Playing it Safe
It's fun to be on the dance card. Even if things don't work out tomorrow on National Signing Day, the activity and buzz surrounding the finishing touches on the Virginia Tech Hokies' 2014 recruiting class has been worth it. All too often, Coach Frank Beamer and his staff have opted to play it safe with recruiting, making sure they have secured their limit of commitments even when they do have a play or two left to make on signing day.
The Hokies host summer camps each year that have proved extremely productive over the last decade, and also make the most of their recruits' visits to Lane Stadium for home games in the fall. As a result they've established this routine of securing what they consider to be their base recruiting class, and then occasionally if there's mutual interest, pushing forth until signing day with a couple of top prospects. This is not to say they haven't been involved throughout the whole process with those recruits, it's just that VT wasn't counting on winning the battle for them. If VT does win these battles and is up against the limit of scholarships, they've often used the grey-shirt option and stashed players in prep school, or enrolled them the following January.
Aversion to Bad Publicity
This year, there will most assuredly be a few grey-shirts if signing day goes well. The Hokies are still in the running for four targets tomorrow, the most since the three they targeted in 2012 when they were famously spurned by Korren Kirven, who boldly stated "Roll Tide" as he committed to Alabama and Nick Saban at his dog and pony show. Kirven then proceeded to say, "I didn't know if (Tech) was the place I could achieve my goals at the end of the day." (Lynchburg News)
Beamer likes to avoid such last minute humiliations most years, because he knows how acquired a taste Blacksburg must be for the southern speed state talent he covets. This is why losing Kirven hurt, because he was from Virginia, and went to Brookville (Lynchburg), which is the same high school that VT had so much success at in plucking Logan Thomas and the former four-star Zack McCray. It is never easy to close the deal with visits to Blacksburg in January and February. The weather can be a major deterrent, the girls are all in overcoats, and nobody wants to be out in the streets until Main St. livens up later on at night. Under these circumstances how can a VT visit compete with USC-E or UGA, or God forbid, a Florida school?
National Signing Day 2012 was not only bad because of Kirven, but it appeared to have set the tone for the awful 7-6 campaign that nearly saw Tech miss it's first bowl appearance, and suffer it's first losing season since 1992. Not only did Kirven diss us publicly, but the coaching staff got into an ugly Twitter melee with a state of Florida recruit in Jawand Blue who made the mistake of flipping to Miami at the very last minute. Coach Charley Wiles, appeared to be at the end of his rope with the recruiting process, had tried to convince Blue to stay and his tweets were made public by some bush-league pseudo-journalist at the Palm Beach Post. Needless to say, it painted VT as ineffective at closing the deal. Wiles and Beamer, though, were vindicated in telling Blue that "he had homeboys at VT", when Miami coldly grey-shirted the lightly-regarded three-star. They laughed heartily this past season as they defeated Blue's Hurricanes with ease in Miami.
Before we get to the primer on this year's targets, let's examine the signing day activity from the last four seasons:
2010: No last minute activity
2011: Stephone Anthony (Clemson) and LaFonte Thouroughgood (Vanderbilt)
VT would love to have Anthony in a year where we lose both of the key LBs in Bud Foster's system, while Thouroughgood appears to have fit the ATH without a home mold. He is now at JMU trying to play QB after struggling as a RB at Vandy.
2013: Kendall Fuller (WIN!)
So not a lot of activity at all the past four years, and even when there is, there usually aren't four or five head to head, 50/50 battles with major schools at Virginia Tech, which is why tomorrow is a day to be relished.
Under the Radar Success and Still Hunting Large Game
The Hokies have four players on the table, all of whom are rated four stars. In the event that VT secures all them, that would make it a haul of 14 four star recruits or better, easily the deepest class by star rankings the Hokies ever pulled in. Even now, with the 10 four-star recruits already verbally committed, VT has achieved it's highest number. The only two years even close to that are 2012, which is deceiving in it's depth of quality, as four of the seven four-stars are no longer with the program; and the magnificent class of 2003 which had six four-stars, and was the Tidewater class many of us expected to generate year after year. That class included Xavier Adibi, Chris Ellis, and Vince Hall, among others.
