"Losing" Virginia: Does It Matter?

Chris Graythen

With the book closed on the 2014 recruiting classes and the neverending negativity surrounding Virginia Tech’s inability to lure the top Virginia prospects to Blacksburg, let’s check in on the Hokies’ in-state hits and “whiffs” of recent years.

2013

#1: Derrick Green – Running Back, Hermitage H.S. (Michigan); Rivals 5*

  • Though Green listed Virginia Tech in his top 6 in August of his senior year, he seemingly started smelling himself once he was named Rivals’ #1 Running Back in the nation and the "big boy" programs came calling. His recruiter, Shane Beamer, wasn’t able to gain much traction here.

So Far…

Green showed up in Ann Arbor a 5-11, 240 bowling ball and injured his ankle shortly thereafter. But, he was promoted to the backup running back job behind r-Sr. Fitzgerald Toussaint when r-Fr. Drake Johnson tore his ACL against Central Michigan. As the season went on, Green lost carries to true freshman De’Veon Smith, and only managed 270 yds for 2 TD’s on 83 carries for the season. Wolverine fans are already talking "bust," but Green has the chance to prove himself as he competes for the starting job in 2014.

#2: Jonathan Allen –Defensive End, Stone Bridge H.S. (Alabama); Rivals 5*

  • Born in Alabama, Allen stated in interviews that he grew up a Tide fan. VT made his top 5 and was his favored in-state school, but this one was over early, as Allen committed May of his junior year.

So Far…

Allen played in Tuscaloosa as a true freshman at reserve defensive end, managing 15 tackles, 3 TFL, 0.5 sacks, and 1 FF in 2013. He is currently slated to begin 2014 at the same position, though he could challenge Jr. Jeoffrey Pagan for playing time in the spring.

#3: Christian Hackenberg – Quarterback, FUMA (Penn State); Rivals 5*

  • Stating in a Rivals interview that he wanted a college who had an offensive coordinator with NFL experience, Hackenberg eliminated the Hokies very early in the process and committed to the Nittany Lions in February of his junior year.

So Far…

Under the direction of QB coach extraordinaire Bill O’Brien, Hackenberg became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Nittany Lions since 1911. (Joe-Pa’s rookie coaching year?) Starting all 12 games, he went 231/392 passing for 2,955 yds, 20 TD’s, and 10 INT. Despite O’Brien bolting back to the pro ranks to coach the Houston Texans, Hackenberg will remain in College Park and almost certainly captain the Nittany Lions moving forward.

#4: Taquan Mizzell – Running Back, Bayside H.S. (Virginia); Rivals 5*

  • Seeing as Mizzell attended UVA pipeline Bayside and was involved with both the 757 Sports Academy and the Virginia Thoroughbreds, to say VT had no chance here would be an understatement. For more information on UVA’s relationship with both the Academy and the ‘Breds, check out this recent article from the Virginian-Pilot.

So Far…

Mizzell  was one of 12 UVA true freshman to see time in 2013. (Seriously, does London redshirt anyone?) For the season, he rushed 45 times for 184 yds and 1 TD, caught 29 passes for 164 yds and 1 TD, and returned 21 kicks for 347 yds, an average of 16.5 per attempt. In 2014, Mizzell again looks to be in a backfield timeshare with r-Jr’s. Kevin Parks and Khalek Shepherd.

#8: E.J. Levenberry – Linebacker, C.D. Hylton H.S. (Florida State); Rivals 4*

  • Levenberry transferred to Hylton from Maryland power private school Dematha just before his senior year, so I have a hard time considering him a legitimate Virginia prospect. He (and his father) made it very clear from the beginning that they would be chasing the "big boy" programs. With FSU linebacker Jeff Luc mentoring him, it’s no surprise Levenberry made the call for the Noles.

So Far…

Levenberry played for the Noles as a true freshman, managing 39 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FF, and a 78-yard INT returned for a TD against Idaho. He earned a BCS National Championship ring with the Noles’ victory over SEC champion Auburn. As a 2014 sophomore, Levenberry will look to compete with r-So. Terrance Smith for the starting mike linebacker job.

Hokie Top 10 Grabs

#5: Wyatt Teller –Defensive End, Liberty H.S. (Rivals 4*)

Wyatt made the transition to offensive line in 2013 due to a lack of depth. Many actually felt he had a higher upside on the offensive line than on defense. He redshirted last season and looks to figure in the two-deep for 2014.

