When Geno Smith convinced Stedman Bailey to transfer to Miramar High School, the two friends prayed together. The name of the church where they met was called New Direction.
Now, seven years later, Smith and Bailey — stars of the eighth-ranked West Virginia football team — begin a new direction for their university. And that direction is west. The Mountaineers, with goals of playing in Miami in the BCS Championship Game, begin competition in the Big 12 Conference this Saturday with a home game against Baylor University. West Virginia features 15 players from South Florida, including six from powerhouse Miramar High School.
The realignment of college football, an unruly, volatile and greedy beast, has changed the sport and it’s still too early to determine if that change is for the better. This much is certain, though: There are some universities that appear to be better situated than others after the initial shuffle. West Virginia appears to be one of them.
At the heart of the Mountaineers’ success story amid this transitional period of college football are Smith, Bailey and Miramar. For that, West Virginia fans can thank two men. One is now a mortal enemy, Marshall coach Doc Holliday. The other is a former West Virginia player, Damon Cogdell.
A linebacker at Miramar in the mid 1990s, Cogdell was recruited to West Virginia by Holliday, a longtime Mountaineers assistant and ace recruiter in South Florida. More than a decade later, with Cogdell completing the full circle and coaching at Miramar, Holliday recruited Smith to West Virginia before leaving for the school’s instate rival.
Ultimately, that series of events — recruiting players to one day play against you — hasn’t really worked out for Holliday. In the Mountaineers’ season opener, Smith threw four touchdown passes against Holliday’s Thundering Herd and West Virginia defeated Marshall 69-34. It was the highest scoring total for West Virginia in a season opener in school history. Smith will finish his career 4-0 against Marshall as WVU’s starting quarterback.
Cogdell is great friends with Holliday but said this week he “enjoyed” watching that one.
Smith signed with West Virginia in 2009. Since then, Cogdell has helped a handful of Miramar players find their way to Morgantown, W. Va. Smith and Bailey, the initial pair who started the recruiting pipeline, are on the cover of the media guide this season and are early candidates for individual national awards.
A front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, Smith has thrown 12 touchdown passes this season without an interception. Entering conference play, Smith is averaging 385 passing yards per game. Against Maryland on Saturday, he was 30-of-43 passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns.
Smith had nine touchdowns compared with just nine incompletions before the 31-21 victory against the Terrapins. He has been on a remarkable run since last season’s Orange Bowl, when West Virginia dismantled Clemson 70-33. Smith had a plus arm and lightning-fast release out of high school, but he says adding between 30 and 40 pounds of muscle while in college has allowed him to play “with a lot more confidence.”
In other words, Smith is not scared to take a hit. His strength was evidenced in the first half against Maryland when he a shrugged off a defender, lost his helmet and still managed to fire off a pass before going to the ground.