Because National Signing Day operates on a schedule, we'll go in chronological order here:
8:00AM EST Derrick Nnadi Ocean Lakes (Virginia Beach, VA) DT
With just nine hours to go, all we know for sure is that Nnadi stated he had made up his mind a while ago. He visited UVA last weekend, taking his last visit. Ordinarily, I'd consider this harmless, but when Chip West (UVA's head recruiter) is involved, no recruit is safe. French National Coach Mike London may one day owe his job to West's yeoman efforts this off-season, as West took two highly-coveted 757 prospects and converted them to the dark side. Nnadi is familiar with regional rival five-star DT Andrew Brown, and five-star Safety Quin Blanding (who actually listed among his reasons for committing, that UVA was once #2 (actually #1) in the country back in '89 or '90, when he was negative six years old); hopefully those guys aren't making a convincing case in trying to poach him.
Getting Nnadi is important to our thin depth on the DL this season. He would be physically able to play immediately. And almost equally important is what he represents in the scheme of our standing in the state of Virginia. If VT doesn't sign Nnadi, they will have lost out on all but one of the top 10 players in the state, allowing for RB Marshawn Williams (#8). This is frightening to me. Mainly because Frank Beamer is getting pushed out of his six hour recruiting radius. The fact that the Hokies have had such success out of state helps to mask the stink of in-state futility, but you have to wonder why the Tidewater region has grown sour on the program. The top five players in Virginia were all on the defensive side of the ball, and if Nnadi (#4) were to sign elsewhere, then Alabama, UVA x 2 (outside shot at 3), and Ohio State will have owned VT in their most fertile recruiting ground. If UVA, signs him that'll mean they got #s two through four, perish that thought.
I'll be frank here, and allow that I don't think we are going to get Nnadi. Competing against Florida State with their present Q rating and deep talent is just too tall an order in my opinion. Late rumors (probably generated in Knoxville) state that he may shock the world and don the creamsicle. But I believe that it's a two team race, and our formidable opponent is the defending national champion Seminoles
Outlook: Negative. I'd bet 2 to 1 against us.
8:15AM EST Isaiah McKenzie American Heritage (Fort Lauderdale, FL) WR/Return Specialist
What a tease this whole experience will probably turn out to be. 247 Sports still has McKenzie as a 12% VT lean, but as of Sunday, while he was in Blacksburg, that number was 66%, which makes for quite a precipitous drop. Joystick, as he is known, was a former Notre Dame commit with a Vick family fetish, which is most likely why he chose to visit. Notre Dame went to great lengths to make sure he could qualify for their rigorous academics, but apparently it was not enough to keep him tethered to his verbal commitment.
It appears now that the front-runner is Georgia (with a 75% probability per 247), along with SEC recruiting juggernaut Hugh Freeze making a hard close. Hopefully for McKenzie, this doesn't entail him fanning Benjis in an Instagram this weekend, like a kid from Ole Miss' class did last year.
For a kid from the south, the SEC is usually the dream, and it'd be hard to begrudge him that. In the end, we might just have to lament the loss of a Tavon Austin clone, and thank him for putting our name on the marquee as even a POTENTIAL destination during the season's "busy time". Given the program's recent profile, every little bit of skin VT has in the game is a positive.
Outlook: Negative. The day is not going to start well for us tomorrow. That doesn't mean all is lost. I believe we are a 5 to 1 shot here...slightly above the 24/7 prediction.
11AM EST Raymon Minor Benedictine (Richmond) LB
While it's not uncommon for some guys to forgo the spotlight and sign at home, or in their school cafeteria sans camera, players of Minor's ilk who last this long usually do it for the limelight. Curiously, in the case of Minor, a four-star talent, no details have been released about when he might sign his letter-of-intent.
