By Dave Glenn and staff
October 18, 2004 Coaches always say you can't judge a recruiting class until three or four years down the road, so we decided to do just that. With hindsight as our guide, we examined the ACC football recruiting classes of 2001 and posted new grades ( see chart) for them, based on the productivity of those players four years into their college careers. Not surprisingly, perennial national superpower and current ACC leader Miami (who says recruiting rankings are meaningless?) led the way in 2001, despite a surprise coaching change that winter from Butch Davis to Larry Coker. The Hurricanes landed numerous NFL-caliber prospects (some are already there) on signing day, and many of their seniors and redshirt juniors are leading the way on the field this fall. N.C. State fared very well in coach Chuck Amato's first full recruiting cycle, while Virginia thrived despite its transition from George Welsh to Al Groh. At the other end of the spectrum, the classes at North Carolina and Wake Forest suffered greatly amidst changes at the top, while Duke took its usual place near the bottom of the pack.
Tech: O'Leary Left Parting Gift
ATLANTA According to the experts, Reuben Houston already had seen the top quarterbacks in the high school Class of 2001. When he arrived at Georgia Tech that fall, Houston thought he saw the best: Yellow Jackets freshman Damarius Bilbo.
"I couldn't believe it. I'd never seen anything like it before," said Houston, who'd seen at camps Brodie Croyle and D.J. Shockley, the nation's top-rated prep quarterbacks four years ago. "I didn't see a Bilbo in either one of those guys. I felt like he was going to be the guy to blow up and do something real big."
Houston wasn't the only one to see those things in Bilbo, an athletic 6-3 quarterback with a cannon for an arm. In the Yellow Jackets' highly successful Class of 2001, Bilbo originally was thought to be the prize catch for head coach George O'Leary.
Almost four years later, Bilbo is a second-team wide receiver. He's an important player for the Yellow Jackets but hardly the best player in a 2001 class that coupled with another strong O'Leary group in 2000 has served as the foundation for back-to-back bowl teams under Chan Gailey over the past two seasons.
The Yellow Jackets, who had gone 27-9 with three victories over in-state rival Georgia from 1998-2000, secured one of the best classes in the ACC in 2001. The 24-man group announced on signing day ranked from 16th to 23rd nationally. In the same year, Tech also added Tennessee quarterback transfer A.J. Suggs and a little-known walk-on tailback named P.J. Daniels.
"I fell in love with the coaching staff under Coach O'Leary," said defensive end Eric Henderson, another prominent 2001 newcomer. "They were doing some great things here."
O'Leary, along with recruiting coordinator David Kelly, had expanded the Yellow Jackets' recruiting efforts nationwide. In 2001 they signed players from California, Colorado, Minnesota, Texas, New Jersey, Ohio and Mississippi.
"It's the best class since I've been at Georgia Tech," O'Leary said at the time.
The coach may have been right, but what he didn't know at the time was that the 2001 class also would prove to be his last with the Yellow Jackets. O'Leary left for Notre Dame and the ensuing resume flap after the 2001 season. Kelly, among the top recruiters in the country, left with him. No one from that staff remains at Tech today.
But O'Leary clearly left the cupboard stocked in Atlanta, thanks largely to the Class of 2001. Among the 26 players (including Daniels and Suggs) in the bunch, 13 became full-time starters, including 11 on this year's team. Five more see action as reserves this fall.
"We knew we were going to have a good class ever since we came in," said middle linebacker Gerris Wilkinson, who along with Bilbo was the most highly recruited player in the class. At the time, Wilkinson went by the last name Bowers-Wilkinson. "We've been talking about that ever since our freshman year."
Wilkinson, who said he chose Tech over Miami because he liked the Yellow Jackets' team-oriented approach more than the Hurricanes' star-oriented approach, is among the success stories. He started at defensive end last season and now ranks among the conference's leading tacklers as a middle linebacker.