#6: Holland Fisher –Defensive Back, Manchester H.S. (Rivals 4*)

Holland successfully prepped at Fork Union Military Academy (FUMA) in 2013, was admitted to Virginia Tech, signed his letter of intent (LOI), and is set to enroll in May. Big things are expected from Fisher, a former Under Armour All-American who turned heads at Nike’s "The Opening".

#10 Bucky Hodges –Quarterback, Salem H.S. (Rivals 4*)

Bucky redshirted in 2013, working at both scout team quarterback and tight end. With two highly-touted early enrollees in Ford and Durkin, as well as McMillian, it’s likely that he will fully make the move to tight end. Personally, I think he has a HUGE amount of potential there (think UNC’s Eric Ebron).

**Out of the 2013 Rivals Virginia Postseason Top 30, the Hokies also picked up Rivals 3* prospects: #13 Andrew Motuapuaka, #16 Braxton Pfaff, #17 Daniel Reid, #18 Cequan Jefferson (prepped, committed to Temple), #23 David Prince, #27 Deon Newsome, #28 Charles Clark, and #30 Parker Osterloh.

2012

#1: Eli Harold – Defensive End, Ocean Lakes H.S. (Virginia); Rivals 4*

  • Another 757 recruit connected with the current shadiness in the Tidewater area, Harold played on a youth team coached by Lee Snead, UVA DB Tre Nicholson’s godfather, alleged "street agent," and VERY vocal VT hater. Harold never gave VT a true shot and chose to take his talents to Charlottesville. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

So Far…

Harold started (surprise, surprise) all 12 games at defensive end for the Hoos in 2012, posting solid stats and continuing that trend in his 2013 sophomore campaign. In two seasons, Harold has racked up an impressive 87 tackles, 22 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 1 INT, and 3 FF. A 2014 junior, he certainly appears to be on track to play on Sundays; however, he will likely have to transition from DE to OLB at the next level and that shift has been a career-killer for many productive college defensive ends.

#2: Alex Carter –Defensive Back, Briar Woods H.S. (Stanford); Rivals 4*

  • The son of former Notre Dame star DB and NFL vet Tom Carter, Alex had reportedly planned on attending Stanford from a young age. He seemed intrigued by the Hokies and DB Coach Torrian Gray, but ultimately stuck with his dream and headed to Palo Alto.

So Far…

Carter started the last 7 games of the Cardinal’s season as a true freshman and posted impressive stats during that time. He has continued to impress since, and has tallied 104 tackles, 4 TFL, and 1 INT in two Pac-12 seasons. Carter is set to continue his success at starting CB in 2014 as a junior and currently looks like a rising star with NFL potential.

#4: Kwontie Moore –Linebacker, Norfolk Christian School (Virginia); Rivals 4*

  • Moore was a part of the notorious NCS "package deal" that toured Virginia during the spring/summer of 2011. According to message board lore, the four NCS recruits (Moore, DE Courtnye Wynne, WR Mario Nixon, and DB Will Wahee) had pledged to play together at the college level. All received a VT offer but Wahee, who the Hokies said was not a Division I player. UVA came through with an offer for Wahee, and all four NCS guys ended up in Hooville.

So Far…

Moore played as a true freshman (shocker), seeing most of his snaps on special teams. His sophomore season, he lit up UVA’s stat book to the tune of 4 tackles. Though listed at 6-2, 250, he also got some snaps at defensive tackle, as London—ever the innovator—tried to "find ways to get guys in the game". He suffered a season ending injury and, according to Andy Hilton of recruit757, "Coach London did not disclose the nature of Moore’s medical condition, but stated that the staff had decided to remedy his medical situation rather than use a year of eligibility by playing him in any remaining games, considering that the Cavaliers have no opportunity for a postseason bowl this year."

#7: Korren Kirven –Defensive Tackle, Brookville H.S. (Alabama ); Rivals 4*

  • Hokienation was stunned when Kirven, a product of the same high school as Hokies Logan Thomas and Zack McCray, made the call for the Tide on National Signing Day. The word on the street is that his father really wanted him to "take advantage" of his Alabama offer.