I personally wonder if it's due to the fact that he may wind up having to prep, or even wind up choosing a different school after not being able to qualify at VPI. He was interested in Nebraska and VT, but had Marshall on the back burner. I really don't know how this'll work. If he does sign with VT, he's still going to be waiting on test scores. If he doesn't get the desired results, he'd have to prep, or maybe check back in with Marshall and grey-shirt next year. VT has had some bad luck with some attrition out of the prep ranks in recent years, so counting on his commitment to remain intact through that would be premature. All this said, he has been a Hokie lean for a good while now.
Outlook: Positive. But guarded as to the end result
2:00PM EST Isaiah Ford Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville, FL) WR
Another de-commit has availed himself to be wooed by the Hokies'. And unlike the other Isaiah, this one appears to like what he sees in Blacksburg. A former Louisville verbal while Charlie Strong was in charge, Ford took up with VT when Strong took the Texas job and former coach Bobby Petrino pulled up on his hog (the neck brace at this point is purely cosmetic).
Right now 247 lists Ford as a 92% lean, which is leaner than my ground beef. I've been to Louisville anyway, and it's just a flat hellscape with a lot of able-bodied individuals riding in the slow lane on Rascals. Besides, I'm not quite sure I'd want to breathe in Yum Brands all day long. If you've ever been to a Combo Pizza Hut/Taco Bell/KFC you'll know what I mean. Some things aren't meant to be co-mingled in such tight space.
Finally, a couple of my sources (a cousin in Louisville, and a guy I chat with on Twitter who knows Louisville) seem to think that Ford is ours. Maybe he called them and let them know already, which would be the classy anti-Lebron Jame method of handling an announcement, but people on the VT side are still biting their nails. Maybe that's just our psyche. In fact I know it's our psyche.
It will prove to be a bit of a boon to get Ford though, because rumor has it that Javon Harrison, one of our other four-star WR commits is probably a last-minute flip to Florida State. The Lakeland, FL native would face stiff competition in Tallahassee from three other WR recruits, all of whom rated five stars. He is going to have a very tough night ahead of him here.
Outlook: Positive. Because we're a nervous bunch, I'd conservatively set the odds at 3 to 1 in favor of Ford signing with VT.
Looking To The Future
When we review this recruiting season when the dust settles after signing day, VT will have many successes to triumph, and will be able to trump the class's burgeoning quantity and quality. But looking back at what might have been in-state could ultimately be the prevailing theme. While it is not expected that UVA is going to arise this year as a threat to regain The Commonwealth Cup, the haul they managed to amass in the face of a 2-10 campaign is nothing short of remarkable, especially with a coach whose seat is hotter than Satan's. Hopefully, what the VT coaching staff has been able to accomplish will stem that tide, and the sheer numbers of the VT class will overwhelm the French and their few five-star legionnaires.
The goal is to get back to the top of the ACC, and VT is not that far removed. Some of the redshirt freshmen recall what it was like to participate in the ACC title game. To do that, it is going to require good personnel strategy moving forward in this transition year. This means not being hasty and playing true freshmen in the efforts to go 9-3 instead of 8-4. Coach Beamer hasn't made the best choices on red-shirts in the past, as most prominently evidenced in the 2008 Tyrod Taylor ECU fiasco, and insisting on including Justin Harper in 2004, when Eddie Royal, David Clowney, Josh Morgan, and Josh Hyman were more than adequate to VT's needs.
Finally though, as a Hokie fan you must admit, it's nice that Beamer is playing the game to the wire on some big names with some attention on the program. The few successes measured against the many failures is how the big programs get to the next level. If VT was in the mix every year for four or five big targets, I'll gladly eat my share of humble pie when an unworldly 18 year old chooses the wrong hat. When the program is in a recession, you take all the free advertising you can get.