WVU NIL collective Country Roads Trust surging after latest hoops news
The story of the weekend for WVU fans was the commitment of 6-11 Syracuse basketball transfer Jesse Edwards to Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins’ program.
Actually, it might have been the story of the weekend regarding college basketball. A site that tracks portal news, On3, has the Mountaineers’ portal class No. 1 in the country so far, ahead of Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Florida. (As of April 18, 2023.) Edwards was ranked the No. 13 available player by the service, while fellow transfer Kerr Kriisa, formerly of Arizona, was ranked No. 16. That’s out of more than 1,400 players who jumped into the portal. Add to that the previous commitments from Manhattan transfers Jose Perez and Omar Silverio and you have quite a haul.
Obviously, it’s great for West Virginia University. With the fanbase’s ability to provide Name, Image and Likeness money to student-athletes for appearances, etc., it’s leveled the proverbial playing field. Programs like WVU that prided itself on being above board in the past can now match schools that, well, let’s face it, did not.
Now, Hall of Fame coach Huggins, armed with a tremendous practice facility, a great (old though it may be) Coliseum, a terrific fan base and a strong NIL collective, can compete for the nation’s best players.
Huggins and staff did a nice job last season, bringing in Erik Stevenson, Tre Mitchell, Joe Toussaint and Emmitt Matthews Jr.
But the staff and NIL collective Country Roads Trust have apparently taken their efforts to another level.
Much of the credit deservedly has gone to Huggins’ director of personnel/recruiting Jay Kuntz. Yet also dish credit to Country Roads Trust GM and COO Stephen Ford and those with him – including founders Oliver Luck and Ken Kendrick – behind the scenes.
On Tuesday, I caught up with Ford. And as you might expect, he was in a fantastic mood. Country Roads Trust was a frontrunner in the NIL era, getting up and running very early. Now, though, through hard work, it’s becoming one of the nation’s best collectives.
“The latest surge started with the commitment from Kerr Krissa and just snowballed into what happened this weekend with Jesse Edwards,” said Ford. “We’re riding that momentum with recruiting as well as fundraising. We’ll do whatever we can to push the needle with our fanbase to put nationally recognized teams on the football and basketball courts.”
He paused before restarting.
“We are on pace to have our best revenue month since launching Country Roads Trust.”
This month of April, he means. Which still has 12 days left.
So, what happened?
A couple things.
First, go back to the top of this blog. Remember Kuntz?
“Jay and I spoke right after the season, right after Birmingham (where WVU lost to Maryland in the NCAA tournament),” said Ford. “We said we need to make a big push for $1.5 million just for basketball. We saw what top stars were getting. If we want those opportunities at WVU, we needed to reach into our Rolodexes. And that’s what we did.”
Calls were made. New money was found.
“We had a lot of new supporters step up in a big way to help with basketball,” Ford said.
It’ll be interesting to see if that goes any further. Iowa State guard Caleb Grill and Pitt big John Hughley are two said to be still interested and visiting.
And if you’re worried about scholarship limits, well, stop. Portal money can cover the cost of a scholarship in some situations.
“The Trust can make players whole for out-of-pocket and tuition,” Ford said. “That will probably happen with one or two basketball guys.”
It’s a game of numbers. Just not the old numbers.
Now, Ford and staff is trying to build off the excitement.
“We’re looking to propel that in football,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the WVU spring game and helping Neal (Brown) and the program out.”
Give Country Roads Trust credit for not only staying on top of what’s happening across the country in the fast-changing NIL world but hustling and earning the respect of a solid roster of committed Mountaineer fans.
“We are a fund-raising and sales organization that’s focused on building robust opportunities for top student-athletes around the country,” Ford said. “We want to be attractive enough for a guy or girl that would otherwise not give WVU a look to find Name, Image and Likeness opportunities here and discover what a great place this is.”
Ford said Country Roads Trust has also secured the means to boost the women’s basketball team.
“We secured a program-changing contribution,” Ford said. “I mean, we can compete with top programs like South Carolina, UConn and Stanford. It’s program changing.”
It may have taken some WVU fans time to understand and grasp what NIL and Country Roads Trust are all about, but it appears Mountaineer fans are catching on.
“Everybody’s support matters, whether it’s $20 a month or a higher giving level,” Ford said. “It all matters. We are the professional team in the state of West Virginia. Fans bleed gold and blue 365 days a year. When the football team is going well, you have a lot of happy folks in West Virginia. We want to make the state of West Virginia very happy.”
“Just trying to do God’s work over here.”
Those interested in visiting Country Roads Trust’s website may do so here: https://countryroadstrust.com
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.