MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The next wave of Mountaineers is becoming official.

A total of 17 high school student-athletes from nine states signed their National Letters of Intent to join West Virginia on Wednesday, building the framework for WVU’s next batch of players. According to WVU coach Neal Brown, National Signing Day is the culmination of a lot of hard work and sacrifice by both the student-athletes and the staff that did their best to bring them to their next destinations.

“I’m proud of this group, this group of signees…a group that stayed committed,” Brown said. “We had, I think through all the turmoil, we really had two de-commitments and we added some really good players even during this, and it’s been some challenging, tough times. But they’ve stayed committed because of the relationships that we’ve built within this program, within this building, and also belief in the vision.”

Here’s what Brown had to say as his class stacked up:

Brown’s goals for the 2023 signing class

Skill players headlined WVU’s signing class this season, but its foundation will be laid in the box.

“If you look for themes, which I know some of you will, pass rush — you can see that,” Brown said. “That was something that was really, really important.”

The Mountaineers signed four linebackers and defensive linemen on Wednesday, reinforcing a defense that will lose some of its top performers. Headlined by the duo of Josiah Trotter and James Heard Jr., two former teammates, Brown and his staff landed some of the top rushers in the region.

On offense, Brown emphasized added versatility in the pass game. Two of WVU’s top prospects this year are wide receivers, but really, Brown was looking more inside the field for support.

“We wanted versatility in our running backs and tight ends,” Brown said. “This is a discussion for a different day, but as we evolve offensively, that was something that was really important to us — to have some tight ends that had the ability to catch the football down the field vertically, and some running backs that have versatility.”

WVU didn’t have to look too far to fill those needs. It found its tight end, Noah Braham, right in Morgantown out of University High, and its top tailback, Jahiem White, is one of WVU’s five signees from Pennsylvania.

The “Rodney Gallagher effect”

Rodney Gallagher III, West Virginia’s top-rated recruit this class, emphatically inked his NLI on Wednesday, and he is set to bring a big following to Morgantown.

Gallagher was well-known to Mountaineer fans once he committed to WVU in May, but he had already built a small celebrity profile ahead of that. The football star is also a standout basketball player and was actually an AAU teammate of Bronny James, the son of LeBron.

As of signing day, Gallagher has over 98,900 followers on Instagram.

“He was in the public long before he was ready probably, and so a lot of this recruiting attention didn’t faze him like it does other people,” Brown said.

Gallagher was an “integral” recruit for Brown since he came right out of WVU’s backyard in Uniontown (where Brown’s eggs come from, he said.). WVU treated the receiver like a local recruit and had to fight off several top programs to land him.

The prospect’s fame factor isn’t just on social media. Brown praised Gallagher’s family as a “close-knit” group and a strong support system for the young player, and said that it’s apparent that the community rallies behind him and his family.

“He is the pride of Uniontown…and he’s going to bring a big group. Every time I’ve been to a basketball game, it’s standing-room only,” Brown said. “Every time I go to a football game, and I’ve seen multiple live, it’s standing-room only. So I think we’re going to have some Rodney Gallagher effect right here, too.”

Continued roster building

Wednesday was just the beginning for West Virginia’s 2023 additions, but its high school class is almost complete.

The Mountaineers wanted to add between 16 and 20 high school prospects this class, and as of Wednesday, they are officially at 17. Two more commitments are still to sign, so that number could grow again, but Brown put a hard cap at 20 signees.

WVU does still have work to do, Brown said, as he hopes to add 8 to 12 transfers.

“We’ve got a couple of those guys committed, a couple more that have done so and just haven’t gone publicly,” Brown said.

Two players from Kent State, wide receiver Ja’Shaun Poke and cornerback Montre Miller, were the first to signal their intentions to join the Mountaineers over the weekend.

Brown added, though, that he wants the program to be deliberate about its use of the transfer portal. Although there are plenty of talented players looking for new teams, it’s not smart to simply bring in every potentially good player as a transfer. Instead, he feels developing high school talent is the best way to build a sustainable program at WVU.

Nonetheless, there are immediate needs that will be filled through the portal.

“You’ve got to kind of look at areas of needs. As you go through that, I think receiver is one. We’re really pushing for a pass-receiving tight end. We’ll never turn down an O-lineman or a D-lineman, we always save spots for those guys because I don’t think you can never have enough big, athletic bodies. And then the secondary.”