Editor's Note: It is with great pleasure that we begin our press coverage of Virginia Tech's final approach towards National Signing Day on February 5th. Enjoy!
"It’s the mosssst wonderfullll tiiiiime of the year."
Ok, that might be taking it a bit far, but for rabid college football fans everywhere National Signing Day is kind of like Christmas morning. Wednesday, February 5th is National Signing Day for college football recruits. The countless calls, letters, tweets, official visits, in-home visits and people constantly in your ear giving their two cents has mercifully come to an end. For most recruits, it’s a relief but for some (and fans of the respective potential schools) anxiety reigns until that letter of intent is faxed in to their respective schools' athletic department. Life will never be the same for anybody, not the recruit, not the school, not the fan base. After that, he honeymoon is over, and the marriage is underway.
Most of us will never understand the pressure and stress that must weigh on the minds of hundreds to thousands of young men who are gifted enough to play major division one football. The decision usually comes down to making your family (ok, we all know it's Mom) happy and stay close to home; or play at a school you feel will position you best to get you to the NFL. And for a few, academics and getting that degree from a great school paid for in full can sway a young man’s ultimate decision. Just ask our French brethren in Charlottesville, who after a 2-10 season (0-8 in conference) and a combined 6-18 record overall (2-14 in conference) the past two seasons, still inexplicably received two verbal commitments from not one, but two five-star recruits! We’ll touch back on this in my signing day recap, rest assured.
For the Virginia Tech Hokies, this year has been a success for the most part. Some may disagree and point out the disappointing whiffs on a handful of big time recruits, and most of the high-profile targets in our backyard. But I call it a success because despite those misses, we still managed to address our areas of need. Those who have followed Hokie recruiting through the years know that in many years the holes have gone unfilled, and it has been glaringly reflected on the field. Comparable to previous years, and according to Rivals rankings, the 2014 Hokies class is on pace to be on par with their recent overall track record, which usually finds the Hokies ranked in the mid-20s nationally.
I know the star ratings aren't always a definitive indicator of future success, BUT, more times than not those highly rated athletes end up living up to their potential. As I stated in my introduction to Coach Searels’ article, Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban have rings and those pretty crystal footballs to validate those recruiting reports. Sure, we aren’t F$U or Alabama, but until we can take that next step and go toe to toe with the big boys for these difference makers, that empty trophy case in Merryman will continue to collect dust and waste valuable Windex. The Hokies always seem content to fill their class up early as opposed to battling to the bitter end for the more coveted prospects.
I know Frank still wants to make the Commonwealth top priority and cling to his "six hour radius" mantra but with Virginia having become a fertile recruiting ground, we now have to fight off more decorated programs in the SEC, Big 10 and ACC. I’m fine with Coach Beamer’s recruiting philosophy IF we were able to annually procure the top talent in state.The proverbial attempt to "build a fence" around Virginia has increasingly become a difficult issue for Virginia Tech. Most would expect the class program in the state for going on two decades now to be an easy choice to make. However, this year's Hokies have not performed in-state: They have zero top five players and only two of the top ten recruits. The University of Virginia, who have had two abysmal campaigns in a row now have gained pledges from two of the top five, and four of the top ten players in Virginia. WUT??!! Coach London, for all his coaching gaffes and unacceptable win-loss record must be one hell of a recruiter, with a tongue of silver to boot. It pains me to think of Coach Beamer muddling around a recruit's living room only to have Coach London follow him in a later visit and make sure he has an extra serving of Mom's dinner, and leave the final impression.
The only hope, and it's kind of an evil thought, is that London follows the same guiding principles as The Sweatshirt who preceded him and tries to get kids admitted who can't make the cut academically. But we aren't in the business of wishing failure upon 18 year olds here, so we are stuck on the outside looking in.
In this group of current recruits who have given verbal commitments to the Hokies for 2014, I’m seeing some signs of improved recruiting and positive changes in philosophy. It appears the days of converting TE’s and DL to patch holes on the offensive line are over. Oh, and that whole creating a QB in a laboratory? From TE to QB?…ahh never mind. I’m finally seeing us recruit the actual position, as opposed to bringing in players as athletes and placing a to be determined tag on their future homes. Also, we’ve cast our net a bit wider recently, offering kids from the midwest (largely in part to Coach Aaron Morehead’s connections from his time with the Colts) and getting back into Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey. Thankfully, the recruiting pipeline we've developed in southern Florida is still churning out prospects as well.
Per Rivals, the Hokies currently have the 20th ranked class in the nation. From 2002–2005, VT averaged a 35th ranked class, 2005 netting us the 14th overall ranking. That, sadly though is very misleading as a majority of those top ranked players either never made it to Blacksburg, or just fizzled out. Names like Elan Lewis, Todd Nolen, Deveon Simmons, Ike Whitaker and one year contributor Stephen Friday rounded out that four star group. From 2006–2009, Tech averaged ten spots better with a 25th ranked class, coincidentally finishing with the same average for the next four year cycle from 2010–2013.
January 2014 saw the Hokies enroll four significant recruits who wanted to get a jump start on their college careers. Quarterback Andrew Ford, who many feel will give r-SR Mark Leal all he wants in spring and fall practice is in school and working to potentially gain early playing time.
Highly touted running backs Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams will attempt to give the Hokies running game a shot in the arm it so desperately needs, even though Shai will most likely red-shirt to rehab torn knee ligaments. Vinny Mihota, who was also offered by Alabama and Nick Saban is hoping to add depth to Coach Wiles’ defensive line, which loses three starters. If Tech can hang onto WR Javon Harrison who is receiving heavy interested from the reigning champs in Florida State, it will be the highest total of four star recruits in school history. Frank and company need to continue to trade punches with the big boys, and sometimes win some of those fights if we want to elevate ourselves out of the upper middle class in the ACC (currently we rank 5th) and into the elite.
This past weekend, Virginia Tech hosted many of its current commits and potential remaining targets. Many feel the Hokies will have to go down to the wire with the Seminoles for Virginia Beach’s DT Derrick Nnadi who without a doubt is tech’s top remaining target. This potential get is crucial for Tech as its DT depth is left somewhat thin with graduation and attrition. ATH Raymon Minor from Richmond is thought of as a VT lean, has yet to decide and with Nnadi, the lone remaining ranked top 15 players in the state. Florida recruits in touted WR Isaiah Ford (a Louisville de-commit when Charlie Strong departed) and DE Kevin Bronson round out the top remaining targets.
Now it's crunchtime, and we'll see what the Hokies coaching staff can do to maintain, if not improve upon a fairly decent class. Coaching up a player can only take you so far, eventually making the leap to the next level requires a higher talent base. Strong recruiting is the easiest way to get a jump start on improving the existing talent level and building the requisite depth to compete through injuries and the inevitable pockets of poor play. Virginia Tech needs every advantage it can get if it ever wants to make good on that openly mocked empty trophy case. With the playoff now a reality, and Beamer's career winding down, winning just a few of these battles could go a long way towards a happier ending for all involved.