Four players Daniels, Henderson, safety James Butler and offensive tackle Nat Dorsey earned All-ACC honors in previous seasons. Three have a chance to repeat that accomplishment this fall. Butler and Henderson are potential All-America candidates.
In a decision that surprised and disappointed many at Tech, Dorsey applied for early entry into the NFL draft after the 2003 season. A fourth-round pick of Minnesota, he already has started two games for the Vikings this year. Defensive end Tony Hargrove also is in the NFL already. He was among the 10 players Georgia Tech dismissed for academic failings in the summer of 2003. A third-round selection in this year's draft by St. Louis, he's a second-team end for the Rams this fall.
Daniels is perhaps the best story in the class. He had conditional offers from Tulane and Northwestern as a prep senior, but by the time he made his standardized test score those offers had dried up. Instead of attending junior college or a Division I-AA school, Daniels packed his stuff and drove to Atlanta, with little more than a promise from O'Leary that he could be a walk-on. Daniels redshirted in 2001 and began 2002 as the team's seventh-string tailback. Injuries opened the way for him that season, and he rushed for 255 yards. In 2003, he was the ACC's leading rusher and a first-team All-ACC selection.
Re-stocking the offensive line was a high priority for the Yellow Jackets in 2001, and they ultimately found three starters, in addition to Dorsey. Brad Honeycutt, Andy Tidwell-Neal and Kyle Wallace all have started for more than one season for Tech, while Salih Besirevic has been an important backup at both guard and tackle.
Houston, cornerback Dennis Davis (out for 2004 with a shoulder injury), safety Dawan Landry and defensive end Travis Parker are the others from the class who became full-time starters for the Jackets. Bilbo and Levon Thomas made Tech's rotation of receivers. Defensive tackle Omar Billy and linebacker Tabugbo Anyansi recently have slid down the depth chart, but they were second-string players at one point early this season.
That's an outstanding haul from one recruiting class, and it confirmed Houston's initial thoughts on the group.
"It was kind of overwhelming," Houston said, "because you see guys are coming in playing the same position as you and you're thinking to yourself, 'I've got to out-do this guy first be-fore I can even think about trying to out-do an upperclassman.'"
The class has not been without some failings, which have hurt the Yellow Jackets, particularly at quarterback.
Suggs, a 1999 prep All-American out of Georgia, sat out the 2001 season under NCAA rules after transferring from Tennessee. In the spring of 2002, he beat out Bilbo for the starting job by showing a greater understanding of Gailey's offense. But his grasp of the scheme rarely extended into games, where he turned the ball over at an alarming rate. Suggs engineered some solid performances during his single season as a starter, but the numbers that stuck out were his 15 interceptions and 12 touchdowns.
When Suggs threw two interceptions in the first half against Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Football Classic, his starting days were over. He threw the final interception late in the first half, and it was returned for a touchdown. The play occurred seconds after Gailey had told Suggs to throw the ball away if the read wasn't there.
Gailey was intent on replacing Suggs in the spring of 2003, and when Bilbo showed he could not handle the starting job, Gailey handed the job to true freshman Reggie Ball. Suggs remained the backup but did not play until Ball was injured against Georgia. Suggs threw two touchdown passes against the Bulldogs but also two interceptions. He also played in the Humanitarian Bowl blowout of Tulsa, completing his only two pass attempts.
To his credit, Suggs never publicly complained about his situation and was a help to Ball. However, Suggs rarely seemed involved on the sidelines, often standing 30 or more yards away from the offensive coordinator when Tech had the ball. He graduated in 2004.
Meanwhile, the success Tech had with Joe Hamilton, who was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1999, attracted other athletic quarterbacks to Atlanta. In the Class of 2001, the Yellow Jackets signed three prep quarterbacks who generally were ranked among the nation's top 40: Bilbo (top 15), Landry (top 25) and Rahshan Johnson (top 40). They did it despite the fact that well-known offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen left to take the Maryland job long before signing day.
"We brought in three very talented quarterbacks," O'Leary said on signing day. "They are similar in what they can do, as far as running and throwing the football."