So Far…

Kirven redshirted in ’12, managed 4 tackles in ’13, and enters his r-So. 2014 season projected as 3rd team nose tackle. He was a (redshirt) part of the Alabama squad that won the 2012 BCS National Championship.

#10: Win Homer –Offensive Lineman, Christchurch School (Boston College); Rivals 4*

  • Though VT was solidly in Homer’s final 3, the combination of family ties to New England and BC’s reputation for churning out quality o-linemen was too much to overcome.

So Far…

Homer redshirted his first year at BC and did not appear in the Eagles’ two-deep at any position for 2013. BC has a passel of young linemen; Homer may be looking at a career standing on the sideline if he doesn’t progress quickly.

Hokie Top 10 Grabs

#3: Joel Caleb –Athlete, Clover Hill H.S. (Rivals 4*)

Joel worked at WR while he redshirted in 2012; however, he moved from receiver to RB in fall camp prior to the 2013 season. For the season, he finished with 8 carries for 41 yds and a TD, which came against Western Carolina. With two incoming 2014 running backs enrolling early, it will be interesting to see whether he sticks in the backfield or transitions back to WR.

#5: J.C. Coleman –Running Back, Oscar Smith H.S. (Rivals 4*)

J.C. did not redshirt his freshman year and will enter the 2014 season as a true junior. His sophomore season was heavily hampered by both injuries and an ineffective run game. For his career, he has rushed for 776 yds on 193 carries and 3 TD’s, and caught 32 passes for 211 yds and 1 TD. Some would argue that J.C’s biggest contribution to date is getting our foot back in Oscar Smith, who traditionally produces quite a bit of next-level talent in the 757.

#6: Deon Clarke –Linebacker, L.C. Bird H.S. (Rivals 4*)

Deon also did not redshirt and will be a true junior in the fall. Evidently, the proverbial light has yet to come on for him, as he has been passed over on the depth chart by a walk-on and/or an underclassman and his career has consisted of mostly special teams play to this point.

#8: Ken Ekanem –Linebacker, Centreville H.S. (Rivals 4*)

Ken redshirted his first year in Blacksburg before spending 2013 backing up J.R. Collins and Dadi Nicolas at defensive end.  He will certainly figure into the two-deep there moving forward.

#9: Trey Edmunds –Linebacker, Dan River H.S. (Rivals 4*)

Coming out of high school, many were split on where Edmunds would line up for the Hokies. He spent his redshirt year learning RB and broke out in the 2013 season opener against defending national champion Alabama, where he rushed for 132 yards on 20 carries and became only the 13th running back to break the 100-yard mark against the Tide since 2005. He managed 675 yds on the season before suffering a nasty broken leg vs. UVA in the regular season finale. Certainly Trey will figure in the battle for the RB job when he is completely healed.

**Out of the 2012 Rivals Virginia Postseason Top 30, the Hokies also picked up Rivals 3* prospects: #11 Devin Vandyke, #14 Augie Conte, #15 Nigel Williams, #17 Dakota Jackson, #20 Brendan Motley, #21 Desmond Frye, #24 Alston Smith, #28 Seth Dooley, and #29 Jerome Wright—quite an impressive in-state haul for the home team.

2011

#1: Curtis Grant –Linebacker, Hermitage H.S. (Ohio State); Rivals 5*

  • Curtis was reportedly turned against VT when he was knocked down a few pegs by VT coach Jim Cavanaugh after he let the "Rivals #1 Inside Linebacker" title go to his head and asserted he was only going to play three years in college before jumping to the NFL. After that exchange, the Hokies had precisely zero shot with Grant, and he ultimately chose Ohio State over Florida in a close race.

So Far…

After three seasons in Columbus, Grant (shockingly) has not declared for the NFL Draft, as was his original plan. In fact, he has had quite a disappointing career for the Buckeyes, only tallying 62 tackles, 3.5 TFL, and 2 sacks to date. He enters his 2014 senior season with highly-touted Rivals 5* #1 inside linebacker prospect Raekwon McMillan breathing down his neck for playing time.

