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February 11, 2010

Tech staff replenishes the lines with 2010 recruiting class

By: Jimmy Robertson

Photo courtesy of The Lynchburg News & AdvanceZack McCray (86), one of the Hokies’ top recruits, excelled as a tight end and defensive end at Brookville High School in Lynchburg, Va., and should help the program on defense in the future.

In early January, Tech head coach Frank Beamer and his staff spent their time working hard on recruiting coming off that thrilling victory over Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Only they were working on the 2011 class.

That’s because the Tech coaching staff secured oral commitments from all 20 of its recruits before Christmas and all 20 stayed true to their word, signing with the Hokies on Feb. 3, which served as National Signing Day. Of those 20, three enrolled at Tech for the spring semester (and technically didn’t sign letters-of-intent), joining three others who signed with Tech a year ago, but decided to defer enrollment until January.

The group includes nine linemen (four on offense, five on defense), four linebackers, three defensive backs, two quarterbacks, a receiver and a tight end. As usual, the Hokies’ haul featured an overwhelming number of in-state players, with 13 of the 20 hailing from the Commonwealth.

“I think it’s been another very successful recruiting year,” Beamer said. “I like the talent level and athletic ability of this class. I think we’ve got some guys who are versatile and can play any number of positions. I think academically and character wise, this class is very, very good. A lot of these guys we saw in our one-day camp and got to know them first hand. That always helps.”

Most recruiting services thought highly of the class. For example, Rivals rated it No. 3 in the ACC behind Florida State and North Carolina and No. 22 nationally.

This bunch includes five who earned All-America status by various services that cover recruiting. Zack McCray, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound defensive end from Forest, Va.; Chase Williams, a 6-1, 228-pound linebacker form Leesburg, Va.; Nick Acree, a 6-5, 295-pound defensive tackle from King William, Va.; Mark Shuman, a 6-7, 285-pound offensive lineman from Fork Union, Va.; and Nick Dew, a 6-2, 210-pound linebacker from Virginia Beach, Va.; all earned SuperPrep All-America honors. McCray and Acree both earned PrepStar All-America honors as well.

McCray, on paper, headlines the bunch following a senior season in which he recorded 96 tackles and 13 sacks at Brookville High. He was a top-100 prospect by Sporting News and one of the top five players in Virginia by The Roanoke Times and Rivals.

Perhaps more importantly, he plays a position of need for the Hokies. Tech saw both of its starting defensive ends depart after this past season.

“We want him to be prepared and challenge for some playing time at defensive end,” Beamer said. “We think he can. Physically, he’s got the credentials. After that, it’s a matter of getting stronger and getting some knowledge. We’re going to give him that opportunity and I could see that happening.”

He won’t be the only one to get an opportunity. The staff likes all of these players and could see any number of them playing next fall, especially those along the defensive front.

Gauging the state haul

Top Five Recruits

Zack McCray – McCray was ranked as one of the top defensive end prospects in the country this year by many recruiting services, and he provides the Hokies with exactly what they need – a pass rusher coming off the edge with the ability to get to the quarterback. He possesses the frame to get much bigger and could be as big of a force against the run as he is rushing the passer.

Laurence Gibson – Gibson was a 240-pound defensive end in high school and had no offers after his senior season. Then he went to Hargrave, where he grew to 300 pounds and played offensive tackle, and college recruiters started taking notice. He enrolled at Tech for the spring semester and he may need a year or two to get adjusted to the college game. But his potential as an offensive tackle is limitless.

Mark Shuman – It’s hard not to base this selection on family pedigree given that his father and brother played college ball, but this Shuman could be the best of the group. He’s bigger than his brother, Ryan (former Tech center), and plays with good technique for a high school player. His size and footwork enable him to be a force in the running game, while his long arms can lock out a defender in pass protection.

Derrick Hopkins – Hopkins continued the tradition of Highland Springs players coming to Tech, and like most of the past ones, he put up good numbers at the prep level, with nine sacks as a defensive tackle his senior season. He’s not that tall, but he plays low and plays with power. He also plays with a tremendous motor and that makes him tough to block in the trenches.

Nick Dew – Dew has a nice blend of size, speed, quickness and overall athletic ability, but perhaps more importantly, the versatility to play any number of positions. He could play safety, rover or whip in the Hokies’ scheme. He shows tremendous burst and his long strides enable him to cover a lot of ground quickly. He should be a major producer on special teams as well.

As usual, Tech’s staff put much of its time and effort into recruiting Virginia prospects, with 12 members of this class hailing from the commonwealth. The total haul of Virginia prospects from the past three years is 49.

The talent in Virginia this particular year wasn’t quite as good as a year ago. According to Doug Doughty, who covers recruiting for The Roanoke Times, last year represented a banner year. In 2009, a state-record 67 players signed with FBS (Football Bowl Series) programs – the number never before had exceeded 50.

This year, though, the number stood at 48 as of press time.

