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Virginia Tech football: A look at the Hokies’ 2023 recruiting class

There is a lot to like and build on with Virginia Tech’s 2023 recruiting class.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Tech Hokies wrapped up the early signing period last week feeling pretty good about the 2023 recruiting class. While no one will confuse Virginia Tech’s incoming class with Alabama or Ohio State, there were many encouraging signs in head coach Brent Pry’s first full recruiting class.

Over the final month heading into the early signing period, Pry picked up commitments from six high school players and four transfers. And for some of those players, Pry either flipped from other schools or beat some good competition to land those signatures.

Tech landed Kyron Drones on the transfer market, a former four-star QB who spent the past two seasons with Baylor. Drones was a hot commodity and gives the Hokies and offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen the type of passer who can run his offense; that should be RPO-heavy. Drones has three years of eligibility remaining.

Ali Jennings, from Highland Springs High School, spent two years at West Virginia and the previous two years at Old Dominion. He and Drones struck up a fast relationship during their visit, and both committed. Jennings is an instant No. 1 wide receiver for the Hokies and a four-star transfer.

The Hokies picked up defensive end Darian Varner, formerly of Temple, who has multiple years of eligibility remaining. Varner has been dealing with a foot injury, but if healthy, he will be Virginia Tech’s best pass rusher immediately. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Varner was a first-team All-AAC performer at Temple in 2022 and can slide inside on passing downs. He is from Maury High School in Norfolk — alma mater of Virginia Tech legend Kam Chancellor.

The final transfer was speedy 6-foot-4 wide receiver Quan Felton from Norfolk State. Felton is from Portsmouth. Felton is a big-play guy who, along with Jennings, gives the Hokies two quality veterans to line up outside in 2023. Da’Wain Lofton can play the slot, while others like Tucker Holloway and Xayvion Bradshaw push for time in the lineup.

Now, to the high-school ranks.

The Hokies signed 25 players last week and could sign a few more before national signing day in February. However, most of the heavy lifting has been done, and any further additions will likely come through the transfer portal.

The Hokies’ 2023 class ranks No. 34 nationally, according to the 247Sports team composite rankings. Those are the rankings to focus on as they combine the different recruiting services. From analyzing Tech’s 2023 class, you see a heavy emphasis on Virginia and the Hokies making some noise in regional states, such as Tennessee, Maryland, West Virginia and South Carolina.

Pry’s focus upon his hiring was to rebuild relationships within the Commonwealth. It wouldn’t be easy after Justin Fuente ignored the state for years. Pry, whose years at Penn State gave him an advantage in rebuilding those relationships. Overall, the Hokies signed 13 players from Virginia, and three of the four transfers are from the Commonwealth. Pry’s strategy for some may be to take a player you usually wouldn’t take to rebuild some trust within that specific school or region.

And certain areas are listening, as it seems Pry’s early work is already paying off in Richmond. There is still work to do in Northern Virginia and the 757, but Pry and his staff are off to a terrific start.

Much of this incoming class is about development. The Hokies like the new additions on the offensive line, wide receiver and the defensive backfield.

Let’s break down Tech’s high-school class by position:

  • Quarterback: William “Pop” Watson III, Dylan Wittke
  • Running back: Jeremiah Coney
  • Wide receiver: Chance Fitzgerald, Ayden Greene, Marcell Baylor, Takye Heath, Krystian Williams
  • Offensive line: Layth Ghannam, Lance Williams, Gabriel Arena, Hannes Hammer
  • Edge [DE/OLB]: Jason Abbey. Ishmael Findlayter
  • Linebacker: Tavorian Copeland, Aycen Stevens
  • Cornerback: Dante Lovett, Cameren Fleming, Antonio Cotman Jr.
  • Safety: Mose Phillips, Braylon Johnson, Caleb Woodson
  • Athlete: Thomas Williams, Jonathan Pennix, Tralon Mitchell

Watson was a late flip and has a chance to be Virginia Tech’s successor to Drones if things go according to plan. Watson’s size was a detriment to some, but turn on the film, and you see an electric runner with a strong arm. If allowed to develop for two years, Watson could be a terrific college quarterback.