#2: Demetrious Nicholson –Defensive Back, Bayside H.S. (Virginia); Rivals 4*

  • Somehow, Nicholson was never able to get a ride to Blacksburg for a visit but always managed to find one anytime he wanted to visit other schools. Nicholson was a virtual UVA lock from the get-go, though he did flirt with North Carolina a little bit along the way. (See Eli Harold above regarding Lee Snead, Nicholson’s "Godfather".)

So Far…

As allegedly promised, Nicholson started all 13 games as a true freshman in 2011. (As a matter of fact, he was 1 of 12 true freshmen to see the field for UVA that season.) He manned that spot until suffering a season-ending injury in the Hoos’ 48-27 loss against Ball State. In three seasons, he has notched 136 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 FF, 3 INT, and 29 PBU. Nicholson enters his final season of eligibility in 2014.

#3: Landon Turner –Offensive Lineman, Harrisonburg H.S. (North Carolina); Rivals 4*

  • Turner’s recruitment was perhaps an epitome of Butch Davis’s tenure in Chapel Hill. I’ll just put a few statements out there and you can draw your own conclusions. 1. VT was Turner’s runner-up and were long favored by his family in Virginia. 2. Allegedly, West Turner, Landon’s biological father, was offered a job in Chapel Hill during Landon’s recruitment that would naturally include a salary increase. 3. Of course, the job was allegedly conditional to Landon committing to UNC. 4. Landon committed to UNC. 5. West Turner left his then job.  Something smells…

So Far…

Turner redshirted in 2011, and took over a starting position late in his r-So. season. He was a full-timer on the UNC offensive line in 2013 at right guard and was one of its most consistently productive members, grading out above 82% regularly. In 2014, he will likely maintain his starting position as a r-Jr.

#4: Travis Hughes –Linebacker, Kempsville H.S. (North Carolina); Rivals 4*

  • Once rumored to be a "silent" commitment to the Hokies, Hughes also bought into the Butch Davis hype and, despite the beginning of the NCAA investigation into UNC, decided to make the call for the Heels over the Hokies.

So Far…

Hughes played for the Heels right away, posting modest stats as a freshman and better stats as a sophomore before taking over the starting job as a junior in 2013. Last season, he racked up 76 tackles, 5.5 TFL, and 1 sack before missing the Belk Bowl due to injury. In late January, he Hughes found himself in legal trouble after a bout with a campus parking attendant and was suspended from the team, pending assault charges. He will be a senior in 2014.

#5: Dominique Terrell –Athlete, Osbourn H.S. (Virginia); Rivals 4*

  • Long considered a VT lean, the Hokies allegedly pulled Terrell’s offer after he (unallegedly) threw an embarrassing, selfish, sideline tantrum during Osbourn’s playoff loss his senior season. He opted for UVA over WVU.

So Far…

One of the biggest question marks surrounding Terrell was where to put him on the field due to his size (listed at 5-11, 170). VT had reportedly planned to use him on defense; UVA elected to use him at receiver. Of course, he didn’t redshirt, and in three seasons for the Cavaliers, has gained 641 yds and 1 TD on 60 catches and 24 yds on 2 carries. 2014 will be his senior season.


Hokie Top 10 Grabs

#7: Corey Marshall –Defensive End, Dinwiddie H.S. (Rivals 4*)

Corey saw action in 14 games as a true freshman and 13 as a sophomore at both defensive tackle/defensive end. Oddly, he left the team for three weeks over "personal reasons" (presumably displeasure with either his position or position on the depth chart) in fall camp, before returning and using 2013 as his redshirt season. He will enter 2014 as a r-Jr and also one of the Hokies’ biggest question marks moving forward.

#8: Ronny Vandyke –Defensive Back, South County H.S. (Rivals 4*)

Ronny reportedly impressed upon his arrival in 2011 before a preseason injury forced him to redshirt. In 2012, he saw action in every game on both defense and special teams. He was all set to man the starting outside linebacker slot until he suffered yet another preseason injury, this one costing him the entire season. He looks to compete with Josh Trimble and Derek DiNardo for that job in 2014.

**Out of the 2011 Rivals Virginia Postseason Top 30, the Hokies also picked up Rivals 3* prospects: #17 Jake Goins, #21 Michael Cole, #24 Chris Hall (prepped, now at Virginia Union), #25 Michael Holmes (legal trouble, dismissed from VT), and #29 Dewayne Alford.

