Recruiting is equal parts success and salesmanship. Well. Maybe unequal parts. Teams that recruit highly are much less likely to have a lack of success, but there are obvious schools that recruit well and flop. Texas and Miami are the two biggest offenders of that over the past few years, though their past couple classes have been polling lower. As it sits, Tech's been in a recruiting downturn for a few years. While we've got time in the offseason, I want to go through some recruiting issues that are discussed in Tech circles, and some of my thoughts on each.
Is #ThisIsHome as important as we think?
Virginia is a solid high school football state, but not a great one- and obviously, while there have been good players to come out of the Commonwealth of late, there've also been flops. Players that lived up to their billing include Percy Harvin, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Williams, Landon Turner, Tajh Boyd, Morgan Moses, David Wilson, Wyatt Teller, Quin Blanding, and Bucky Hodges. Travon McMillian will probably be there if he stays healthy. There are also a bunch of arguables: EJ Manuel was a first round draft pick but overrated, Mike Glennon was solid enough, same with Quinton Coples, Bobby Massie, Ego Ferguson, Bryn Renner, Justin Hunter, Eli Harold, Ken Ekanem, and Christian Hackenburg. Ekanem still has a chapter to write in his career this year. A bunch of the other guys that left the state have yet to really see the field for much- Da'Shawn Hand, Derrick Nnadi, Caleb Henderson, Jamil Kamara, Stephen Moss, Raymon Minor, etc. There were a bunch of players that disappointed. Anyone remember Peter Lalich? J'Courtney Williams? Jay Smith? Deion Walker? Marcus Dowtin? Jerod Askew? Logan Heastie? Damien Thigpen? Aramide Olaniyan? Evan Hailes? Curtis Grant? Travis Hughes? Quinta Funderburk? The other dozen or so VA four stars Virginia landed and went nowhere with? Etc.? You get the point- not everyone succeeds, and there are probably just as many failures from Virginia as successes, if not more so.
Point is that winning the state is a great way to get the fanbase excited and rile up people- ‘Hey, with OUR coaching, we can make something of those guys!'- but winning the Virginia battle isn't going to win us the war. It'll help, of course, but the record shows that kids highly rated out of Virginia aren't always worth having- especially if you're UVA (but then you're UVA football, so what can you do?). It always burns to see guys like Hand and Sweat go to other big schools, but knowing that so many of them aren't doing well or failed leaves me pounding the desk a lot less than some others. I suppose the end result justifies the anger in a lot of cases- it just is more immediately 'embarrassing' in the moment when your team doesn't win the state. Just remember to look back on some of those classes and think- 'wait, was this guy worth being mad/bummed over'- and you might feel a bit better.
What can we sell/What can't we sell
We all love Virginia Tech. It's why you're reading this site and I'm writing for you guys. But what we know and care about is obviously different than what 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds care about in many ways. Tech can sell plenty. Our engineering, architecture, biological, agriculture, IT, and various other wildlife-based degrees are very highly ranked. Our campus food is consistently top 3. Quality of life and comfort level in a small town in bucolic southwest Virginia is extraordinary. We're the only veterinary school for a good distance. We've got happy students, the fanbase is passionate, we've got great alumni, and for the most part, the college is run very well. In all, for normal students, there's plenty to sell. For athletes, we just built a huge, new state-of-the-art indoor facility on campus. There's one of the best dining halls in the country attached to your dorm. Hokie football is now a known name that has produced some known talents. We've gone to bowls for a ridiculous 23 years in a row. There's a lot to like.
That only goes so far with certain recruits, however. In academic terms, the medical school just started. We still don't have law and pre-law. Our communications program isn't that highly ranked (sports media and such is a big major for these guys). Our academic standards, even for athletes, can be high compared to other schools.
Tech's had problems winning big games- and small ones. On the field, for every huge loss to Stanford or UCLA, there's a loss to ECU or JMU. Tech beat Ohio State in 2014, sure, but also tanked hard to Wake in a game that I still want to bleach from my memory. Getting embarrassed with some regularity on television kind of balances out the ‘we've been to a billion bowls' argument. Right now with tech, the results on the field are a definite anchor- we're an upper mid-size school in a small market (barring the NoVA contingent of fans); we've got to punch above our weight class to be successful.