Quarterback rankings, as evidenced by the struggles of Croyle and Shockley, can be deceiving. However, in the same year, prep All-Americans such as Matt Leinart (Southern Cal), Kyle Orton (Purdue) and Bryan Randall (Virginia Tech) all turned out very well.
Of the Yellow Jackets' three highly touted signees, none is playing quarterback this fall for Georgia Tech or anyone else. Only Bilbo even took a snap at the position in a college game. In retrospect, the Yellow Jackets got almost nothing out of three consecutive quarterback recruiting classes, in 2000 (Mark Logan, Brandon Sumner), 2001 (Bilbo, Landry, Johnson, Suggs) and 2002 (no signees).
Bilbo's athleticism never translated into effective quarterback play. The coaching staff moved him to running back (for one practice) and then to wide receiver in 2003. Bilbo had the chance to transfer and seriously considered it, but ultimately he opted to stay at Tech. As a receiver, he has shown potential but has yet to break out, though teammates and coaches rave about his abilities.
"He's just an all-around athlete," Houston said. "He's kind of like a freak."
Johnson was moved to wide receiver midway through the 2001 season and transferred to home-state Bowling Green in 2002, although he never played football there. A 6-1, 202-pounder, Johnson chose the Yellow Jackets over several BCS-conference offers.
Fullback Brian Johnson was expected to be the starter in 2002 after a redshirt season, but he injured his ankle in spring practice that year and never played. A 6-3, 240-pounder from Evans, Ga., he later transferred to North Carolina A&T. In A&T's first five games this fall, Johnson had two carries for six yards and a touchdown.
Linebacker E.J. Kuale played on special teams for Tech as a freshman, but he was dismissed from the team after the season. He went to junior college power Dodge City in Kansas and earned third-team All-America status in 2003. He is a part-time starter this fall at Louisiana State, where he was suspended for this year's Florida game for his involvement in an off-campus altercation.
Defensive tackle LeRon Lee redshirted in 2001 and left the program in 2002. He has not resurfaced anywhere.
Defensive lineman Scott Wolf redshirted in 2001 and left the program after the season because of serious neck problems. He later enrolled at home-state South Florida, where doctors granted him medical clearance to play in 2003, but he made no tackles last year and is not listed on the Bulls' roster this season.
Brian Murphy, Macon (Ga.) Telegraph
UVa Survived Coaching Change
CHARLOTTESVILLE He needed players, and quick. When Al Groh took over as Virginia's head coach in the first week of January 2001, that much was apparent.
After posting 13 consecutive winning seasons from 1987-99, the Cavaliers had become stagnant entering the 21st century. When George Welsh retired with one game remaining in the 2000 season, he left his successor decent returning talent and 15 high school players who had committed to the program. That's what Groh had to go on, and not much more.
"We really didn't do that much evaluating of talent at that time," Groh said. "What we tried to do was get to know the person. In a very general sense, there's two categories you learn to evaluate the player by. One is tools; the other one is make-up. We just had to assume the tools were at a certain level, otherwise the player wouldn't already be on the list. So we just wanted to find out about the player's make-up and see how close he might come to the type of model we'd eventually want to construct out of the players. Out of that has come some players who clearly have shown themselves to not only fit nicely within the model of what we're looking for, but to, in fact, be the model."
Of the 15 commitments he inherited, Groh managed to keep 11. He added eight more, giving him 19 on his first signing day at UVa. Recruiting analysts generally ranked it fifth or sixth among the ACC's nine classes. There were few sexy names or prep All-Americans. But nearly four years later, you can say it has stood the test of time.
Today, Virginia has 10 players from that 2001 class on its two-deep roster 11 if you count kickoff specialist Kurt Smith, a recruited walk-on. Among them are six extremely productive starters: quarterback Marques Hagans, right guard Elton Brown, tight end Heath Miller, defensive end Brennan Schmidt, running back Alvin Pearman and linebacker Darryl Blackstock. Brown and Miller are very strong All-America candidates.