2010

#1: Ego "J.R." Ferguson –Defensive End, Hargrave Military Academy (LSU); Rivals 4*

  • Originally from Florida, Maryland transplant Ferguson attended St. John’s Catholic Prep in Frederick, MD before transferring to Hargrave Military Academy for his senior year. He barely gave the Hokies a sniff before committing on NSD to LSU.

So Far…

Ferguson redshirted as a freshman and was mildly productive his next two seasons before becoming a full-time starter in 2013. He finished the season with 58 tackles, 3.5 TFL and 1 Sack, on the way to honorable mention All-SEC honors. He declared for the 2014 NFL Draft and ranks as Mel Kiper’s 4th rated underclassman DT.

#2: Philip Sims –Quarterback, Oscar Smith H.S. (Alabama); Rivals 4*

  • Sims attended Oscar Smith in Chesapeake, a school that VT had no "ins" with until J.C. Coleman’s commitment. Sims gave Virginia Tech but a cursory look before heading south to Alabama.

So Far…

After redshirting as a freshman, Sims competed for the Tide’s starting QB job with A.J. McCarron. After losing out, somehow was granted a transfer waiver by the NCAA and transferred to join Mike London’s QB Circus in Charlottesville. There, he split time with (better) QB Michael Rocco before finding himself academically ineligible in 2013. Sims transferred to Division II Winston Salem State and will be eligible in 2014.

#3: Justin Hunter –Wide Receiver, Ocean Lakes H.S. (Tennessee); Rivals 4*

  • Hunter, a lean 6-4 speedster, sought out a school where he could display both his football talents as well as his track talents as a long jumper. He was never a fan of the Stinespring offense, and when the SEC came sniffing, off he went to Tennessee.

So Far…

Hunter started at WR as a true freshman in two games for the Vols and led the team in average yards per catch with 25.9. In his three seasons in Knoxville, he racked up 1,812 yards for 18 TD’s on 106 catches. Hunter declared for the NFL Draft early, and was selected in the 2nd round as the 34th overall pick by the Tennessee Titans. Since, he has been suspended by the team multiple times for violation of team rules, but has shown flashes of brilliance among his reported immaturity.

#4: Quinton Spain –Offensive Lineman, Petersburg H.S. (West Virginia); Rivals 4*

  • Spain was a mountain of a prospect at 6-5, 330, but also had academic issues that limited his collegiate options. WVU got in on him early, and he was ultimately lured to Morgantown by former 757 high school coach and charismatic recruiter Chris Beatty.

So Far…

Spain has been a reliable protector for Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith, as well as the carousel of no one special they had under center in 2013. With his size and skill level, Spain is definitely an NFL prospect, but in December, he elected to return to Morgantown for his senior season.

#7: Travis Williams –Linebacker, Lake Taylor H.S. (Miami); Rivals 4*

  • Having visited a few times, Williams was very familiar with Virginia Tech and its players, but seemed intent on heading out of state and the Hokies didn’t even make his top six. He ultimately ended up at his "dream school," Miami.

So Far…

Williams redshirted as a Hurricane and found himself involved in an "incident" that "may have involved marijuana" and was suspended by then-head coach Randy Shannon for the 2012 season opener. Saying he "didn’t like being targeted as a drug user," Williams transferred to FCS Youngstown State, where he has had a solidly productive career at weakside linebacker.

Hokie Top 10 Grabs

#5: Zack McCray –Defensive End, Brookville H.S. (Rivals 4*)

Hokienation was thrilled when Zack, the much ballyhooed Rivals 100 cousin of Quarterback Logan Thomas, pledged to VT over offers from Lane Kiffin at Tennessee and LSU’s Les Miles, among plenty of others. He never made a ripple—let alone a splash—in Blacksburg, hopping from defensive end to tight end before ending up firmly planted on the bench. To his credit, Zack did graduate from VT in only three years, but will not be returning to the Hokie football team in 2014.

#6: Nick Dew –Defensive Back, First Colonial H.S. (Rivals 4*)

With a reputation as a human missile, Nick had a ton of potential in the LPD at whip linebacker. Sadly, that potential was never realized as he spent his time in the ‘Burg almost exclusively on special teams before finding himself buried on the depth chart and ultimately deciding to transfer. Reportedly, he transferred to the University of Dubuque, a Division III school in Iowa; however, there are no stats for him there.

