did a great job. I had some guys say, ‘Hey, Coach, I really think this guy will fit in.’ And I had some say, ‘I don’t know about that guy.’”
Stewart admitted that he and Holgorsen, as well as other members of the rebuilt coaching staff, had been asked by recruits about the transition that the program will endure, which calls for Stewart to serve the 2011 season as head coach before giving way for the start of Holgorsen’s tenure.
But even though he indicated that other schools may have been using that situation to recruit against WVU, Stewart said that wasn’t all that different from any other year.
“You can ask these coaches, but I was certainly not bombarded,” he said. “Were we asked a time or two? Yes, we were. Dana talked to some guys, and I talked to some guys. We all visited guys. Our staff did a great job. Negative recruiting and negativity happens every year. Not just this year.”
Regardless of that negativity, and thanks to the combined efforts of former coaches, current coaches and even players, West Virginia pulled in a class that included nine offensive players and eight defensive prospects.
In terms of Scout.com star rankings, it’s not the loftiest-rated class in recent Mountaineer history. But Stewart, as he did last year, said those ratings didn’t matter and called the recruits “our stars.”
“Well, you never bat a thousand,” the head coach, entering his fourth and final season in that position, admitted. “You never hit a home run every time you swing, but I feel really good. We got in the batter’s box, took the bat off our shoulder, swung and made contact. I’m really excited about this class. It’s a very solid class. We’re happy. Very happy. These guys will be great additions to the Mountaineer family.”
As for whether any of them contribute as true freshmen in Stewart’s final season, that remains to be seen.
But the head coach didn’t explicitly rule that possibility out.
“Some of these guys are going to play quicker than some of the others simply because of needs,” Stewart said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
While some signees may have a bit more work to do to academically qualify to play at WVU, Stewart expressed optimism that at least the bulk of these recruits will be successful in that aim.
“These guys, I feel confident that we are further along [academically] than we have been since I’ve been here -- even including my assistant [coaching] tenure, to be honest,” Stewart said. “We’ve really got some nice student-athletes.”
Holgorsen and his offensive hires (all of which have ties in the southwest) may have helped the Mountaineer program secure the commitments of players like Dustin Garrison (a running back from Pearland, Texas) and quarterback Paul Millard, who has been on campus since the start of the spring semester.
Stewart said Holgorsen’s staff and the impending addition of TCU to the Big East Conference helped WVU gain a foothold in the Lone Star State this year -- something Holgorsen later said he expected to continue in future classes.
“The proof’s in the pudding,” Stewart said. “[It was] good. Once you see old Dustin catch that ball and go with it, you say, ‘That’s a pretty good kid right there.’ But TCU brings a lot to the table for that. It opens up a lot of recruiting.”
Speaking of Millard, he is one of the six players who enrolled at West Virginia for the spring semester and, thus, can “count back” and officially be tallied as part of the Mountaineers’ recruiting class of 2010.
Given that Stewart and his staff signed only 17 players on Wednesday -- far less than the NCAA limit of 28 signees in any class (which must be pared down to 25 enrollees), the possibility exists that WVU could again have some more additions next January that could count against the 2011 class.
“We’ve got a few left over, so maybe next year we’ll do the same thing, where there may be a junior college guy out there,” Stewart said. “You just don’t know ... we’re very happy with our class, and there’s all kinds of reasons our numbers change from year to year.”