I come from a household that's pretty eager about Christmas (Well, my Dad is). But I've never really written a letter to Santa- I figured out at five that Santa couldn't possibly travel faster than the speed of light to visit every kid on the planet that celebrated Christmas and played along for years (You stop believing in Santa, you don't get presents. And by that we mean if you tell your siblings, you're meat). I'm not sure that it's terribly appropriate to send one to the Jolly Old Man up north at my age, so instead I'll send a letter about what I want to see out of Virginia Tech's new coaching staff in terms of recruiting. I'm not going to send letters asking for specific recruits. That's itemizing people- not something I'd do. I'm more interested in seeing a change in strategy or in results. So, to start my list of requests...
Throw the ‘Six-Hour Window' out the window.
Look, I know that we want to pride ourselves on being THE school of Virginia built by Virginia kids. That simply isn't going to happen. Partly because Virginia doesn't produce a lot of talent in various areas- you can get offensive skill position players, defensive linemen, and defensive backs aplenty. Offensive linemen? Not as often. Linebackers? Same. They're there, sure, but they're also generally not as successful. Quarterbacking in Virginia generally isn't widespread, though there are some VERY key success stories (Michael Vick, EJ Manuel, Logan Thomas (debatable), Russell Wilson, Tajh Boyd, Tyrod Taylor). You can find them, but most of them fit one particular mold (system fit question). But it's time to go find kids nationwide. I know we don't have the super cache that a school like Alabama or FSU has (Two of the top five recruits in VA are going to FSU this year, by the way, and two of the top six are going to Duke). It's time to realize that we better get widespread. Controlling Virginia is great, sure. But we need stronger presences in other states. Go find the talent. Go out there and find kids that have seen Tech games, seen or heard of Bud Foster, or are interested in learning from the guy that built Andy Dalton, Casey Pachall, and Paxton Lynch. Seriously, if Virginia Tech wants to break out, it's not going to be by being myopic. There's talent in the state, yes (more on that later). But there's talent elsewhere. Go out and get it and do your job and sell, sell, sell. Find the right guys wherever they might be from. Oklahoma. Texas. Heck, Alaska, if we have to. Just go get it.
Pound Pavement, Stay Enthusiastic and Engaged.
There's an argument right now in college coaching as to whether recruiting or actual on-field performance is more important in a coach's life. By the end of Beamer's run, I think we've gotten complacent and stale on the recruiting trail in a lot of ways. My source has been telling me that he's never seen Tech coaches move around like this, that Bud's finally out there selling HARD, and that Holmon Wiggins is already making a big impression. Fuente's younger and got more energy and drive than the 69-year-old Frank Beamer. And Beamer, unfortunately, by the end, was also a huge negative recruiting target- you don't know when he's going to retire, the game has passed him by, he doesn't know how to do or make an offense, etc. Go out there and punch above your weight class. Go after committed recruits. Make the big boys uncomfortable and poach who you can. Right now by getting a younger guy that's more into this than our previous staff was, we're going to be driving harder and going after kids. Keep it that way. I want to make sure that someone's always in their ears. It's not pretty, it might not even be right, but as long as you stay within the rules, play the game the hardest it can be played.
Calling the 757...and the 703.
As a NoVA kid, I can tell you that up here college football is big- but it sure as heck isn't just one team. For the people that think Maryland and DJ Durkin and his staff can lock the 703 down? Not really. The issue is that at this moment the 703 isn't particularly loyal to any school. Tech has a small pipeline. Stonewall Jackson in Manassas in particular has sent talented players (Ryan Williams, Tim Settle, Greg Stroman, Reggie Floyd this year). We got one from Liberty out in Bealeton (Wyatt Teller). We've had some from other schools (Travon from Woodbridge's C.D. Hylton, the Vandyke brothers from South County in Lorton). But there are schools we haven't been able to crack, especially Stone Bridge and Briar Woods. And I've heard from my source that a lot of times we've had trouble getting at a lot of the highly rated kids because they wouldn't give Tech the time of day. Unfortunately, up here Tech does have the reputation of being a hick school, and a lot of the kids don't think that it's any good when it comes to education, which is sad and untrue. That's partly why we've been losing to Duke and Stanford up here in recent years. NoVA also has the issue of being a decent amount of time away from Blacksburg: it's five hours from Alexandria, four from where I live in PWC. From that perspective, ANYTHING is a trip. There's also a lot of high schools that are untapped around here, and we could probably find more talent if we looked harder. I could also write about how the Richmond Area hasn't exactly been all that great to us either, even if it has been more ‘loyal' than NoVA. Yes, getting back relationships with the 757 is important. But we can't act like the 757 is the be-all-and-end-all.
Get with the times- and the size.
