Virginia Tech Football Recruiting Booms and Busts

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

College football recruiting is a big deal in the modern era and the Hokies have had plenty of hits and misses. Just how much can you tell from those recruiting rankings anyway?

Recruiting is a wildly inexact science and in recent years, it's become big business. There's no shortage or player evaluation services out there and ESPN has wall-to-wall coverage of national signing day.  Star ratings are useful in so far as they give fans and the media something to talk about during the dark days between early January and spring football, but they don't tell the whole story.

The Hokies have made a living out of sending lightly recruited players to the NFL. The program has won a lot of games with good but not great recruiting classes, at least according to the services evaluating them.  I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at some of the under the radar recruits Virginia Tech specializes in and contrast that with some of the high profile recruits who failed to live up to the hype that surrounded them coming out of high school.

Hidden Gems

It's become much more difficult to find highly talented recruits that other major programs are unaware of, but the Hokies have a strong track record of making the most of overlooked players.

Pierson Prioleau- 1995

Prioleau didn't sign with the Hokies until March of 1995 and was largely an afterthought. Frank Beamer said at the time, "He fills a couple of needs. He could be a backup tailback or a defensive back." As it turned out, Prioleau went on to be a terrific Rover at Tech and went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL as a defensive back.

Michael Hawkes- 1995

While he wasn't ranked in the top 25 recruits in Virginia, The Roanoke Times did name him their sleeper of the year. That proved to me true as the linebacker became an integral part of the defense, starting for the 1999 unit that helped lead the Hokies to the national championship game.

Nick Sorenson- 1996

Sorenson came to Tech as a quarterback and was asked to do a lot more. Before his time was done he started games at quarterback, whip linebacker and free safety for the Hokies. He became a 10-year special teams player in the NFL and just won a Super Bowl as the assistant special teams coach for the Seattle Seahawks.

André Davis- 1997

The wide receiver from upstate New York was a high school track star and also played soccer. He didn't play football until his junior year. The Hokies offered Davis a scholarship and watched him blossom into a major big play threat, becoming one of the favorite targets of Michael Vick. He played 8 seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver and kick returner. Davis is tied for the NFL record for longest touchdown reception (99 yards) with 12 other players.

Willie Pile- 1998

Rated the 31st best prospect in Virginia by The Roanoke Times, Pile became one of Tech's most skilled and hardest hitting defensive backs ever. He made 14 interceptions in his career and led the Big East in interception return yardage in 2002. He was selected in the 2003 NFL draft played two seasons in the league.

Jake Grove- 1998

Grove committed very early to the Hokies, pledging the summer before his senior season when he was largely unknown. He was rated as the 20th best Virginia prospect by The Roanoke Times. At Tech, Grove developed a reputation as an extremely physical lineman with a mean streak. He won the Rimington Trophy, given to the top center in the country, his senior year in Blacksburg and was also a consensus All-American. He was selected in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.

Ernest Wilford- 1999

Largely an afterthought tight end recruit from Fork Union Military Academy, Wilford turned into a great wide receiver for the Hokies. He set a school record with 279 receiving yards in a triple overtime loss at Syracuse in 2002 and finished with over 2,000 yards in his four years at Tech. Wilford went on to play 7 years as a tight end and wide receiver in the NFL.

James Anderson- 2001

Anderson was ranked the #26 player in the Commonwealth according to both The Roanoke Times and SuperPrep. He was however considered the #8 linebacker in the Atlantic region by PrepStar and had a scholarship offer from Tennessee. Still, he became a very solid player recording over 200 tackles in his Hokie career. Anderson was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers where he played for 7 seasons before signing with the Chicago Bears. This season he led the Bears in tackles and became the first player to wear the number 50 since it was made famous by Hall of Famer Mike Singletary.

Aaron Rouse- 2002

Rouse was considered a 2-star safety prospect out of Virginia Beach. He used his size and strength to become a feared defender over the middle, intercepting four passes at Tech. He was selected in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. Rouse played in 41 games with the Packers and New York Giants, starting 18. He had a career long 99-yard interception return for a touchdown in 2008.

