WEST LIBERTY, W.Va. – With spring drills well under way on the hilltop, West Liberty head football coach Roger Waialae has released the Hilltoppers' 2022 recruiting class.
They're still working through the paperwork for a few recent commits but Waialae and his coaches have already landed one of their larger recruiting classes in recent years. A total of 23 incoming freshmen and collegiate transfers have cast their lot with the Black and Gold, some of whom are already on campus participating in spring drills.
"Recruiting always begins at home with the OVAC and the tri-state area," Waialae said. "Starting from there, our coaches were able to expand that footprint somewhat and I think it paid off with one of the more athletic and versatile classes we've had. We'll be bringing in a few more guys before the start of fall practice but we have definitely raised the talent level within our program."
The Hilltoppers had to work through some significant graduation losses but the large group of newcomers along with anticipated debuts from some talented redshirt freshmen eases those concerns for the veteran head man, who pointed out that the Hilltoppers' talent search was focused on quality as well as quantity.
"The raw numbers are good and the overall quality is very good, especially on the defensive side," Waialae said. "Defensive line was the biggest immediate need with only one guy back (All-MEC defensive end David Gilcreast) who played significant minutes. We have five really good redshirt linemen returning so the cupboard isn't bare but we needed to restock. The goal for this year wasn't just to replenish our talent and depth where graduation hit, it was to create competition at those spots in the spring and fall."
Waialae filled a couple of important special teams holes with a pair of transfers from the California juco ranks in kicker Justin Kaplan and long snapper Jake Maggio. A solid receiving corps also gets a boost from graduate transfers C.J. Turner (New Hampshire) and Chris Charles (Robert Morris).
The depth and talent in the quarterback room also picked up a pair of transfers in former Wheeling Park all-stater Alex Dunlevy (W.Va. State) and Geno Pellegrini (Robert Morris) while Anthony Barmer (Compton JC) provides another viable option at a running back spot that was hit hard by the injury bug a year ago. Jay Johnson is a sophomore linebacker transferring in from Clarion (Pa.).
“The transfers, especially the grad transfers, obviously have a head start with that college experience under their belts,” Waialae said, “but we think a high percentage of the freshmen have the potential to come in here and compete for playing time and even a starting job in fall camp.
“One of the things that really jumped out at us on tape was how many of our freshmen showed the ability to play at a high level on both sides of the football. That kind of versatility is a tremendous asset to a program so a major priority for us in August will be finding the best fit for them.”
The Hilltoppers are approaching the midway point of their spring practice sessions, leading up to an April 14 Black and Gold scrimmage under the Thursday Night Lights.
Here’s a list of capsules for West Liberty’s current 2022 recruiting class:
2022 WEST LIBERTY FOOTBALL SIGNEES
Anthony Barmer RB 6-0 205 Jr. Baltimore, Md./Edgewood (Compton JC)
Played 2021 season at Compton (Calif.) JC; 1st-team All-Prep RB at Georgia Sports Academy in 2017; Redshirted at NCAA DI Temple in 2018; Football/lacrosse star at Edgewood (Md.) HS; Played in Blue/Gray All-America Game and Maryland All-Star Game
Chris Charles WR 6-3 205 Gr. Trenton, N.J./Hamilton West (Robert Morris)
Played in 6 games over last two years at FCS Robert Morris (Pa.); Caught 5 passes for 71 yards; Record-setting WR/DB/P at Hamilton West HS in Trenton, N.J.