We've got an up and down track record of producing NFL talent. Some of that is beyond our control- David Wilson, Danny Coale, Ryan Williams, and Kevin Jones come to mind as Hokies that had their potential careers derailed by injury. On top of that, many of our draft picks are late in the draft and don't get much chance to ever really succeed, nor are they expected to. We don't have a lot of successful high draft picks. The last 1st round draft pick from VT worth it so far (Kyle Fuller still tenuous in Chicago)- was Duane Brown. That's an offensive tackle that went to a team that is WAY outside your standard footprint playing a position where if you hear about him, it's usually bad. That was back in 2008. The players that you'd say were successful in the NFL since then from VT are Brown, Flowers, Chancellor, Taylor, and it's too early to say anything about Jarrett, and you can argue about Royal. But it's obvious that Tech isn't a huge NFL factory for much other than ‘depth players'- bodies, basically. That doesn't appeal to a lot of these highly rated guys that think they're all that and a bag of Doritos. It also doesn't help we've failed to recruit offensive guys, and that's turned into a death spiral enhanced by our poor offensive coaching.
There are also things we just flat can't do anything about now or really ever- most of which being the fact that Blacksburg, VA, isn't going to be 75 and sunny most of the year and isn't suddenly going to sprout a huge city scene. That prevents us from drawing a lot of city kids and a lot of kids from talent hotbed states- those are generally southern states and not many of those guys want to experience a Blacksburg winter. Heck I'm from Northern Virginia and I love Tech- I HATED walking across the Drillfield in a January blizzard. And while I'm also not a city person- I'm from NoVA, I work here for a company I like, and yet I'd love to get a shot somewhere else- there are a lot of people that are in this world. For those people, Blacksburg is a non-starter.
2-for-1 Special: Package Deals
For those who don't know, a package deal is where a school promises a/multiple scholarship/s to a/multiple lesser player/s in order to get a more highly ranked player. Tech's been on the bad end of a few of these, and on the good end of familial ones. Tech gets the brother thing. The Edmunds brothers, the Wang brothers, the Fuller brothers, the Hopkins brothers, the Warren brothers, etc. That's a kind of package deal we've succeeded with for the most part- the Bailey brothers this past cycle backfired due to a scholarship situation with Josh that sent both he and JaQuan to Iowa State. Luther Maddy and Dadi Nicholas were a half-package deal that ended up working out perfectly fine. We were thought to be trying to land Jaquan Yulee with Tavante Beckett to help out with getting Devon Hunter this year.
It's been other package deals where Tech's missed out. Kevin Asante is thought to have been a package-deal-ploy with Marquise Williams that the bottom fell out of. There was the infamous fall-apart of the Norfolk Christian Package Deal of 2012: Kwontie Moore, Courtnye Wynn, Mario Nixon, and Wil Wahee were supposedly all a package, and they all went to UVA- Nixon even decommitted from Tech to go with them. Jack Willenbrock was taken from Downington East in Exton, PA to help out with recruiting Drew Harris, and Harris's signing was, to put it mildly, a confusing mess. So while I do see some people crying out ‘package deals don't work, don't use them!', to me, it's more a matter of sticking to your evaluations. If you believe the ‘lesser half' of a package deal is still good enough to make your team and be a productive starter given time, why not try? If not, then don't go for it. That's why Josh Bailey never got a scholarship offer from Tech.
There are other topics that need to be discussed. How about the money that could or should be spent on football centric facilities. Think the Merryman Center upgrades are nice? That was $1.7 million. The shared indoor practice facility? A paltry $21.3 million. See what Clemson is building for $55 million just for its football players. We have to compete with THAT. At the moment, we don't have the scratch. I don't know if we will EVER have that kind of dough to throw at just the football program. There's always the fact that these are different coaches and a different way of doing things- and we won't really even see how these coaches recruit until 2018, after they've had a year of demonstration of the new team and had time to recruit players over longer terms from the ground up. It's an interesting world Tech lives in right now- and we have to keep moving, because the recruiting world is going to keep turning, with or without us. Feel free to vote, and please, post your own thoughts below.