Coming off of their best season since joining the Big 12, West Virginia will have to replace some key departures as the Mountaineers prepare for the 2017 campaign. The losses of quarterback Skyler Howard, wide receiver Shelton Gibson, center Tyler Orlosky, and cornerback Rasul Douglas have left vacancies at some key positions.
However, there are plenty of newcomers to help fill those voids. For this exercise, the below list is made up of only freshmen (true or redshirt) and junior college transfers. There is no argument that quarterback Will Grier will likely end up as the most impactful newcomer for West Virginia in 2017, but as a transfer from Florida, he doesn’t qualify here.
Brendan Ferns, LB, Redshirt Freshman
Ferns was the biggest commitment in the Mountaineers’ 2016 recruiting class. The linebacker from Ohio was highly sought after and now is his time to contribute. With the departure of outside linebacker and team captain Justin Arndt to graduation, Ferns will be looked upon to step up this coming season. The redshirt freshman will see plenty of time and will more than likely become the anchor of the linebacker corps.
Isaiah Hardy, OL, Junior College Transfer
At 6-foot-7 and 330 pounds Hardy immediately becomes the largest offensive linemen on the roster. Coming to Morgantown via Lackawanna (Penn.) College, Hardy brings the size and strength the Mountaineers are looking for in both run blocking and pass protection.
David Sills, WR, Junior College Transfer
Yes I know Sills was once a Mountaineer. But he qualifies for this list as a junior college transfer, this time returning to Morgantown as a wide receiver. Sills originally committed to West Virginia as a quarterback in 2015 but was converted to a wide receiver. He made some contributions on the field, including catching the game-winning touchdown in the comeback win over Arizona State in the 2016 Cactus Bowl, but left the program last summer to chase his dream of being a quarterback. However, after one season at El Camino (Calif.) College, Sills returns to Morgantown committed to being a wide receiver.
Derrek Pitts, DB, True Freshman
Pitts was the No. 1-rated prospect in the state of West Virginia in the 2017 recruiting class. Originally a Penn State commit, the Charleston product decided to stay close to home and signed with the Mountaineers. While West Virginia has depth at the safety position, don’t be surprised to see Pitts on the filed this fall. His athleticism and ability to get to the ball will give him a chance to play right away in defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s system.
Lamonte McDougle, DL, True Freshman
At 6-foot-1 and 295 pounds McDougle has an explosiveness that most don't possess given his size. The defensive lineman out of Plantation, Fla., should immediately compete for playing time at either nose guard or defensive tackle.
There are others worthy of consideration here, as West Virginia looks to its underclassmen and new faces to remain competitive in the Big 12. One thing is for sure, if you have the talent and desire head coach Dana Holgorsen will ensure you see the field for the Mountaineers.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
(Top photo courtesy of BlueGoldSports.com)