In 2015/2016, football players are getting bigger and faster. The problem with Virginia Tech has been, of late, our players might've been getting faster, but they weren't getting any bigger. I did document one case where that's true- our defensive tackle spot is picking up size with Ricky Walker, Tim Settle, and Steve Sobczak all likely to be over 300lbs next year. Vinny Mihota is a 270lb DE. But Luther Maddy is 283lbs and Corey Marshall is 266lbs. That's too small to stuff the middle these days. The biggest issue we have with size is in the linebacking corps and at the defensive end spot. Dadi Nicholas is 223lbs per our roster. That's 20-30lbs too light to play defensive end these days. Ken Ekanem is about the size he should be- he just had a MASSIVE tackling problem this year. Bigger doesn't mean better, but it sure helps when you're having to thump down someone like James Conner (Get well soon), or Cardale Jones. Motuapuaka's a light 238lbs for a middle linebacker (though he's also 6'-0", dunno how much more he can pack on). Tremaine Edmunds is 236lbs at 6'-5" (sizable but probably still lean). Carson Lydon is 6'-2", 233lbs. When your DEs are LB size, that's a problem. They should be heavier than your heaviest linebackers. You can argue that right now, none of the starters and few of the prospective ones are of size to play their positions. And that's a problem. Not only does it make it hard to succeed at this level, but it also makes it hard to send kids to the NFL. That can really gather you attention, recruiting chops, and money down the line. But when your guys are all tweeners outside of your DBs, you can't get a famous LB to point at like Penn State has. You can't get a big-time defensive lineman to point at. Corey Moore and Cornell Brown weren't overly successful. Bruce Smith sure was, but that was so long ago the kids now only see Smith in highlight tapes and old archival NFL Films footage. He was 265lbs back in the day. For that now, you'd have to push 260-270lbs. That's what we're looking at, not 220lbs. Time to go big or go home on defense.
Put it all on the (O) Line.
The biggest problem we've had over the past few years on offense- besides ineptitude in coaching and inconsistent talent and mediocre quarterback play, oh, wait, so everything- is that our offensive line has been porous. We're not a power-running team, guys. Give that dream up now. Power running teams are Stanford, LSU, and Alabama. That's 6'-4", 310-320lbs offensive linemen all moving together. We've had lines, and linemen that have been drafted- none of them really have gone anywhere of late, though. I read the previews of prospects as they're headed to the NFL- most of the VT offensive linemen are still listed as ‘raw' with ‘poor technique'. The line needs to be consistently sized and better coached. By far. Searels might've done that with time, but Vance Vice better get that done into the future. We could probably get away with a zone-blocking scheme at our size- which works with the size and speed of our best tailbacks well, too. But that's going to always be a lot of outside runs. Enough with the dives up the middle and hoping for that three yards and a cloud of dust. Recruit offensive linemen to build whatever scheme you want, but make sure that what you want to happen, and what you recruit actually mesh.
Recruit ALL the Quarterbacks.
Look, this hopefully will cease being a problem, but part of the reason why Logan Thomas was a quarterback as long as he was? He was the only high-potential quarterback on the roster. During his time we recruited only a couple quarterbacks, none of which were really ready to take over after he left, leaving us reaching for either a converted option QB or a transfer. Thomas didn't even originally want to be a quarterback; he'd been turning back the programs that wanted to do that to him. He wanted to be a tight end. In the end, even though he holds many of the quarterbacking records at Tech, he's only ever going to be remembered as a what-if in a dead space in Virginia Tech's history. We can appreciate what he did, but it just goes to show you that we couldn't save the offense and give it a QB to save its life- and Frank Beamer's career.
Finally, Recruit Positions, not Athletes.
Part of the problem we've had with our recruiting is that we've had people that have unsuccessfully shifted back and forth between positions merely because they're athletic. They've not had a ton of time to learn a position in particular, or were changed from one position to another without really having the will or chance to succeed. You can argue over Logan Thomas, but the following are recruits that have had to switch position and not succeeded, or were general athletes that never found a lasting landing spot and succeeded at it: Joel Caleb, Greg Stroman, Chris Durkin, Carlis Parker (transferred out), David Prince, Deon Newsome, Kyle Chung, Holland Fisher (transferred out), Alston Smith, Tyrell Edwards, the WR combination that was Marcus Davis, Dyrell Roberts, Demitri Knowles (unexperienced), among others. We've had position changes that worked, but some have not. It's just better to recruit Isaiah Ford, a high-school wideout, and keep him there. General Purpose Athletes, at least, for us, have been fewer in recent year, but we need to try and keep the transition as easy as possible. We're still paying for having to raid our defensive line for offensive line depth with Smith, Nijman, and Teller (not to mention sort-of-Wade-Henson, and taking Trey Edmunds from the linebacking corps to be a running back that unfortunately has been generally injured and ineffective of late).
Those are my big wishes for the new staff. What are yours?