Kam Chancellor- 2006

Most schools looked at Chancellor as a safety, but the Hokies gave the 2-star recruit a chance at quarterback before moving him to defense. Obviously, Kam turned out to be a terrific defender with six career interceptions at Tech and was drafted by Seattle in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He's become a true star as a member of the "Legion of Boom",  the best secondary in the NFL.

Wayward Stories

Not every career has a happy ending. Few make it to the professional ranks and the reasons are many. Injuries, poor choices, lack of skill or some combination can all lead to a prospect not panning out.

Camm Jackson- 1997

Jackson was high school teammates with Tech star defensive lineman David Pugh and both were highly thought of coming into college. Unfortunately, Jackson suffered a serious knee injury when he first arrived at Tech. He returned out of shape and never played for the Hokies, eventually getting himself into loads of legal trouble stemming from a series of forged checks and probation violations.

Marlan Hicks- 1998

Hicks was rated the top defensive lineman in the ACC region by PrepStar when he signed with the Hokies. The 4-star recruit instead ended up attending Marshall University where he played defensive tackle, but never cracked the starting lineup for the Thundering Herd. He did manage to play in Lane Stadium when Marshall visited for Thursday night game in 2002.

Andrae Harrison- 1999

A former high school teammate of Michael Vick's at Warwick High School, Harrison followed his QB to Blacksburg where he hoped to continue hooking up for big plays in the passing game. Harrison was a 4-star recruit and rated the no. 5 wide receiver in the nation by The Sporting News. After redshirting a season, he found himself buried on the depth chart and transferred closer to home to Norfolk State University. After just five weeks there, he left school for personal reasons and later resurfaced at Florida A&M where he finished his career with modest numbers.

Marcus Vick- 2002

Everyone knows this cautionary tale so I won't drag us back through all of it. The quick version is Vick was tremendously talented and showed lots of potential during his one season as the starting quarterback of the Hokies. He was undone as so many are by unbridled hubris and crippling immaturity. Frank Beamer gave him far too many chances after several disciplinary issues both on and off the field and he was finally kicked out of school. He went undrafted, signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins and was cut during preseason.

Michael Hinton- 2003

Hinton was an athlete with ability on both sides of the ball. The 4-star recruit was the 19th best defensive back in the country according to Scout.com and the Hokies got his commitment over offers from Florida State and Louisville. He redshirted his first season at Tech and was kicked off the team after several off field issues including punching someone at a McDonald's. He transferred to Ohio where he played sparingly before being dismissed from that team as well. He found his way to Minnesota State Mankato (Division II) where he only played in seven games due to an issue with his transfer papers. Last year, Hinton and his cousin were charged with first-, second- and third degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder as well as firearms violations in Pottstown, PA. The trial is bizarre and ongoing.

Tripp Carroll- 2003

Thought to be one of the top offensive lineman in the nation, Carroll had tremendous size and football smarts. He was rated the no. 7 overall offensive guard by Rivals.com and both Rivals and Scout.com rated him a 4-star recruit. He was a workout warrior from the start but after redshirting, played mostly on special teams in his first season. Carroll developed compartment syndrome in his left leg forcing him to miss spring practice in 2005. He never really did anything after that and lettered just two seasons before leaving the program.

Aaron Brown- 2006

Brown was a major pick up for Virginia Tech. He was recruited by just about every major program and he chose the Hokies over the likes of Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida State, Auburn, Oklahoma and many others. The Ohio native came to Tech with tremendous size (6'6", 300). He was the kind of recruit people affix the dreaded "can't miss" label to and it just wasn't meant to be. He struggled with a litany of injuries in addition to the fact he wasn't a good pass blocker and only showed flashes in run game.

Final Thoughts

There are many other stories out there, both good and bad, but these are some of the more important ones. The Hokies have done very well coaching up players perceived to be inferior, but there have been plenty of disappointments along the way too.

Recruiting rankings and player evaluations are interesting to look at and give a general overview of the recruiting landscape, but they aren't an indication of future success.

Players no one thought much of can become NFL studs and those 4 and 5-star recruits can get hurt or make stupid decisions some Saturday night and never be heard from again.

Like the NCAA commercials say, "Most of our athletes go pro in something other than sports."

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