"There were some very good players in that class," Groh said. "Maybe not in volume, but there are some players who are clearly among the very best players on the team now and who have made a significant contribution. They've really, in some respects, created the model that we're trying to fulfill with their success. Right from the start, they've been a very vital factor in what we've been trying to do. And they continue to be so."
In his first season as Virginia's starting quarterback, Hagans led the Cavaliers to an impressive 5-1 start and ranked among the nation's leaders in pass efficiency. Miller emerged as one of the nation's best tight ends, with 70 receptions as a sophomore in 2003, and is considered a likely first-round pick in next spring's NFL draft should he apply for early entry. Pearman led Virginia in rushing as a true freshman and is one of the most versatile players in the ACC.
Brown, last year's winner of the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, has been a fixture at right guard since late in his true freshman season. Blackstock, who had 10 sacks as a rookie in 2002, has started 31 consecutive games. Schmidt has started 32 in a row and is one of the team's four co-captains. The Class of 2001 also includes Brian Barthelmes, who has played every position on the offensive line but center, and Jermaine Hardy, who has started the last two years at safety.
Welsh pointed out that the 2000 season, when members of this recruiting class were taking their official visits, was the first after the completion of Scott Stadium's $86 million facelift.
"When those kids came here and visited the stadium, and when they came to some games in 2000, they were very impressed," Welsh said. "We thought it was going to be a really good class."
Virginia's highest-rated signees in 2001 were linebacker Melvin Massey of Newport News, Va., tight end Patrick Estes of Richmond and cornerback Randy Jones of Rockingham, N.C. Estes and Massey (now at nose tackle) are both backups this fall. Jones never played after a near-fatal car wreck in October 2001 and ultimately left school.
Miller, maybe the best tight end in college football, came in as a little-known All-Group A quarterback from Swords Creek, Va. His only other Division I-A offer was from Iowa. Brown had major league potential but a troubled past that ultimately caused some programs, including his co-favorites Maryland and North Carolina, to shy away. Hagans had an impressive resume after following Ronald Curry at Hampton High and then leading a productive offense at Fork Union Military Academy, but he wasn't considered a blue-chipper as a 5-10 quarterback.
In SuperPrep's signing day edition, recruiting analyst Allen Wallace wrote: "The Cavaliers suffered from their coaching change recruiting-wise."
Virginia Tech had badly beaten the Cavaliers on the homefront, landing the state's two top prospects: quarterback Bryan Randall of Williamsburg and cornerback DeAngelo Hall of Chesapeake.
"We didn't think all that highly of the Virginia effort," said Wallace, who also serves as the national recruiting editor for Scout.com. "We did think they were affected by the coaching change."
The only holdover from Welsh's staff was defensive backs coach Bob Price, who had established ties to the Pennsylvania area. But Groh elected not to retain Danny Wilmer, Welsh's long-time recruiting coordinator, who had landed such UVa greats as Terry Kirby, Chris Slade, Tiki Barber and Thomas Jones. Groh's eight new assistants had a combined 39 years of college experience. Their average age was 33.6 years.
Groh and his staff hit the ground running. Their first job was to secure the 15 kids who had committed to Welsh. They ended up losing four, including tight end Mark Jetton (Clemson) and defensive lineman Renaldo Moses (N.C. State). But they kept 11, including Brown, Hagans and Pearman.
"I wanted to play for Coach Welsh, so when Coach Groh took over, I sort of took my commitment back," Brown said. "I really didn't know anything about Coach Groh, but maybe two weeks after that he came down to my high school and sat down and talked to me. He was straightforward with me and I liked that, so I committed on the spot."
"When Coach Welsh left, I had no idea what the next coaching staff would be like, what they'd want from me, what they expected of me, of even if they wanted me," Pearman said. "I thought it was important to get out and visit other schools, to see what else was out there. But Coach Groh came to visit me and discussed his plans for the team and me. And I bought into it."
