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February 12, 2009

A well-balanced recruiting class has Tech staff optimistic about program's future

By: Jimmy Robertson

James Gayle, a defensive end from Hampton, Va., is a member of the Hokies’ 2009 recruiting haul. Photo courtesy of The Daily Press

Not long after Florida played Oklahoma in the BCS national championship game, David Wilson received a phone call that Bryan Stinespring found a little disturbing.

Florida coach Urban Meyer, known as a relentless recruiter, gave Wilson, an extremely talented tailback from Danville, Va., who was rated by many as the top prospect in Virginia, a buzz. He informed Wilson that his receiver/running back, Percy Harvin, was going to go pro and then Meyer spent much of the conversation feeling out Wilson to see if he would be willing to back out of his commitment to Virginia Tech and come to Florida.

Wilson said, “No, thanks.”

“I wanted to be a man of my word,” he said. “I told Coach Stinespring and Coach Beamer that I was coming and that’s what I wanted to do.

“Then he [Meyer] called me again – and I told him ‘No’ again.”

As a result of Wilson’s remaining true to his word, he became one of the headliners of the 2009 Virginia Tech recruiting class, a group of 21 members who collectively rank among the best in the nation (Rivals ranked the class No. 24 nationally). Overall, the group includes five prospects who earned All-America honors by various recruiting services.

“I think we got a terrific recruiting class,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “Not just a good class, but I think a really terrific class. I like our athletic ability, but I really like the academics and the character of this class. I think that’s very, very strong.”

Wilson, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound tailback, and Logan Thomas, a 6-6, 230-pound athlete from Lynchburg, Va., hogged the headlines in this class and justifiably so. Wilson, ranked the No. 1 prospect in Virginia by The Roanoke Times and the Gatorade state player of the year, rushed for 2,291 yards and 35 touchdowns as a senior for George Washington High, with two games of more than 300 yards rushing. Thomas played quarterback at Brookville High and guided the Bees to the Group AA title game by throwing for 1,535 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushing for 842 yards and 11 more scores his senior season. He possesses the ability to play multiple positions, though both SuperPrep and Rivals ranked him the top tight end prospect in the nation.

Three other prospects earned All-America status as well. DeAntre Rhodes, a 6-3, 270-pound defensive lineman from Varina High in Richmond, earned SuperPrep All-America honors after a season in which he had 48 tackles, including 14.5 for a loss. And both Cody Journell, a 6-0, 180-pound kicker from Giles High in Pearisburg, Va., and Jayron Hosley, a 5-11, 180-pound cornerback from Delray Beach, Fla., earned PrepStar All-America honors. Journell booted six field goals this past season – three of 42 yards or longer – and Hosley finished with 37 tackles and five interceptions.

Four of those five prospects are from Virginia, as is most of Tech’s class. Sixteen of the 21 hailed from the commonwealth – a common theme among Beamer’s recruiting classes. Three more prospects hail from South Carolina, and the staff secured one each from North Carolina and Florida.

In-state flavor

As usual, Tech’s staff put much of its emphasis on recruiting the state of Virginia and for good reason. According to Doug Doughty, who covers recruiting for The Roanoke Times, more than 60 prospects in Virginia had signed with Football Bowl Series schools (formerly Division I) as of Feb. 5. The commonwealth possesses a ton of football talent and recruiting in such a fertile area is a no-brainer for Tech’s staff.

After all, Tech has been winning with primarily Virginia kids – it has won at least 10 games for five straight seasons. The Hokies also continue to get the better of the Cavaliers on the field (they’ve won nine of the past 10) in large part because they get the better of the commonwealth’s prospects.

In the past three recruiting classes, Tech’s staff has signed 49 prospects from the commonwealth. It’s a trend that the staff expects to continue, too.

“I think there are always going to be good players in this state,” said Jim Cavanaugh, Tech’s recruiting coordinator. “Now, different areas may have more or less, depending on the year, but the population is growing. You see more and more military personnel down in the Tidewater area, and the corridor from Richmond to D.C. is growing. People are going where the jobs are, and more people equates to more players.