“I think it was solid,” said Jim Cavanaugh of the state’s talent this year. Cavanaugh serves as the Hokies’ recruiting coordinator. “These things are cyclical, but there were a lot of good players. Of course, many times, that’s not judged until several years down the line. But I think the talent level was good.”

As expected, Cavanaugh fared quite well in his area of Richmond, bringing in defensive linemen Derrick Hopkins out of Highland Springs, Va., and DeAntre Rhodes, a Sandston, Va., native who signed with Tech last year and spent this past year at Hargrave. Rhodes was a SuperPrep All-American a year ago.

He also landed offensive linemen Matt Arkema out of Midlothian, Va., along with Shuman, whose dad, John, coaches the postgraduate team at Fork Union.

Bud Foster and Torrian Gray combined to land three out of northern Virginia, a group that includes Williams, linebacker Brian Laiti and receiver E.L. Smiling. And Curt Newsome signed two players from the Tidewater area, continuing a trend. He’s brought in 12 prospects from that area in the past three years.

In some cases, the talent in a particular area just wasn’t as strong. In the Lynchburg-Danville-Martinsville areas, for example, Tech signed just one prospect (excluding the Hargrave kids) – McCray. Last year, Bryan Stinespring signed three, all of whom were big-time prospects (Logan Thomas, David Wilson and Andrew Miller). But McCray was the only player from that area in Doughty’s top 25 this year and only five from that area made his top 50.

Of course, that’s not to say the Hokies didn’t do well statewide. Of Doughty’s top 25, Tech landed 10 – more than any other school. In contrast, the University of Virginia landed just three prospects and none of those three were in the top 15.

“I’m particularly proud that 13 of these players who came went to high school in the state of Virginia,” Beamer said of his class. “I think that continues to be a priority with us. We want to get our fair share of players from the state and I think that’s happened.”

Assessing the needs


Dominique Patterson – Patterson is another of the taller, rangy types whom the staff likes bringing into program. He has speed and he plays from sideline to sideline, probably excelling more at chasing down ball carriers and getting after quarterbacks than at anything else. One analysis said he was probably at his best playing in a pressure, up-field defense – which makes him a nice fit for Tech’s scheme.

Detrick Bonner – Bonner is a little on the small side, but the coaches like his speed and quickness and feel they stole one out of the state of Georgia. He also has good ball skills, which probably comes from having played a lot of receiver at his high school. He played some safety, too, so he has the versatility to help at any number of positions in Tech’s defensive backfield. He’ll start off at corner first.

Jerome Lewis –Lewis played on both sides of the ball, but probably projects best at tight end. The book on him is that he’s an outstanding receiver, with good hands and an ability to snatch balls out of the air. He adjusts to passes well and he competes for the ball. He’ll need to get bigger and stronger and he’ll have to work on his blocking, but his receiving skills make him a nice fit in an offense that uses multiple tight ends.

Matt Arkema –Arkema combines intelligence with solid athletic skills to rate as a very good offensive lineman. But the one thing Tech’s staff talked about with him more than anything else was his toughness. He works to finish blocks and plays to dominate opponents. He’ll need some time to improve his technique, but he fits the mold perfectly of a Tech offensive lineman – smart, tough and athletic.

Kyle Fuller –Several years ago, Tech’s staff brought in a tall, skinny kid from Baltimore with the thinking that he’d grow into a solid safety or corner, and now Vincent Fuller is playing in the NFL. Hopefully, his younger brother follows the same path. Kyle possesses a lot of the same attributes. He has good range and is extremely intelligent. He breaks on the ball well and possesses excellent ball skills.

For the second straight year, the Hokies’ staff went heavy on defensive linemen, and in general, they focused on the defensive side of the ball. Of the 20 in the class, 12 project to play on defense.

The staff landed five defensive line prospects. This comes after signing six defensive linemen a year ago. Of those six, though, one ended up moving to the offensive line (David Wang) and one is a part of this year’s class after attending Hargrave to meet NCAA eligibility requirements (Rhodes).

This year’s haul includes McCray and Rhodes along with Hopkins, a 6-0, 275-pound defensive end; Acree, a 6-5, 295-pound defensive tackle from King William, Va. (via Fork Union); and Justin Taylor, a 6-2, 218-pound end from Norwood, N.C.

McCray received national attention after recording 33 sacks the past two seasons at Brookville High. Rhodes earned SuperPrep All-America honors a year ago after a season with 48 tackles, including 14.5 for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Hopkins decided to join his brother, Antoine, at Tech and finished with 59 tackles and nine sacks while earning on the Richmond Times-Dispatch All-Met team this past season. Taylor is a little raw and has played organized football for just two years, but possesses a ton of potential – he led his school’s conference in sacks.

“All are tremendously athletic kids,” Cavanaugh said. “You’ve got to have size and athleticism to play on the defensive line. You’ve got to be able to bend your body and have loose hips, and you have to be instinctive. The defensive line is one of the toughest positions to recruit because you have to have all these things to be an effective player.”