The coaching change won Virginia at least one player. Schmidt, from just up the road in McLean, wasn't on the previous staff's radar. He had committed to Boston College, where he had been recruited by assistant Mike London. When London joined Groh's staff at UVa, Schmidt came to Charlottesville for a visit. The Cavs offered, and he accepted.
Six members of the 2001 class wide receiver Ottowa Anderson, Brown, Estes, Hardy, Pearman and linebacker Bryan White played as true freshmen. Pearman started six games and led the team in rushing (371 yards) and all-purpose yards (1,167). After being brought along slowly, Brown started the final four games at right guard and has been there ever since.
Of the 19 prospects who signed with Virginia, three failed to qualify. Defensive tackle Mawase Falana and offensive lineman Robert Jenkins never enrolled. Blackstock arrived at Virginia in 2002, after prepping for a year at Fork Union Military Academy. A near-tragic story was Jones, who was involved in a horrific car crash during his freshman year. He eventually recovered but never played and has since left school.
Falana's story evolved into one of a true football vagabond. After failing to qualify with the Cavaliers in 2001, he enrolled at Purdue in January 2002 as a partial qualifier but left the school during winter conditioning, before playing a single game with the Boilermakers. He spent the 2002 season at William Penn, an NAIA program in Iowa, and earlier this year he signed with Division I-AA Delaware State. He never even showed up there, instead enrolling this fall as a walk-on at Division I-A South Florida in his home state. During August drills with the Bulls, Falana left the team, again without ever playing a game.
Jenkins re-signed with Virginia in 2002, but the university's admissions department rejected his application out of junior college. A 22-game starter at center for Nassau (N.Y.) Community College over two seasons, he signed with Maryland a year later and enrolled at the school in January 2003. While dealing with some academic difficulties during his time in College Park, Jenkins redshirted last fall and has not yet played a snap in 2004.
Tight end Tyree Spinner redshirted at Virginia in 2001, then transferred with his brother Bryson (a 1999 UVa signee) to Richmond in 2002. Tyree played as a reserve defensive lineman for the Spiders in 2002 and 2003 before leaving the team, while Bryson became Richmond's starting quarterback in 2003. Bryson spent time in two NFL camps this August but didn't make a regular-season roster.
Two wide receivers Anderson and Scott Robinson also are no longer with the program. Anderson was dismissed from the university this summer for academic reasons, prior to his arrest in July on assault and battery charges that stemmed from a domestic disturbance involving a female UVa student. Robinson left the Virginia football team after the 2002 season but continued as a member of the school's track program. He placed eighth at the 2003 ACC Indoor Track Championships in the 60-meter hurdles.
"Obviously, there were some who, as time went on, didn't see themselves fitting into the way things were done and whatnot," Groh said. "But there were some pretty good members of that class."
Dave Johnson, Newport News (Va.) Daily Press
Hokies Didn't Capitalize Enough
BLACKSBURG On Feb. 7, 2001, life was good for Virginia Tech's football staff. The future looked a lot brighter than it did on Feb. 6.
It was national signing day, which brings out optimism in every corner of the college football world every year, but this recruiting class was different. This group represented the Holy Grail of Tech's recruiting efforts.
Included in the Hokies' haul were two Parade All-Americans, seven SuperPrep All-Americans, the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation and the highest ranking (No. 8) SuperPrep ever has given to a Virginia Tech recruiting class. This class was supposed to help finish the job the 1999 team couldn't complete in the Sugar Bowl. This class was supposed to keep Tech a national title contender after consecutive 11-1 campaigns.
More than halfway through the 2004 regular season, the greatest recruiting class in Tech history had compiled a record of 31-15 since it arrived on campus. Most of the 2001 signees have played in three bowl games, but only one on New Year's day, a 30-17 loss to Florida State in the 2002 Gator Bowl.
That's not to say that some members of the 2001 class haven't lived up to the hype. Indeed, several players have surpassed expectations.
