Earlier this week I was reading an ESPN article by Andrea Adelson about Virginia Tech's decline. In 2010 we were doing very well for ourselves- and then everything took a turn downhill. We ended that season flattened by Stanford, a team that ended up graduating Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, Coby Fleener, Stepfan Taylor, Levine Toilolo, Zach Ertz, Jonathan Martin, Sione Fua, Owen Marecic, Richard Sherman, and Ryan Whalen into the NFL. We were simply outclassed. Our defense was beaten publicly for 247 rushing yards (8.0 average!) and 287 passing yards. We were too small, schematically out-thought, and out-talented, and it showed. It's little wonder that after that public flogging, in a year we won an ACC championship, the recruiting class we gathered ended up with only 3 composite 4-star players- with only 22 total players signed (20 enrolled). We obviously made it to the Orange Bowl in 2011 and lost to Michigan, but the damage had actually been done. It wasn't even that the players we signed in that 2011 class didn't meet expectations. Many didn't even see the field. Of those 19, only Dadi Nicholas, Luther Maddy, Ryan Malleck, Corey Marshall, and Kyshoen Jarrett saw productive playing time- and that was after Marshall was on and off the team. Names that left the program or never saw the field for whatever reason: Boye Aromire, Matt Roth, James Farrow, Christian Reeves, Dewayne Alford, Jake Goins, Michael Branthover, Justin Taylor, Robert Lockhart, Chris Hall. Hall and Lockhart were the two that never enrolled- grades or other issues. Lockhart ended up committing to Nebraska and signed on to Miami then ended up at Falkner University. Chris Hall ended up at Virginia Union. This class also included Michael Holmes- kicked off the team and eventually jailed- and Michael Cole- showed promise in limited time but had a neck injury that ended his career. It also featured Ronny Vandyke, who was no revelation at Whip.
2012 was kinder, but not by much. Out of the 247 composite 4-stars, Ken Ekanem probably has had the best career here, and will return next year. Joel Caleb has been bandied about in the backfield and at the wide receiver position, never finding a home. J.C. Coleman had his moments but never really stood out. Donaldven Manning ended up at Marshall after a transfer, and Jarontay Jones ended up at Bethune-Cookman. That's positive production out of one, maybe two of your supposed studs. Other players in this class that left the program, or didn't develop well (injuries excepted, like in the case of Trey Edmunds, who was semi-permanently hurt after his freshman year): Deon Clarke, Devin Vandyke, Der'Woun Greene, Chris Mangus, Dakota Jackson, Dahman McKinnon, Davion Tookes, Desmond Frye, Mark Irick, Jack Willenbrock, Donovan Riley, Alston Smith, Adam Taraschke, Joshua Stanford, and Jerome Wright. Let's not even talk about the Drew Harris craziness that tempted us for a year or two- he's currently at IUP. Contributors from this class include Brenden Motley, Ken Ekanem, Nigel Williams, Woody Baron, and Augie Conte. That's really thin in a class that was ranked 21st in the nation. You can move Coleman and Riley and if you stretch it Greene and Clarke into positive contributors, but none of them have been world-beaters.
2013 you can finally argue we had a productive class. Kendall Fuller, Wyatt Teller, Bucky Hodges, Brandon Facyson, Chuck Clark, Andrew Motuapuaka, Jonathan McLaughlin. That's a decent set of players that have been standouts on this team (Motuapuaka, love him or hate him, has at least made plays). But this class still holds a lot of stale air. Due to offensive line ‘depth', we've got a couple of these guys buried (Braxton Pfaff, Parker Osterloh, Kyle Chung- also injury). Then there are the misses- David Prince, Carlis Parker, Jamieon Moss, Deon Newsome, DJ Reid, Cequan Jefferson. Holland Fisher appears in this class, and that's another talented player with a lot of offers that evaporated. Grades? Want? Both? Who knows? He's at San Jose City College after having offers from Ohio State, Tennessee, and Alabama. But this was another 21st ranked class. And it's netted us more 7-6 seasons.