Acree committed to the Hokies after his sophomore season at King William High. He spent this past season at Fork Union, though he did not play because he suffered a torn ACL last summer in a workout. He possesses phenomenal strength and should be ready to go full speed in the fall.

The staff also inked four projected linebackers, led by The Washington Post’s defensive player of the year in Laiti, who recorded 127 tackles this past season for Robinson High in Fairfax, Va. Williams, the son of New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, earned first-team All-Met honors by The Washington Post as well. The other two include Dew and Tahrick Peak, a 6-2, 205-pounder from nearby Pulaski County.

The number of linebackers seems surprising considering Tech’s current depth at the position. But remember, the staff saw whips Cody Grimm and Cam Martin graduate, and Jake Johnson, Barquell Rivers and Quillie Odom all will be juniors next season, so the staff wanted to bring in some players to mold for the future.

“I think that’s what you have to look at,” Cavanaugh said. “This isn’t an exact science. We’re just trying to get athletic people. We’ve got a lot back at linebacker, but down the road, we’ll need to replace some guys. So we’ll need some back-ups ready to go.”

The same logic can be applied to the defensive backfield. Rashad Carmichael and Davon Morgan leave after this upcoming season, and Cris Hill and Eddie Whitley will be seniors in 2011.

So the staff signed three projected as defensive backs – cornerbacks Detrick Bonner from Locust Grove, Ga., and Kyle Fuller from Baltimore, along with Patterson from King’s Fork High in Suffolk, Va. A year ago, the staff signed four projected as defensive backs (Jayron Hosley, Jerrodd Williams, James Hopper and Theron Norman, a young man who enrolled for this spring semester).

“I really like the defensive backs in this class,” Cavanaugh said. “I think they’re all good football players.”

Looking at offense

Photo courtesy of Patrick Dobbs/Media General News ServiceMatt Arkema dominated along the offensive line at the high school level and Tech’s coaches see him doing more of the same when he arrives in Blacksburg.

Tech’s staff planned all along to sign two quarterbacks in this class. In fact, the coaches told every quarterback whom they recruited that they planned on signing two, and they landed Mark Leal, a 6-0, 190-pounder from Delray Beach, Fla., and Ricardo Young, a 6-0, 174-pounder from Washington, D.C.

Both fit the Tech mold. Both played in spread systems in high school and both possess the ability to make plays running and throwing. Leal threw for 2,255 yards and 25 scores this past season, while Young tossed for 2,461 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Tyrod Taylor’s graduation after this upcoming season leaves Ju-Ju Clayton as the only quarterback with game experience in the program (Logan Thomas redshirted). So getting a couple of quarterbacks was imperative.

“We wanted to sign a couple of quarterbacks,” Cavanaugh said. “We’ve got three in the program and five is a good, workable number. One is going to leave [Taylor]. So I think we’ve got the right number.

“In looking at these two, they’re very similar. A quarterback has to be able to run and throw and both of these guys can do that.”

The staff inked just two other skill players on offense – Smiling out of Stafford, Va., and tight end Jerome Lewis out of Rochester, N.Y. The rest of the prospects on the offensive side of the ball are offensive linemen.

The staff signed four of those – Arkema, a 6-3, 284-pounder from Midlothian, Va.; Laurence Gibson, a 6-4, 296-pounder from Sierra Vista, Ariz., by way of Hargrave; Shuman, a 6-7, 285-pounder who played at Fork Union; and Caleb Farris, a 6-4, 295-pounder from Lexington, Va.

“I think we’re getting back on the right track,” Beamer said of his offensive line situation. “We’ve had some in the past few years who have played very well. We just didn’t have enough. We missed on some guys, but I feel like we’re getting closer to where we want to be. The guys we’ve added are helping us get closer.”

Wrapping it up

Photo courtesy of The Virginian-PilotDominique Patterson is projected to play free safety at Tech and could be one of the big sleepers out of this year’s class.

Tech’s staff has signed 31, 21 and 19 prospects combined the past three years, and while not all of them arrived in Blacksburg, most did and that leaves the Hokies in a bit of a numbers crunch heading into the 2011 recruiting season. After all, Tech graduates just 15 seniors following this upcoming season and less than half of those are scholarship players. So the staff is looking at being able to sign around 10 next February.

But positives remain. After all, most of the Hokies’ current two-deep returns for the next two years, making the team a contender for the ACC crown.

Most of the 2010 group will redshirt and that’s a good thing. But certainly the staff remains open to playing a true freshman. The Hokies need reinforcements on the defensive line, so McCray may play early, and Lewis could work his way into the mix at tight end.

“If a guy comes in and he’s ready to play, then we’re going to find a place to play him,” Beamer said. “I like getting young guys in there with your veterans, and I think that makes a good blend for your football team. All these guys, I’d like for them to come in and work hard and think that they’ll have a chance to play. Then we’ll make those determinations later on.”