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Virginia Tech recruiting: A look at the 2021 class on defense

The Hokies prioritized length and athleticism.

Virginia Tech v NC State
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton from his playing days back in 2005.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Virginia Tech Hokies signed 25 players last week during the early signing period. They will add two more when twin defensive backs Jayden and Jorden McDonald of nearby Salem High School sign in February.

The Hokies will continue to monitor the transfer portal for additions to the 2021 class and recruits who did not sign during the early signing period.

Last season, Virginia Tech added several key transfers via the portal, including running backs Khalil Herbert and Raheem Blackshear, defensive end Justus Reed and defensive back Devin Taylor.

While the Hokies have already seen several players from the 2020 roster enter the transfer portal this month, expect the Hokies to be very active in the portal. This will not be a problem only at Virginia Tech, as every college will see plenty of movement due to the transfer portal and the one-time rule granting immediate eligibility.

Over the weekend, we reviewed VT’s signees on the offensive side of the ball. Now, we take a look at the defensive signees. You can sense a theme of defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton focusing on length, athleticism, and versatility with most of these players.

Defensive line

The Hokies needed to add some talent up front in this class. If not for a late addition at defensive tackle, the Hokies would not have added any defensive tackles in this class.

Desmond Mamudi, a 6-foot-3. 290-pound defensive tackle flipped to the Hokies on the first day of the early signing period. He is another player who looks like he can help two or three years down the road. There is a lot to like here, but he doesn’t bring any immediate impact.

The potential good news for the Hokies is Jarrod Hewitt, Dashawn Crawford, and Jaden Cunningham may all return to the team next year with the free year of eligibility. Tech will continue to monitor JUCO prospects and the transfer portals for defensive tackles.

The Hokies struck out on some top targets like Tyleik Williams, Devin Lee, and others. The Hokies thought they would get Lee, but he chose to go to the SEC and Vanderbilt at the last minute.

Tech signed two players at defensive end: 6-foot-3, 220-pound Mattheus Carroll out of Baltimore, and 6-foot-3, 230-pound Cole Nelson out of Alpharetta, Georgia.

Let me say I love these two prospects.

Both players offer tremendous length and athleticism with massive frames to carry much more muscle once they get to campus. Carroll has the makings of a fantastic pass-rusher once he gets under the tutelage of Darryl Tapp in Blacksburg.

Nelson can do a little bit of everything.

While these two players will not help in 2021, they are outstanding prospects who I believe the Hokies hit big on.


Those 2017 and 2018 classes featured plenty of talent at linebacker. With so many of those players either gone or late in their career, the Hokies needed to add some talent in linebacker in this class.

Four-star Jordan Poole was the top prospect, but the pull of staying home at N.C. State proved too much for the Hokies to overcome,

Instead, Tech shifted to 6-foot-3, 205-pound Isi Etute of Virginia Beach. While not a highly-ranked prospect, this is a player who would have picked up more offers with a traditional football season.

Etute has length and athleticism, something other Tech inside linebackers haven’t possessed in recent years. If Etute develops, this could be a big get.

The Hokies signed several players with the position of “athlete.” Hamilton mentioned he wanted versatility, and that’s what he got.

Keli Lawson is a 6-foot-4, 205-pound athlete from Sherando High in Stephens City. Lawson had several schools' attention, but there were few offers because teams wanted to see more film. That could play in Virginia Tech’s favor. Lawson could play safety, outside linebacker, or even defensive end in college. He is not finished growing and has crazy athleticism.

Jaden Keller, a 6-foot-3, 205-pounder from Tennessee High in Bristol, Tennessee, is much like Lawson. He can play several positions, including on offense. The Hokies like him at outside linebacker or safety. Another standout athlete, Keller, had the attention of several schools late in the process.

Will Johnson, from Leonardtown, Maryland, will play linebacker for the Hokies. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he has great length, is a hard-hitter, and has the athleticism to cover tight ends. Once Johnson adds some weight, he could play inside or outside for the Hokies.

Jack Hollifield is listed as a linebacker, but I fully expect him to play tight end.

Jayden and Jorden McDonald could end up being outside linebackers for the Hokies. Much like Lawson and Keller, the McDonald twins are tall, lean, athletic, and possess a high football IQ. Playing at Salem, they have also played in their share of big-time football games.


Much like linebacker, this has a chance to be a fun class. There are so many players who possess similar skill-sets and that should give Hamilton and his group plenty of possibilities.

Nykelius Johnson, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound athlete from Florence, South Carolina, is expected to play cornerback for the Hokies. A fluid athlete, Johnson could play early in his career. After watching him, I do believe he sticks at corner.

The best player in this class is cornerback DJ Harvey. A 5-foot-11, 170-pounder from Sierra Canyon, California, Harvey is a natural corner. He backpedals in and out of breaks with ease, he has good athleticism and is a technically proficient player. He is physical, too. I do believe Harvey plays a role in 2021.

Elijah Howard, who we covered in the offensive review, can play cornerback as well. After watching some of his highlights from high school, I can truly end up seeing him on either side of the ball. I do think there is a greater need at corner and he has the natural skills to help there early in his career.

The McDonald twins are listed as cornerbacks but at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3 and each over 200 pounds, I have a hard time seeing them sticking at corner. I believe they play safety and/or outside linebacker.

Jalen Hoyle has been committed to the Hokies for awhile. The 6-foot-0, 180-pound New Jersey native profiles as a true free safety at the next level.

Jalen Stroman, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound brother of former Hokie, Greg Stroman, is another potential gem in this class. Stroman can do a lot of things in the defensive backfield and he is a physical presence, athletic enough to play both safety positions, and also has a high football IQ.

Keller could also end up playing safety for the Hokies. Depending on how much he grows, he could be a really dynamic safety for the Hokies or a nice chess piece at outside linebacker.

Da’Shawn Elder was a late addition to the class out of Fork Union. He has good size and can move around the defensive backfield for the Hokies. Tech has always had tremendous success with Fork Union players and the hope is Elder continues that tradition.