Under Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech has become well known for its ability to develop lightly recruited prospects into valuable starters. As the years have passed, the four and five-star recruits have popped up more frequently, but nowhere near the rate at schools like Texas, Florida, and USC.
In 2005, Virginia Tech’s recruiting class was ranked 14th in the country according to rivals.com.
Using the site’s five star system (five stars being very highly touted, one star being scarcely recruited), the Hokies pulled in one five-star, five four-stars, 14 three-stars, and five two-star recruits.
On both ends of the spectrum, the Hokies proved that rating system to be as accurate as a blind man playing darts.
Of the six players who came to Tech as at least a four-star player, only one player made any impact during his career. Victor "Macho" Harris was the gem of the class, ranked as the third best "athlete" in the nation.
After a breakout junior season where he intercepted five passes and also returned a kick for a touchdown, the NFL draft seemed to be too big of a calling for Harris to turn down. He originally declared himself eligible, before having a change of heart and deciding to return to school.
It proved to be a great decision. With six interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, Harris was named a first team All-American and led the Hokies to their first-ever BCS bowl victory, a 20-7 win over Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl.
The five four-star recruits from the class of 2005 all failed to live up to the standard set by Harris. Do the names Ike Whitaker, Deveon Simmons, Stephen Friday, Todd Nolen, and Elan Lewis ring a bell? They shouldn’t, because they combined for only one start during their careers.
Whitaker is easily the most familiar name among the group. He was recruited to be the next great quarterback at Tech with 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash and a strong arm. However, inability to learn the offense kept him buried on the depth chart early in his career.
That was not what kept the world-class athlete off the field entirely, however. Several battles with alcoholism plagued Whitaker throughout his career. In December 2006, he checked into a rehabilitation center and missed the Hokies’ bowl game in Atlanta against Georgia.
He returned the following season and moved to receiver, where he was expected to develop for a season behind future pros Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, and Justin Harper before becoming an impact player in 2008. The transition was apparently smooth, and Whitaker was the top flanker on the depth chart in August 2008.
He started the season opener against East Carolina. He caught three passes in that game, and lost his starting position the following week.
In early October, Whitaker was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, and subsequently never played for Tech again.
Nolen and Simmons both never set foot on the Tech campus as students.
Within a month of national signing day in 2005, Nolen was charged with maiming and attempted robbery following an incident at his high school.
Simmons, a promising linebacker, was named the Beach District’s defensive player of the year, an impressive honor considering the wealth of talent in that area. Drugs and bar fights cost him his chance to play for the Hokies.
Lewis never emerged out of a crowded backfield. Brandon Ore, Kenny Lewis, and Jahre Cheeseman all overshadowed Lewis, who never carried the ball in his sophomore season. Following the Hokies 24-21 loss to Kansas in the 2008 Orange Bowl, Lewis transferred to Delaware State.
According to the official 2008 and 2009 statistics, Lewis never carried the ball for the Hornets, either.
Stephen Friday is the lone four-star recruit to make it through his career as a member of the Hokies’ program. He was undersized for a defensive end at 215 lbs. when he came to Tech, which was his biggest obstacle in finding the field early in his career.
He spent the 2008 and 2009 seasons as the backup to Jason Worilds. With Worilds’ departure to the NFL after his junior season, all signs point to Friday taking over the starting spot just in time for his senior season in 2010.
The three-star recruits are typically what Tech fills its roster with, and with the most success. 2005 was no exception. Future all-conference players like Virgil, tight end Greg Boone, and tackle Ed Wang were three-stars. All three of those players are expected to be in NFL training camps this summer.
Other significant contributors that were three-stars are Sam Wheeler, who started at tight end in 2006 and 2007 before tearing his ACL, effectively ending a promising career. Also Kenny Jefferson, the starting fullback in 2009, and Cam Martin, who started at whip linebacker before nagging knee injuries sidelined him for much of his final two seasons.
The biggest three-star recruit of all, however, would be offensive guard Sergio Render. Out of Newnan, Ga., Render started all four years for Tech, and was named All-ACC three times. He anchored the offensive line for much of his career, and leaves Tech as one of the greatest lineman in program history.
Dorian Porch and Demetrius Taylor both made significant contributions during their careers. Porch split time at rover with Davon Morgan as a junior and senior, while Taylor worked his way into the starting defensive tackle position as a senior in 2009.
Two-star recruits are widely considered to be future role players with little hope of being featured starters during their careers. Not so at Tech, though. Three two-star recruits from the 2005 class found the field early and often for the Hokies.
Brent Bowden became one of the best punters in the country, and was named All-ACC as a senior. Cordarrow Thompson started all 27 games on the defensive line in his final two seasons. He finished his career with 6.5 sacks, including three as a junior.
Richard Graham also started on the offensive line at times during the 2007 and 2008 season. He was relegated to spot duty as a senior, but still made strong contributions throughout his career.
Out of the 25 players to sign letters of intent to play for the Hokies in 2005, only 14 made it to their senior seasons with the program. Those that managed to complete their careers at Tech all had a helping hand in keeping the run of ACC dominance intact.
Of the 11 players that found the expectations at Tech to be too high, many of them leave Hokie fans wondering what could have been had they all lived up to their potential.