If you're a Gobbler Country geezer like myself, you should remember my recruiting posts from two years ago entitled Virginia Tech Recruiting Guide for the Class of 2011. If you're a GC newbie, maybe go and check those out (if for nothing else you can get used to the format/see if my predictions held true).I broke the posts up into a five-part series. Even though it feels like I'm getting a late start in my mind, I didn't start that series of posts until June 19th of 2010, so I am well ahead of schedule by comparison. That says more about the Hokies' early recruiting exploits than about me.
Last year however I took a job in baseball that had me working over 100 hours a week, which essentially ensured any efforts I made in covering the 2012 recruiting class futile. Unfortunately I labeled the 2011 class the most disappointing/worst class in Tech's modern history (although I do not feel as strongly today), while I tabbed the 2012 class the best. It doesn't take a genius to see what may be a trend developing there. Hopefully I'm not the Hokies equivalent of the Billy Goat or Chris McCarthy (the guy in the movie Celtic Pride who was responsible for the curse of Bill Buckner). If so, I may have to re-examine my recruiting coverage. But black cats and broken mirrors aside, let's jump right in as I get you primed for the Hokies recruiting class of 2013.
With spring practice nearing its conclusion and the college football season several months away, it gives us some time to think about what we have and what we want going forward as a program, and that is more or less an assessment of recruiting. So, with the 2012 class done and the 2013 recruiting season well underway, let's look at some of the guys that Tech has on their board, have offered, and in general who we want.
In 2010 when covering the 2011 class I made the comment that "the 2011 football AND basketball recruiting classes will be the best ever in school history." In fact I went as far as to say "So basically when I was saying that we WILL have the best football class in school history, it is saying that if we don't have the best football recruiting class in school history it will be a flub-up of epic proportions by the Virginia Tech coaching staff and we should all resort to heavy drinking to cope with it."
Granted I wasn't wrong about several important factors: The level of talent in The Commonwealth at an unprecedented high, the impetus we needed to put on a strong effort to dispel any rumors of a Mike London state takeover and to discourage his future recruiting efforts (in case you're wondering, that was a FAIL). But there were also several factors I didn't take into account as well: Our lack of available scholarships (though as I stated in my 5th and final 2011 recruiting post too much was made of that as we still doled out 21 scholarships and left multiple offers on the board), our half-hearted recruiting efforts/poor use of our resources and it didn't help that we got beaten by JMU, Boise State and smacked by Stanford, the latter two on national TV.
So this year, even though I think we have the possibility to do what I envisioned with the 2011 class, I will stop short of making the same prediction.
Positions of need
Quarterback is far and away the most pressing and desperate need for the Hokies. The de-commitments of former Tech verbal commits Lafonte Thourogood, T.J. Millweard and the failed courtships of Bennie Conley, Marquise Williams, David Watford, Kevin Newsome, Phillip Sims (not THAT Phil Simms, the backup at Alabama) Tajh Boyd and E.J. Manuel over the past 5 recruiting years has prompted this need.
In fact without the commitments of Logan Thomas (at the time considered a tight end), Mark Leal, Juju Clayton, Chris Hall (who never enrolled), Ricardo Young (who left after his redshirt-freshman year) and incoming "quarterback" (more likely a wide receiver) Brenden Motley, the Hokies would have a big 0-for... at that position since the commitment of Tyrod Taylor. That Mark Leal was the only viable and true quarterback option we have produced since Taylor in the 2007 recruiting class is telling, and that we missed out/lost the quarterbacks above indicates a big problem that the Tech staff has to identify and solve going forward. I think they have at least begun to address that with the promotion of QB coach Mike O'Cain to the play-caller and having had the two most productive years out of a quarterback (at least in my opinion) in school history the last two seasons. The conception (realize I didn't say MISconception) that Tech runs too conservative of an offense and limits quarterbacks from being productive is slowly fading because of those seasons.
Tech's biggest targets in 2013: Bucky Hodges, A.J. Jennings and Carlis Parker. Expect the Hokies to take AT LEAST two quarterbacks if afforded the opportunity.
If not for the Hokies' recent plight in landing quarterbacks, the offensive line would be tops on this list. After graduating four starters from the 2011 team, the 2012 unit will again be one comprised almost exclusively with upperclassmen. Among the 12 scholarship O-linemen currently on their roster (one more expected to enroll in the fall and two more the following spring as part of the 2012 recruiting class), there are three seniors and two juniors, all of which are in the two-deep and as many of four of which are projected starters (depending on who you ask).
Especially with the rash of injuries the Hokies are used to experiencing to the offensive line, it is always important to have numbers, something Tech will lack if they are unable to bring in several quality O-lineman in the 2013 class. The problem is many of their early targets have been nabbed up by bigger programs. There has been a great struggle in recent years for Tech to land highly-ranked offensive linemen.
When some wonder why the Hokies have struggled in recent years ON the field, though it doesn't tell the whole story, the Hokies' recruiting rankings paint a sobering picture. Two of the Hokies starting linemen over the last two seasons were recruited as tight ends and only one ranked higher than a 3-star athlete according to Rivals.com, Blake DeChristopher, the Hokies' best offensive lineman. But again, recruiting rankings are correlation, not cause. While there may be a plan afoot to move one of the current tight ends inside to the offensive line, I don't see any natural candidates.
The one advantage the Hokies have in their program that differs from previous years is that they have four walk-ons who have the size to compete should they be pressed into action after the 2012 season due to depth concerns. No disrespect to Bo Gentry, but if you're smaller than the average college fullback it's hard to succeed in Division I football.
