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Focus on East Coast paying off for West Virginia

As a Texan who became a critical contributor in the Mountaineers' bowl season in 2014, standout kicker Josh Lambert looked like a vision becoming reality for West Virginia.

When Dana Holgorsen led WVU into a new era and new conference upon joining the Big 12 in 2012, it looked like the Mountaineers would become a factor in the halls of high schools around Texas and the rest of the Big 12 region. Holgorsen’s time at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Houston had provided plenty of ties to Texas, and the Mountaineers could sell the opportunity to play in the Big 12 to players who might have been overlooked or undervalued by other schools in the region.

It seemed like a great plan initially.

“My background was the Southwest. It was Texas,” Holgorsen said. “I thought it was a good idea. [Former WVU athletic director] Oliver [Luck] thought it was a good idea because of the conference that we are in.”

WVU’s first two classes as a member of the Big 12 featured several Texans who eventually became contributors, including Lambert, receiver Jordan Thompson and defensive end Noble Nwachukwu.

“Those guys brought something to our team that I didn’t feel like existed at that point. Just a ton of structure and hardworking guys that were undersized and weren’t recruited by a lot of those Texas schools,” Holgorsen said. “I thought it served its purpose going into the Big 12.”

Two years later, WVU has lost its map to Texas. And done so willingly.

The Mountaineers haven’t signed a high school player from Texas in their last two classes as Holgorsen and the coaching staff have shifted their recruiting focus to the Eastern time zone. As schools nationwide have begun making major strides in Texas — UCLA , USC, Alabama and Ole Miss signed recruits in among the top 10 in the state of Texas in the Class of 2015 — the Mountaineers have decided there’s no reason to spend a lot of time recruiting in the oversaturated Lone Star State.

Instead, WVU is selling itself as the Big 12, East Coast version.

In the Class of 2015, the Mountaineers signed players from Ohio, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, West Virginia and Virginia as recruits liked the idea of playing in the Big 12 but remaining close to home. During the past two classes, WVU signed seven ESPN 300 members including four from the Miami area after Miramar (Florida) teammates Jovon Durante and Tyrek Cole inked with WVU last Wednesday.

Instead of selling the opportunity to play at WVU to Texas prospects, Holgorsen is selling the opportunity to stay near home yet play in the Big 12 to a fertile East Coast recruiting ground that isn’t being mined nearly as hard as Texas. Florida and Ohio, in particular, have emerged as potential pipeline states with 16 signees from those two states combined in the 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes.

2014 ESPN 300 prospect Dravon Henry was vocal about wanting to play against Big 12 quarterbacks and receivers when he signed with WVU, turning down offers from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and others to stay near his hometown of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. yet play in the Big 12. Henry went on to start all 13 games for the Mountaineers as a true freshman, recording 45 tackles, two interceptions and two pass breakups.

“It’s just our philosophy that we can recruit a better kid more regionally and in the Northeast and up and down the East Coast,” Holgorsen said. “We can sell the Big 12 brand. We can recruit against almost everybody and get a better kid than we can in Texas right now.”