Coney was a late flip who looks the part. He can be a power runner pretty early in his Virginia Tech career. Coney could also play linebacker, but it sounds like the plan is to stick in the backfield. Thomas Williams is a sensational athlete and could also figure into the mix here. Tralon Mitchell is another who could up at running back, wide receiver, or on defense.

The Hokies wanted to add talent to the wide receiver position, and they certainly did. Chance Fitzgerald and Ayden Greene were late additions as the Hokies had to beat out some good programs to land both. It wouldn’t be shocking to see both play early in their career. Baylor is from Radford, and his combination of size and speed is exciting. I would expect him to redshirt and develop a bit before he plays. Krystian Williams is another who could move around.

Takye Heath is a player to watch. Another outstanding prospect from Highland Springs, Heath is electric and could figure into the mix in 2023 as a slot receiver. Heath looks like a future star. Pennix is another local standout from Appomattox. It sounds like the Hokies want to see him begin at receiver, but I like him as a cornerback.

The Hokies added four offensive linemen. If Joe Rudolph picks them, you should like them, too. Ghannam, Arena and Lance Williams all had late interest from the outside but stuck with the Hokies and Rudolph. Hammer plays at North Cross in Roanoke. All four have legit size and Ghannam could play early in his career. I really like this group.

One concern for the Hokies is they didn’t do enough on the defensive line. Jason Abbey is a defensive end from Richmond that has coaches excited. I truly think he’s undervalued and becomes a good player for the Hokies early in his career. I worry about the lack of defensive tackles in this class, but the Hokies are counting on the top group from last year returning and the development of last year’s class. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Pry looks for a defensive tackle via the transfer portal.

The Hokies should prioritize the defensive line in 2024.

Virginia Tech missed out on some key in-state linebacker prospects. They worked late to flip a couple of players who committed elsewhere and came close. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough. However, Aycen Stevens is a name to know. His brother played for Pry at Penn State, and he had other options, but that relationship with Pry was good for the Hokies. Stevens will probably end up at defensive end, and, like Abbey, be a pretty good one.

The secondary class is a fun group. Dante Lovett and Cameren Fleming were two of my favorites in this class. Both look like future starters at cornerback for the Hokies. Lovett and Fleming are also players who had attention from other schools but maintained their pledges to the Hokies. I can see both playing in 2023.

Antonio Cotman was a late flip from Boston College. Cotman was once considered one of the top players in Virginia, and if you go back and watch him in high school, he is a really good football player. While he may not stick at corner, he could make an impact at safety or linebacker, depending on how much size he adds.

As much as I like the cornerback class, I equally like the safeties. Mose Phillips was a late addition and will be an outstanding college player. His size, athleticism and football IQ had him extremely undervalued. Caleb Woodson is another who had interest from others. He is another player who was undervalued. Woodson is a fun player with good size and speed, who many believe ends up at linebacker. He will be a starter wherever he lands.

Braylon Johnson is the son of Highland Springs head coach and former Virginia Tech cornerback Loren Johnson. Johnson had other options before committing to Virginia Tech but chose the Hokies. He is perhaps the most important player in this class. He will start somewhere in Virginia Tech’s secondary for multiple seasons. A true legacy who can play.

Here is Virginia Tech’s recruiting class in full, with linked profiles on them from when they committed to the Hokies, including a brief scouting report and where they are from.

Layth Ghannam

Chance Fitzgerald

Ayden Greene

Aycen Stevens

Antonio Cotman Jr.

William Watson III

Krystian Williams

Caleb Woodson

Marcell Baylor

Jason Abbey

Thomas Williams

Cameren Fleming

Hannes Hammer

Braylon Johnson

Dante Lovett

Tralon Mitchell

Tavorian Copeland

Gabriel Arena

Lance Williams

Dylan Wittke

Takye Heath

Jonathan Pennix

Jeremiah Coney

Ishmael Findlayter

Mose Phillips