The Virginia Tech Hokies just wrapped one of the better recruiting classes in school history. Various recruiting services had the Hokies anywhere between 16th and 24th, which is an impressive number for Justin Fuente’s first full year on the job.
The Hokies, who signed a total of 27 players, are losing some significant contributors from a team that won 10 games in 2016. Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges, Jerod Evans, Woody Baron, Jonathan McLaughlin and Chuck Clark are all gone. That means several new starters for the 2017 season and many more young players moving up the depth chart.
The talent infusion from the class of 2017 couldn’t have come at a better time for Virginia Tech.
With Evans out at quarterback, Tech returns redshirt freshman Josh Jackson. An early enrollee last year, Jackson almost beat out Evans for the job last summer. Fuente, of course, decided to go with the more experienced option and it was a wise move. Jackson, though, is a player Hokie fans should be excited about. A coach’s son, Jackson is a gifted runner that has an advanced feel for the passing game. Jackson is in the driver’s seat to be Tech’s starting quarterback in 2017.
Fuente, a former quarterback, wasn’t quite sold on going into spring practice with just Jackson under center. He wanted to create competition. And, in the form of two early enrollees, he has done just that. Herndon Hooker could be the future of the Virginia Tech program with his size, speed and athleticism at the quarterback position. That’s a big reason coaches pushed hard for him to graduate early, to get him into spring practice and push Jackson.
Competition is good for all.
Also, a late addition to the mix was A.J. Bush. A 6’4”, 225-pound junior-college passer from Iowa Western Community College, began his career at Nebraska. He, too, enrolled in January and will provide more competition to the most important position on the field.
Virginia Tech Early Enrollees -
|Herndon Hooker||QB||6'4", 204||Greensboro, N.C.|
|Caleb Farley||ATH||6'3", 280||Maiden, N.C.|
|Dalton Keene||ATH/TE||6'5", 223||Littleton, Co.|
|Silas Dzansi||OT||6'6", 300||Woodbridge, Va.|
|Kalil Pimpleton||WR||5'7", 158||Muskegon, Mi.|
|Aundre Kearney||LB||6'0", 222||Jacksonville, Fla.|
|AJ Bush||QB||6'4", 225||Iowa Western CC|
|Terius Wheatley||RB||5'11", 200||Ann Arbor, Mi.|
|Oscar Bradburn||P||6'2", 190||Sydney, Australia|
Bush and Hooker are two of VT’s nine early enrollees for the spring semester. Both will compete for the starting quarterback position in spring practice. In an ideal world, Jackson wins the job and the Hokies can redshirt Hooker.
Outside of the quarterback position, Tech has a few early enrollees with tantalizing potential.
Caleb Farley is a special athlete. A quarterback in high school, Farley is dynamic with the football in his hands and could play on both sides of the ball. But the coaching staff will be too tempted by the 6’3” speedster’s athleticism and he’ll likely be a wide receiver for the Hokies.
With Hodges and Ford gone, there’s an immediate opportunity for some of these freshmen to make an impact. Farley could be that guy.
Dalton Keene is another player to keep an eye on. Keene whose father was college teammates with defensive line coach Charley Wiles, picked the Hokies last year and despite a lot of attention late, stuck by his pledge to Virginia Tech.
At 6’5”, 223 pounds, Keene already looks the part. He’s a fluid athlete for someone of his size and getting some early time in the weight room will only help his chances of getting on the field this fall. Hodges’ departure presents a unique opportunity for Keene.
For all of the hype surrounding Devon Hunter, Dylan Rivers, Hooker and others, one of the least-talked about incoming freshmen is Kalil Pimpleton. A 5’7”, 158-pound dynamo from Muskegon, Michigan, Pimpleton is a player who can immediately play a number of positions for the 2017 Hokies.
Pimpleton is an ideal slot receiver and can help out in the return game, too. Offensive coordinator Brad Cornelson gushed about him on National Signing Day as a player “that you can get the ball to, whether it’s jet sweeps or perimeter screens, and everybody kind of holds their breath when they get the ball,” per Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times.
For an offense that struggled to run the ball at times in 2016, Pimpleton will be a unique weapon in the running game.
Kearney, a 6’0”, 222-pound linebacker, continues Virginia Tech’s success of recruiting in Florida. A former Miami commit, Kearney flipped to the Hokies a year ago and enrolled last month.
A speedy, hard-hitting outside linebacker in high school, Kearney projects to play inside at Tech. He could have seen the field this fall, but unfortunately shoulder surgery will keep him out this spring. If he’s fully recovered by August, he will figure into Tech’s plans at linebacker this fall.
The Hokies badly needed talent and athleticism at linebacker and Kearney is just one of a few potential gems the Hokies signed at that spot. Kearney, who also played tailback in high school, is a gifted athlete.
The Other Guys
Silas Dzansi originally committed to the Hokies last year, but spent a year at Fork Union Military Academy. That was an excellent choice by Dzansi, as he is one of the more raw offensive line prospects Tech has signed in years. Expect the 6’6”, 300-pounder to spend a full year in VT’s strength and conditioning program before making a run at the two-deep in 2018.
Terius Wheatley, a late addition to the class of 2017, also spent last season at Fork Union. The son of former Michigan star Tyrone Wheatley, joins a position that currently lacks depth. The transfer of Shai McKenzie and the retirement of Marshawn Williams, could mean immediate playing time for Wheatley if he can show coaches something this spring.
However, Wheatley should be one of the more interesting freshmen to watch this spring.
Oscar Bradburn was a player no one had on their radar before he signed with the Hokies in January. Of course, Bradburn is from Australia, so he wouldn’t necessarily qualify as a normal recruit.
The Hokies struggled at punter in 2016, with Mitchell Ludwig averaging just over 38 yards per punt. With a strong defensive unit, Bud Foster needs a reliable punter to pin the opposition back in order to create more opportunities for Tech’s offense. If Bradburn is like the typical Aussie punter, Hokie fans will be in for a treat.
You can never fully judge a recruiting class for at least three years, but Virginia Tech is on the right path with the class of 2017. Next week, we’ll take a look at the rest of the class and who could see the field this fall.