When we move to 2014's class we start seeing guys that just haven't been able to get to the top of the depth chart yet due to depth, Raymon Minor being the highest rated. Shai McKenzie has had injuries and doghouse trouble. Minor, McKenzie, and McMillan were the highly recruited guys. McMillan is obviously GOING to be big time after inexplicably being shelved for the first few games despite showing the most promise of the dreaded backfield rotation monster. Other names in this class we're happy for: Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips- also known as our whole receiving corps for two years. Vinny Mihota's going to start, as will Eric Gallo and Terrell Edmunds. Greg Stroman is...Greg Stroman? I think he's got promise if he keeps at a position and learns it rather than swapping back and forth. Xavier Burke is at tight end and might see time in another year. Tyrell Smith is currently offensive-line-depth-chart-buried, along with Colt Pettit and Billy Ray Mitchell. Ricky Walker and Steve Sobczak will likely see rotation play at DT this year. But we lost Andrew Ford, Kendrick Holland, Shawn Payne, CJ Reavis, Melvin Keihn, Kevin Bronson, and Taybus Taylor (the latter two signed LOIs but never showed). 27th ranked class that might end up featuring a lot of good players that beat out their ratings coming out of high school. This class, I'll take. It made up for a lot of previous ones that missed. Only player not mentioned is Chris Durkin, if only because I'm not sure what will happen with him- tight end is a possibility, but Coach Fu has him at QB for now. He might never see the field again if things break right.
2015 is a stretch, of course, as most of these players were true freshmen and if you rely on them seeing the field immediately, it can't be good for your program. Oh. Wait. Well, we had 6 players see it out of talent (yay) and necessity (boo): Carson Lydon, Adonis Alexander, Dwayne Lawson, Yosuah Nijman, Tremaine Edmunds, and Mook Reynolds. We lost 3 signees to junior college: Adonis Williamson, Mike Arnold (now at Florida State), and Eric Whitehead. Zachariah Hoyt was grayshirted. Austin Clark, a 4-star tackle, left football completely. We've still got plenty in the wings: Tim Settle, Trevon Hill, Deshawn McClease, Jahque Alleyne, Harry Lewis, DuWayne Johnson, Houshun Gaines, D'Andre Plantin, Chris Cunningham, and Coleman Fox. 29th ranked class. Again, the class might over perform that rank, it might not, but it's too soon to tell.
Skipping the class of 2016, you can see some trends. One, the classes starting in 2011 had retention problems. So many of these guys- and a lot of the highly rated ones- left. The part that's even worse? They left and did nothing. At least I could hate the fact that we lost talented players rationally. I really despise losing players that a lot of people thought were talented and were wrong about.
Two, we've had multiple guys head to prep school and count for multiple classes- Zachariah Hoyt, Tyrell Smith, Xavier Burke, Holland Fisher, DJ Reid, Jerome Wright, Seth Dooley, Woody Baron. All of them either grayshirted and were added to other classes. Sending guys off to prep school is a risky proposition lest they get poached- like Mike Arnold was. We poached Jonathan McLaughlin from ECU. As long as their scholarships hold, we've also got to fight to keep Adonis Williamson and Eric Whitehead.
Three, we're still making hay out of a lot of luck. Walk-ons and Transfers are gifts- you don't make them a part of your plan. Michael Brewer and Wade Hansen were luck with some work. Sean Huelskamp, Kalvin Cline, AJ Hughes, Joey Slye, Charley Meyer, Willie Byrn, Jack Tyler, Cody Grimm- all unplanned luck. Any history we have with walk-ons is gravy- but your entire meal can't be gravy. True, we've found a lot of guys that were underrated and got production out of them. But Isaiah Ford had an OFFER LIST. Clemson, Louisville, Miami, Michigan State, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Penn State, UNC, Oregon, Wisconsin, West Virginia, South Carolina, etc. Cam Phillips had North Carolina, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Virginia, Penn State, and Georgia Tech. Bucky, despite being a 4-star, only really had Ohio State, Maryland, and Virginia. Travon had Auburn, Georgia Tech, Cal, Maryland, Tennessee, UVA, WVU, and NC State. We CAN get guys 'big' colleges are going after.
Tech's three biggest problems are simple. We had trouble identifying talent, retaining that talent, and developing ‘acknowledged' talented players. We failed to recruit well- leading to poor talent to aid on-field production from non-exemplary coaching. Player X from an older class hasn't panned out through lack of development, injury luck, or simple roster attrition, forcing a free for all at the position among all players. It's why our team is simultaneously so young and so shallow and why we're going to be tweaking around with so many freshmen and sophomores next year. And it all started in the class of 2011, with a year that should've meant success.