“Coaches are noticing, too. I see more and more from all over the country. Places like West Virginia, Penn State, Tennessee and Florida are coming here. Even the MAC [Mid-American Conference] schools came down here a lot. Everyone wants good players and this state has them.”

This year’s in-state haul included Wilson and Thomas, the No. 1 and No. 4 prospects in the state, according to Doughty (SuperPrep ranked Thomas No. 1 and Wilson No. 3). The haul also included eight of Doughty’s top 23 prospects and 10 of the top 30.

Stinespring and Cavanaugh cleaned up in their respective areas. Stinespring, who recruits the Lynchburg/Martinsville/Danville part of the state, landed both Wilson and Thomas, and also Andrew Miller, an offensive lineman from Bassett, Va.

Cavanaugh landed four of Richmond’s best. His list includes Rhodes from Varina High, Antone Exum from Deep Run High, and two prospects from Hermitage High – Theron Norman and Duan Perez-Means. Those two are the latest in a long line of Hermitage graduates to come to Tech (Duane Brown, Ju-Ju Clayton and Alonzo Tweedy, among others). Cavanaugh also signed James Gayle, a defensive end out of Bethel High in Hampton, Va.

“I think one of the keys was that we’ve had kids from Varina and Hermitage here at Tech,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s the same with Bethel [High] when we had Chris Ellis here. Those guys have been successful here and these recruits trust those kids. That works in our favor.”

Rhodes came in at No. 8 on Doughty’s list. Exum, a top-notch athlete who was one of the few prospects to wait until late December to make a decision, stood at No. 16 on Doughty’s list, while Norman and Perez-Means were No. 23 and No. 34, respectively. Gayle was at No. 26.

Interestingly, Curt Newsome, who recruits the Virginia Beach-Norfolk area, only signed one prospect out of that area this year – 6-1, 220-pound linebacker Telvion Clark out of Granby High, who had 123 tackles and eight sacks this past season. Newsome also recruits Hampton High and landed Tyrel Wilson, a defensive end.

But a year ago, Newsome reeled in seven prospects from the Virginia Beach-Norfolk area alone.

“When you look back to last January [of 2007], our class was going to be less than 15, so we couldn’t make as many offers – and we would have with more scholarships,” said Newsome, who only made five offers. “And, too, a lot of it is based on needs. For example, we took a lot of receivers last year, so we weren’t going to sign a bunch of receivers this year. The numbers just didn’t fit.”

D-line the pressing need

Tyrel WilsonPhoto courtesy of The Daily Press

The Hokies’ only lost one senior defensive lineman off of last season’s squad, but a program never wants to be short of defensive linemen. So Tech’s staff signed six prospects listed as defensive linemen – four at end and two at tackle. Rhodes headlines the bunch, but the overall success of the group hinges on him developing to the fullest along with the other five.

The remaining five include Lanford Collins, a 6-4, 240-pounder from Stafford, Va.; David Wang, a 6-2, 290-pound tackle from Ashburn, Va.; Gayle, a 6-5, 215-pounder from Hampton, Va.; Perez-Means, a 6-4, 230-pounder from Richmond; and Wilson, a 6-3, 215-pounder from Hampton, Va.

Rhodes and Wang project as tackles; while the other four will begin their careers at end.

“We needed some [defensive linemen], particularly ends,” Cavanaugh said. “The thing I like about all of these guys is they can run.”

Tech’s staff also focused on defensive backs, signing four, including three cornerbacks – all from outside the state. The headliner is Hosley, the PrepStar All-American who went to the same high school as former standouts Brandon Flowers and David Clowney. Michigan and Ohio State were in on him early and Georgia expressed interest. He ultimately picked Tech over South Florida on signing day.

