As Franklin's Steven Smothers went through the college football recruiting process, West Virginia always ranked among his favorite programs.
Smothers, one of the state's most electric players who scored four touchdowns in last year's state title victory, estimates he has been to Morgantown at least 20 times over the past 2 1/2 years and feels most comfortable there – the key to his early commitment to the Mountaineers on Wednesday.
"I just felt comfortable at West Virginia and I wanted to focus on my senior season," Smothers said.
Although he originally wanted to wait until spring to announce his commitment, Smothers decided earlier this year that he would commit in August. He told Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen his decision Wednesday and announced it on Twitter.
"I think if you're going to a school for three to four years, you'd better be comfortable," Smothers said.
"It's a matter of me being comfortable with their offense, knowing I'm going to be used well and my skill is going to be shown and I'm comfortable with the coaching staff. You've got to be comfortable with the school, but you've got to be comfortable with the people you're going to be around like I was comfortable with West Virginia."
Smothers, a two-time All-Metro selection, is rated a four-star prospect by the recruiting website Rivals.com, which lists him as the No. 14 player overall among Maryland high school seniors and the No. 26 athlete nationwide.
This summer, he whittled a list of about 25 college scholarship offers to five, including Penn State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Rutgers. He still plans to make official visits to all four and West Virginia. Although he said he feels sure about his decision, he said he wants to "play it safe" by checking out the other programs, too.
Smothers has connections at West Virginia, including last year's Franklin teammate, cornerback Jordan Adams. Jordan's twin, quarterback Jacquez Adams, will spend next year at prep school and should be at West Virginia when Smothers gets there.
He is also close to former Mountaineer Tavon Austin, a Dunbar graduate now playing with the St. Louis Rams. Smothers said Austin offered guidance but never pressure.
"Tavon didn't even know I liked West Virginia until I told him my sophomore year. He was kind of surprised," Smothers said. "Hopefully, I make it to the level he's at right now. He just told me to have fun with the process. He said it can get serious and a little overwhelming, but just have fun with it."
Smothers said he enjoyed the recruiting process and that he had – and is still having - a great time interacting with college fans on Twitter. He estimates half of his more than 5,000 followers are Mountaineers fans.
Know for his speed and his acrobatic catches, the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Smothers excels as a wide receiver, cornerback and return man. He finished last season with 1,440 all-purpose yards and 22 total touchdowns. He had 38 receptions for 696 yards and 11 touchdowns and ran for 143 yards on 15 carries for five touchdowns.
Franklin coach Anthony Burgos said West Virginia is a good fit for Smothers, because the Mountaineers offense is geared toward players with his talents.
"They live off trying to give their athletes the ball in space and I think that's what Steven does best," Burgos said. "It'll be very similar to what we do and that's really just try to give our athletes the ball in space and let them make plays. I think overall the concept of their high-caliber offense, spreading the ball, doing short stuff as well as some intermediate stuff – their offense fits a kid like Steven."
Smothers said he was recruited as an athlete and should be a slot receiver and return man.
"Pretty much any way they can get the ball in my hands," he said.
"Another reason why I picked West Virginia is I may make an impact early especially in the special teams game. When I went to the camp, they were playing with the Jugs machine and they were shooting the ball in the air to simulate punts, so when I was back there catching it, coach Holgorsen came and talked to me and said I just look natural back there catching the punts. That was one of the things they lacked last year, having that explosive punt returner."
Although Smothers has been a threat to score any time he had the ball over the past three seasons, he has had some of his best outings in the state finals, making highlight-reel catches in each of the past two title victories.
He caught three touchdown passes and scored on a fumble recovery in a 35-21 victory over previously undefeated Damascus last season. The No. 2 Indians trailed 21-0 before Smothers caught his first touchdown just before the half. He finished with 136 total yards - 122 on six receptions and 14 on the fumble recovery.
He also caught a 27-yard touchdown pass on fourth down late in the third quarter to give the Indians a 14-7 lead en route to the first state football title in school history, 21-7 over Linganore in 2013.
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Smothers is one of three local prospects The Baltimore Sun is following through the recruiting process in a series of occasional articles. Gilman's Ellison Jordan committed to Penn State in June. McDonogh's Eric Burrell has not made a commitment.