Tech desperately needs AT LEAST three offensive linemen in the 2013 class and would take more if the opportunity presented itself. Their biggest need is offensive tackle, then guard, then center. Parker Osterloh and Delando Crooks look to be the most interested at tackle, although they would be extremely happy to nab mammoth OT Justin Evans out of Clemson's back yard as well. At guard two of the Hokies' biggest prospects were picked up by Florida in a two-day span earlier this month. Jeremi Hall may be the most coveted OL prospect left for the Hokies, but it looks like he's got a line of national power program suitors beating down his doorstep. Tech may attempt to address the numbers concern by adding some invited walk-ons and possibly offering greyshirt scholarships to anyone with potential and wingspan/frame even if it's a reach, something they've been willing to do in the past.
With the losses of Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, Tech's all-time #1 and #2 receivers, and the three major contributing players at the position this year all seniors, the Hokies are facing a major overhaul at the position in the coming years. Luckily the Hokies landed Joel Caleb who should be on the field this fall and will likely become a mainstay at the position in the next few years.
Although he may not end up as the #4 receiver, past those four players not a lot stands out at the moment. The Hokies have a couple of intriguing players like redshirt-sophomore E.J. Smiling, a trio of redshirt-freshmen, Christian Reeves, Demitri Knowles and Kevin Asante, and incoming freshman Joshua Stanford. Essentially that equates to a lot of unknowns.
The Hokies will likely look to take between 2-3 receivers in this class. They have several talented prospects on the board including Uriah LeMay, Marquez North, DaeSean Hamilton and Kwamane Bowens, a teammate of Bucky Hodges at Salem High School in Virginia Beach.
The Hokies need for numbers at cornerback is as dire as it is at quarterback or offensive line. The difference is Tech sports talent at the position that gives them at least a little security on the field, but only if no injuries or further attrition from the position occur. There are only THREE current scholarship players listed as cornerbacks on the Hokies' roster: rising redshirt-junior Antone Exum, junior Kyle Fuller and true freshman Donaldven Manning who graduated high school early and is already working with the team.
Exum is a convert from the starting Rover position a year ago, although in his two years of action he has seen time and started all around the secondary. One of the teams superlative athletes and players, he was one of the reasons coaches felt comfortable in shifting the secondary. Coaches also sent Kyshoen Jarrett to free safety and Detrick Bonner to Rover (both were cornerbacks a year ago). These moves caught many by surprise, especially considering the early entry into the NFL draft of star cornerback Jayron Hosley and the unexpected transfer of the only remaining scholarship corner not on this list, James Farrow.
Fuller may be the team's defensive MVP as Bud Foster asserted a year ago. His ability to play multiple positions has been critical in the past, but I would be surprised with the need for cornerbacks being so stated if he played anywhere else in 2012. Fuller's ability complicates future depth as he may be a candidate for early entry to the NFL based off of his superlative play.
Since depth is certainly a concern going forward, the Hokies must look to take a MINIMUM of two cornerbacks in the 2013 class. Luckily they have already locked up Cequan Jefferson who profiles as a corner according to Rivals.com. The biggest player of interest for the position is ANOTHER by the name of Fuller: Kendall Fuller, the younger brother of former Hokies Vincent Fuller and current Hokies Corey and Kyle Fuller. Kendall is rated as the nation's premier cornerback, and at this point the Hokies look the favorite, though don't expect him to announce soon. Fuller has announced his intention to take his recruitment as late as the Army All-American game.
This year's defensive line should rank among the best in the program's history and the nation. Back are all four starters and all four backups from a year ago. Also among that group is only ONE senior and four juniors, meaning three of the top eight on the defensive line are sophomores and have all seen significant time. Add to that the new blood of potential impact players redshirt-freshmen Kris Harley and Dadi Nicholas and you may wonder why this is a position of need? Well, unlike the other positions, injuries along the defensive line proved that you can never have too much depth a year ago.
Though I don't think the Hokies are going to be bringing in mass amounts of D-linemen, I do believe it is safe to say four defensive linemen is not out of the question. There are a slew of talented defensive linemen the Hokies are pursuing, but right now the most likely fit is defensive end Wyatt Teller, a highly-rated local prospect who is high on the Hokies.
Despite the Hokies epic haul of linebackers in the 2012 recruiting class, linebacker still remains a position of need because of the lack of depth/numbers at inside linebacker. Looking down the Tech roster, you will only find five scholarship inside linebackers spread across two positions with the dismissal of Telvion Clark. When compared to the four current WHIP linebackers and with more on the way, it's clear the Hokies' primary goal in the linebacking core over the next few years should be to recruit more inside linebackers. Additionally, three of the players at inside linebacker are of at least junior status.
While there aren't too many quality inside linebacking prospects in the class of 2013 that the Hokies are pursuing, expect them to take AT LEAST one or two in both 2013 and 2014.
While the Hokies have enjoyed success in the kicking game over the last couple of years, many will admit this is the group fans are most uneasy about at Tech in several years. While the majority of kickers/punters currently on the Hokies roster are young players and still have yet to be given a chance on the field, it is imperative to re-stock the kicking/punting game with fresh faces year-in and year-out.
Behavioral issues and a lack of game-ready competition doomed the unit a year ago, eventually leading up to a silly situation where a third-string kicker was cast into the role of starter for a BCS game. That alone is an indication that you can never be too deep in your kicking game. Expect the Hokies to bring in several kickers/punters in the class of 2013, though none on scholarship.
I hope you enjoyed this preliminary look into the 2013 recruiting class. Please stay tuned for more installments of the Virginia Tech Football Recruiting Guide for the class of 2013. Also remember to check back for recruiting coverage of the Spring Game and look out for more recruiting analysis in the near future on GobblerCountry.com.