In the run up to the UVA game, I thought it’d be great to sit down with an important visitor to Blacksburg. So I rang up 2018 linebacking recruit Dax Hollifield for an interview. Hollifield plays middle linebacker for Shelby, a 2A high school in North Carolina. They’ve won 3 state championships in a row, though he so far has only been part of two of them. They’re currently in a huge run- undefeated- through their state playoffs this year.
First of all, he’s being recruited by Coach Shibest as he’s the area recruiter. Don’t be surprised though that Coach Fuente was very aware of him and made him a priority…and fast. “The first week he was there he came down and watched me run around in PE,” said Dax. He’s also got a great relationship with Coach Foster, who apparently thinks ‘I could play anywhere. Whip or Mike or Backer’, though right now the plan is at Mike, especially with Edmunds playing at backer. He and the coaches are in contact frequently, and ‘we try to call and talk every Wednesday’ and ‘they DM me all the time’. However, the Hokies aren’t the team that has been after his commitment the longest: ‘UNC has been recruiting me since my freshman year, so they’ve been recruiting me the longest.’ South Carolina is also recruiting him hard, and they had coaches at two of his games. However, he said this ‘will be my last game for the year, and SC invited me up to their junior day, but I don’t want to waste my time with anywhere else (other than UNC/VT/USCe)’. He is very intent on playing close to home- ‘I want to go somewhere my family can watch me play every weekend’- and loves that Tech is only a 3 hour drive from his home. He claimed that his family would obviously be a huge part of his decision. He also wants to go to a ‘football school’: “Obviously Virginia Tech has that”.
It’s interesting to hear how closely he’s following the Hokies- he was away at a soccer game in Tennessee for the Georgia Tech game, and was ‘running in to a concession stand every ten minutes to check the score’. His favorite player this year in college is actually Andrew Motuapuaka, who he ate with in Deitrich dining hall on one of his visits to campus- “He’s not that big, but he plays bigger than he is”. The first time he was up at Tech was the Beamer Barbecue his sophomore year, where he ate with Bucky Hodges and Wyatt Teller. When I joked with him a little that Shibest was his recruiter and if there were any illusions of putting him at tight end, he laughed it off. “That would be for my little brother”, an eighth grader, “Bucky Hodges is his favorite player, so…”. He laughed knowingly when I mentioned Virginia Tech’s history of brothers- “the Coaches tell me that all the time.”
Being from a town close to Charlotte, “Everyone compares me to Luke Kueckly”, and that’s a fine player to model yourself off of. His favorite college player to watch last year was Jaylon Smith from Notre Dame, but somehow I wasn’t surprised when he said his favorite older player was the Boz- though obviously more from the college days than the pro days. Though in terms of non-football aspirations, Dax says that 'I want to be a welder, because I find that cool.' He also has a unique dream- 'I'd want to be a dentist'.
When asked about how he wants to improve his game next year, he said “I wasn’t playing as well early as I am now, so starting faster would be good”, and “Getting lower on my tackles. My tackling form is good, but it could be better. I want to start hitting guys in the abdomen”- and the way he hits, he’d “cut guys in half”. He praised his coaches, saying “They’re the best Coaches in the state of North Carolina”, and “They do a good job at getting you ready for the next level”. He ‘Loves’ the process, noting he’s been to a ton of football games in the past two years. “My dad loves it; my whole family loves it.” I asked him about Virginia Tech’s current season, and he said that “For a first year coach to come in and have stuff (success) like this, and hopefully, crossing my fingers, I’d love for them win the Coastal over Clemson.” He called Jerod Evans “Probably the fourth best quarterback in the ACC, and next year probably the first or second”. I asked him if he’d heard anything from other currently committed players, and he has been hearing “Plenty from Caleb Farley. He’s only 30 minutes up from me and we sat next to each other at the Battle of Bristol, so he’s in my ear all the time, always on me on twitter”. He said none of that bothered him at all. As of right now, he’s planning on committing at the end of his senior year (football season), or whenever he thinks he’s ready if it’s before that. But currently, it’s the end of his senior football season. He’s rated as a four-star across the board inside linebacker recruit, and one of the top players in North Carolina.
Let’s look at the tape and see what all the fuss is about- short answer? It’s justified.
Dax Hollifield (Shelby, NC. 6’-1”, 220lbs. Inside Linebacker)
Dax is a heatseeking missile of a player at linebacker. When I asked if his propensity to attack downfield on plays was due to his coaches doing a lot of run-dog blitzes or instinct, he replied ‘Instinct…I’ve started in, what, 48 high school games? You start seeing things and just heading for the ball’. You don’t say in his case. He’s already got the frame to grow into a very capable mike, and his ability to track and diagnose doesn’t leave him washed up or stuck in a bunch of blocks that often. One thing I’d fault him on a bit is that he doesn’t show a ton of coverage film, and what he showed is good, but it’s an even more selective sampling size than a highlight tape usually is. He’s right that his tackling form can improve, but I’d also say he needs to work on closing down and pinning his opponent faster- being more explosive through the target and wrapping up faster. His worst tendency is probably to lose his feet while tackling, which could leave him out of position in the future. But the fact that he’s already diagnosing plays and is a very polished tackler for the high school level bodes well for his future along with his frame.
We thank Dax for sitting down with us this Tuesday evening. Let’s #BeatUVA this weekend, and Go Hokies!