#8: Mark Shuman –Offensive Lineman, FUMA (Rivals 4*)

The son of FUMA coach John Shuman and the taller, reportedly more talented brother of former Hokie interior lineman Danny Shuman, Mark has also disappointed since arriving in Blacksburg, both due to underperformance and injury. He will be a r-Sr. in 2014 and can hopefully impress incoming o-line coach Stacy Searles this offseason.

#9: Nick Acree –Defensive Tackle, FUMA (Rivals 4*)

A weight room warrior, Nick arrived at VT with high expectations from Hokienation. After bouncing around from defensive line to offensive line and back again to defense, Acree suffered a second torn ACL and a second torn meniscus. He received a medical disqualification from the NCAA and gave up football, but remained on scholarship at Virginia Tech.

**Out of the 2010 Rivals Virginia Postseason Top 30, the Hokies also picked up Rivals 3* prospects: #13 Chase Williams, #14 Caleb Ferris, #15 Brian Laiti (left VT in 2012), #16 Matt Arkema, #27 Derrick Hopkins, and #29 Dominique Patterson (left VT in 2012).

Observations

The first thing that jumps out to me is what a gaping roster hole the incoming 2010 class proved to be! Poor talent evaluation? If the Hokies’ staff was fooled, so were all major recruiting services. How do you have four (FOUR!!!) Rivals 4* Top 10 in-state prospects—two of them Rivals 250 guys—ALL turn out to be busts? And beyond those, out of Virginia’s top 30, only Hopkins, Ferris, and Williams have contributed at all, and Williams nearly all on special teams or as a reserve. Beyond those guys, most of the others in that class transferred out of VT. This obviously plays a huge part in our current lack of depth, particularly at DL and LB. On a bright note, that class did include Kyle Fuller. He, Detrick Bonner, Farris, and Hopkins are the only members of 2010’s 19-member class to see any meaningful on-field time.

That’s just sad.

You can’t really count Levenberry or Ferguson as Virginia prospects, as both popped up in-state just before their senior seasons and were dead set on heading out of state from the get-go. The Travises (Williams and Hughes) would have seemingly been a great fit in the LPD, but Williams went to his "dream school" and Hughes bought in to being a part of one of ol’ Butchie’s hallmark classes. Grant had an ego problem and thought he was too good for Blacksburg—that’s more operator error on Grant’s part than a lack of effort by Coach Cav and the VT staff. It certainly would’ve been nice to get big boys Turner and Spain, but Spain was never getting into VT and the whole Turner situation smelled worse than springtime on a farm. You can’t blame the Hokies for not wanting to get involved with that situation or whatever shadiness might be happening down in the 757 with the Academy & Co—Beamer will NEVER compromise the program’s integrity for a few backroom deals for blue chip recruits and he has proven that on many, many occasions over the years.

Some of these guys (Hackenberg, Hunter), Tech had zero chance with because of the state of the offense and lack of an actual, marketable offensive system. That has since changed; had Loeffler and Moorehead been on staff for their recruitment, VT would certainly have stood much more of a chance with them. Interestingly, of all VT’s misses, nearly twice as many have come on the defensive side of the ball. That’s just mind-boggling. I just can’t understand how on Earth a defensive recruit from the state of Virginia could not want to play for Bud Foster. However, though the "box players" are fleeing from VA, Coach Gray is holding his guys down, letting only Nicholson (0% chance) and Carter (dream school) seep through the cracks. That in addition to picking up key out of state players—quite an impressive job by Coach Gray.

Have the Hokies truly lost anything by "losing the state"? I'm not saying abandon Virginia; obviously, you want to maintain a good relationship with all Virginia high school coaches in case the next Michael Vick strolls through their doors. But from a productivity standpoint, have the Hokies really missed out on anyone special? For the 2012 and 2013 VA boys, it’s obviously too soon to tell. The argument could certainly be made that in 2010 and 2011, they didn’t, as none of those guys have gone and set the world on fire anywhere.  The best way to lure recruits to Blacksburg is and will always be by winning football games. As soon as VT gets back to that and becomes "shiny" again (and I’m NOT talking about our recent helmet ridiculousness here), the big fish will turn their heads back toward us. Unless they’re involved with the 757 Sports Academy, that is.

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