Cody Nespor: Portal gains outpace losses as WVU football maintains positive momentum

Jan. 11—For the first several years of Neal Brown's tenure at WVU, the Mountaineers faced a severe talent drain by way of the transfer portal.

Year after year, WVU lost promising, talented and productive players to the portal while never bringing in quite enough to make up the deficit.

Following Brown's best season in Morgantown, a 9-4 campaign that culminated in a Duke's Mayo Bowl trophy, the Mountaineers have come out of the first transfer window of the off-season with more gains than losses for perhaps the first time.

"Our hope is we can hold onto our main players, " Brown said the day after the portal opened. "You're going to lose some, that's just normal, but we hope we can keep them all together."

During the first window, which was open from Dec. 4 through Jan. 2, 16 former WVU players entered the portal and eight new ones committed to WVU (safety Tahj Ra-El de-committed from WVU on Tuesday).

Of those leaving, only three were full-time starters—edge Jared Bartlett, defensive tackle Mike Lockhart and safety Hershey McLaurin—and only three more were role players—defensive lineman Tomiwa Durojaiye, safety Keyshawn Cobb and running back Justin Johnson.

The only others of mention are safety Lance Dixon, who had started in the past but was not with the team for most of the season, and cornerback Andrew Wilson-Lamp, a highly-regarded high school recruit who never caught on. The rest had little-to-no on-field roles with the team.

Of the eight players WVU is bringing in, six were full-time starters, although two, cornerback Ayden Garnes (Duquesne) and edge Ty French (Gardner-Webb), were at the FCS level. The others are cornerback TJ Crandall (Colorado State), defensive lineman TJ Jackson (Troy), offensive lineman Xavier Bausley (Jacksonville State) and safety Josh Minkins (Louisville).

The part-time additions are receiver Jaden Bray (Oklahoma State) and linebacker Reid Carrico (Ohio State).

Simply in terms of on-field experience, WVU is firmly in the black right now. Brown has said the team would like to bring in a tight end and they will also most likely search for a replacement for Ra-El.

More important than who has come or gone, however, is who has stayed at WVU this cycle, and that's where the Country Roads Trust has come into play.

WVU's NIL collective, Country Roads Trust, has spent the last month announcing a plethora of players who have committed to staying with the Mountaineers for 2024.

In the past, young players would show promise at WVU and then skip town, whereas this year they're seemingly staying. The list includes freshman All-American running back Jahiem White, freshmen receivers Traylon Ray and Rodney Gallagher, all five of WVU's projected starting offensive line and young linebacking trio Josiah Trotter, Ben Cutter and Trey Lathan.

"I really like the way our relationship works, " WVU athletic director Wren Baker said of CRT last month. "We're probably performing in the top 3-4 % in the country in terms of how you would want it to function and how it's actually functioning."

Just this week, CRT announced two more returners, defensive lineman Sean Martin and safety Aubrey Burks, the latter of whom most people expected to enter the portal when WVU safeties coach Dontae Wright was reported to be leaving for a different job.

Things could certainly change with the second transfer window, which is open April 16-30, but things have gone well so far for the Mountaineers. The WVU football program has more positive momentum than it's ever had during Brown's tenure and having the team's first off-season getting more from the portal than it takes only adds fuel to the fire.

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