Alex Dunlevy QB 6-1 190 R-Fr. Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Park (W.Va. State)
Signed with West Virginia State out of high school but did not see action; Record-setting 1st-team All-West Virginia Class AAA quarterback at Wheeling Park HS; Threw for 2,808 yards and 30 TDs while running for 400 yards and 7 more scores as a senior
Jayson Gipson DE 6-3 230 Fr. Baytown, Texas/Goose Creek
1st-team Texas Class 5A Division I All-District TE/RB at Baytown (Texas) Goose Creek HS
Dante Glading OL 6-5 250 Fr. Polk City, Fla./Auburndale
Starting offensive lineman on unbeaten District championship team at Auburndale (Fla.) HS
Curtis Hayes OL 6-2 300 Fr. Parkersburg, W.Va./Parkersburg
1st-team All-MSAC selection and three-year starter at Parkersburg (W.Va.) HS
Jay Johnson LB 5-10 210 So. Monroeville, Pa./Gateway (Clarion)
Redshirted at NCAA Division II Clarion (Pa.); Star linebacker on 2019 WPIAL Class 5A championship team at Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway HS
Justin Kaplan PK 6-1 205 Jr. San Diego, Calif./Torrey Pines (Saddleback JC)
Starting kicker at Saddleback JC; Season-long 43-yard field goal; All-Conference kicker at San Diego (Calif.) Torrey Pines HS
Brandon Kinney LB 6-0 205 Fr. Steubenville, Ohio/Steubenville
2-time All-District and 2nd-team All-Ohio linebacker at Steubenville (Ohio) HS
Jackson LaFrance OL 6-5 235 Fr. Coral Springs, Fla./Cypress Bay
Two-year starting offensive lineman at Weston (Fla.) Cypress Bay HS
Ryan Longman TE 6-3 225 Fr. Brandon, Fla./Seffner Christian
Rare two-way starter (TE/DE) for Brandon (Fla.) Seffner Christian HS helped lead team to back-to-back Florida state semifinal berths
Jake Maggio LS 5-9 175 Jr. Bridgewater, N.J./Raritan (Citrus JC)
Long-snapping specialist at Citrus (Calif.) JC in 2021; Redshirted at FCS University of Maine in 2019; 3-year starter on back-to-back New Jersey state runner-up squads at Bridgewater (N.J.) Raritan HS
Maxwell Martin-Lee DL 6-3 300 Fr. Dublin, Ohio/Scioto
All-OCC two-way lineman for Dublin (Ohio) Scioto HS
Luis Martinez OL 6-5 255 Fr. Vista, Calif./Vista
3-year starting tight end at Vista (Calif.) HS
Thaddeus McDuffie DL 6-3 280 Fr. Westerville, Ohio/South
All-Conference defensive lineman Westerville (Ohio) South HS
Geno Pellegrini QB 6-0 170 So. Charleroi, Pa./Charleroi (Robert Morris)
Transfer from FCS Robert Morris (Pa.); Racked up 6,408 career passing yards and 68 TDs at Charleroi (Pa.) HS; Completed 120-of-200 (.600) passes for 2,296 yards and 31 TDs with 7 INTs while rushing for 801 yards and 12 TDs as a senior
Nolan Shimp DB 6-0 195 Fr. West Hamlin, W.Va./Lincoln County
Two-time All-West Virginia Class AA linebacker recorded 100+ tackles as a senior at Lincoln County HS
Joey Slaughter DE 6-0 235 Fr. Shepherdstown, W.Va./Jefferson
All-Conference defensive lineman at Jefferson (W.Va.) HS
Peako (Rocky) Tautai LB 6-1 205 Fr. Compton, Calif./Lakewood
All-Moore League linebacker at Compton (Calif.) Lakewood HS
Alipate Tuitavuki DE 6-3 210 Fr. Blacklick, Ohio/Gahanna Lincoln
All-OCC outside linebacker/defensive end at Gahanna (Ohio) Lincoln HS
Ben Turner WR 5-9 160 Fr. Huntington, W.Va./Spring Valley
Huntington Herald-Dispatch All-Tri-State Team; Caught 33 passes for 473 yards and 4 TDs as a senior at Spring Valley (W.Va.) HS
C.J. Turner WR 5-7 175 Gr. Rochester, N.Y./Eastridge (New Hampshire)
Graduate transfer WR/KR from FCS New Hampshire; Caught 8 passes for 101 yards in final season with the Wildcats; Two-time All-State WR/RB/KR at Rochester (N.Y.) Eastridge HS; Scored school-record 36 TDs; cousin of former WLU standout Jeremiah Ortiz
Josh Warnock TE 6-5 240 Fr. Sarasota, Fla./Sarasota
Starting tight end as a senior at Sarasota (Fla.) HS