“The thing with him is he kept it open until the very end,” Beamer said. “Us having the last visit turned out to be a good thing. That’s a risky thing, too. But it was one of those things that just worked out well.”
The other two corners include Jerrodd Williams, a 6-0, 185-pounder who hails from South Carolina, and James Hopper, a 5-9, 180-pounder from Fayetteville, N.C.
“You’re always trying to find those corners,” Cavanaugh said. “And if some of them don’t work out, you can move them.”
The fourth defensive back is Norman, a 6-3, 190-pounder from Richmond. He’s a tall, rangy player who projects as a safety at Tech.

Filling other needs

The rest of Tech’s recruiting class was balanced. The Hokies’ staff signed two offensive linemen (Miller and Kory Gough) with big frames and quick feet. They also added two linebackers – Tariq Edwards (potentially) and Clark.

On offense, David Wilson and Thomas headline the skill players. Tech already possesses three good tailbacks in Darren Evans, Josh Oglesby and Ryan Williams. But Wilson isn’t afraid of competition – and Beamer isn’t afraid to play true freshmen.

“We’re going to put the best players out there on the field, and that’s just the deal,” Beamer said. “It’s up to him and how he does when he gets here. He’s has the potential to be a great player and he’s such a good person, too.”

Thomas is as intriguing if only because of his versatility. Tech’s staff listed him as an “athlete” on the signing day release and plans on looking at him at receiver, H-back, tight end and maybe even quarterback.

“I think he’s a guy that you want to move around,” Beamer said. “I think he’s going to be athletic enough to do a lot of things for you. I think he’s got possibilities at a lot of places.”

The Hokies also added three more high-powered offensive skill players. D.J. Coles, a 6-3, 215-pounder who spent the fall at Fork Union after signing with the Hokies last year, gives Tech a huge presence at receiver. Exum, a 6-0, 190-pounder, and Nubian Peak, a 6-1, 180-pounder from Pulaski County High in Dublin, Va., round out the group. Tech’s staff listed both of them as athletes.

Exum accounted for 2,357 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior and he returned six kicks for touchdowns. Peak rushed for 1,436 yards and 22 touchdowns this past season.

“We’ll probably give Antone the opportunity to play both sides of the ball and see how he does,” Cavanaugh said. “I know this – he’s a talented kid and a good student.

“And I think you’ll see Nubian play some receiver. Maybe try to get him the ball on screens and reverses, things like that.”

Wrapping it up

Logan Thomas is one of Tech’s most touted recruits and could play any number of positions once he arrives on campus. Photo courtesy of The News & Advance

One area where the Tech staff came up short was at quarterback, though not by design. On the contrary, the coaches worked every possible angle. They made offers to two in-state quarterback prospects who went elsewhere, and a third in-state prospect never showed any interest in the Hokies. The staff even tried to bring in a prospect from Texas at the last minute, but that failed to pan out, as the kid ended up signing with Baylor.

Beamer addressed the quarterback situation, saying that he planned on giving Ju-Ju Clayton and Marcus Davis, two rising redshirt freshmen, plenty of reps there this spring, and that he might increase Greg Boone’s workload at quarterback as well. In this class, Exum and Thomas both will get looks.

“I think our quarterback situation will be OK,” Beamer said. “I’m not sure these guys are not pure quarterbacks. Yeah, we missed on a couple. But we think we’ve got a couple good ones in our program, too.”

The staff is already working on possibilities for next year’s class. Of course, that goes for every position, not just quarterback. Tech’s staff practically wrapped up a lot of its recruiting early, and the extra time enabled them to get a jumpstart on next year’s recruiting.

“We’ve probably watched more video and we’re more ahead than we’ve ever been on next year’s class,” Beamer said. “And I really think we’ve got a shot to have another terrific class next year.”

For the short term, though, they savoring what they’ve put together – another top-25 recruiting class, one certainly with the potential to keep those 10-win seasons, ACC championships and bowl berths continuing.

“The thing that I like about this group is that they can all run and they’re all athletic,” Cavanaugh said. “There’s athletic ability in this class no matter what position. If you’re going to win at this level, you better have kids who can run and kids who have athleticism, and I think we’ve got that with this class.”