Tailback Kevin Jones from Chester, Pa., the nation's top recruit, and cornerback DeAngelo Hall from Chesapeake, Va., left Tech after just three seasons to become first-round selections in the 2004 NFL draft. Senior quarterback Bryan Randall from Williamsburg, Va., has developed into Tech's all-time leader in total yardage. Jones and Randall were the two Parade All-Americans. Some rated Hall, another consensus All-American, the No. 1 senior in Virginia.
In retrospect, probably only Miami in the ACC and likely few teams in the entire nation landed a threesome in 2001 any more impressive than Hall, Jones and Randall. As it turned out, they didn't get enough help from their classmates, but nevertheless they proved to be exactly the kind of recruits Tech needed to remain nationally significant.
"I think those guys have turned out very well," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "A couple of them came out (to the NFL) early, but most of those guys (from the 2001 class) have been good, solid performers for us."
Ten out of Tech's 22 signees, plus one significant walk-on, have started at least once. Seven of them have become regular contributors in the starting lineup. But keeping Tech in the national picture has proven to be a tall order, and one that hasn't always panned out.
"It's par for the course," said Allen Wallace, the national recruiting editor for SuperPrep and Scout.com. "A batting average of 50 percent is great in the recruiting business. I think a big question is how many guys can keep the fire going. Not just to suit up and play, but to really have an impact and be great."
Unfortunately for the Hokies, numerous players from their 2001 class fell well short of that description. They either lost the will to compete, found other interests that made football a secondary priority, or flat-out left the program:
Fred Lee, a 5-8, 186-pound receiver, was a high school All-American out of Harrisburg, Pa., in 2001. He signed at Tech, spent a year at Milford Academy in Connecticut and re-signed in 2002. After redshirting, Lee wasn't making any headway on Tech's depth chart at receiver. He requested and was granted a release from his scholarship in September 2003. He asked for his transcripts to be sent to Boston College, Michigan State and Pittsburgh, but he never appeared on any of those rosters.
Two unheralded Tech signees suffered similar fates. Will Hunt, a 6-1, 205-pound quarterback from Springdale, Ark., never challenged for playing time with the Hokies and left the team before the start of 2003 spring practice. He has remained enrolled in classes at Tech and is a senior majoring in management. Kevin Hilton, a 6-1, 272-pound defensive tackle from Wheaton, Md., departed Tech prior to the 2003 season. He is not playing Division I-A football this fall.
Curtis Bradley, a 6-3, 320-pound offensive tackle from Summerville,
S.C., never cracked Tech's depth chart and transferred to Division
I-AA Morgan State in Baltimore last year. He played in four games as a backup last season and is starting this year.
Chris Pannell, a 6-3, 256-pound defensive tackle from Staunton, Va., exited the program prior to the start of this season to concentrate on academics. Coming out of high school, he was rated among the top 25 seniors in Virginia. He redshirted in 2001, then tried defensive end, defensive tackle and offensive tackle, but he never cracked the two-deep.
As was the case with Lee, Hilton's and Pannell's decisions to leave the team were affected by depth chart concerns. In 2003, sophomore Jonathan Lewis and junior Kevin Lewis, who are brothers, were firmly entrenched as starters at defensive tackle, and sophomore Tim Sandidge, another member of the 2001 class, and junior Jason Lallis were solid backups. It would've been tough for Hilton to crack that foursome.
The situation at defensive tackle was similar coming into this season, as the Lewis brothers, Sandidge and Lallis were all a year older and Kory Robertson was coming off of an impressive redshirt season. Add the re-emergence of senior Jim Davis as an interior defensive lineman, and Pannell's hopes of breaking into the lineup seemed slim.
While Hall, Jones and Randall went on to have stellar careers at Tech, it hasn't been as rosy for three other high school All-Americans from the 2001 class.
Junior Justin Hamilton from Clintwood, Va., started six games at wide receiver last season. He was moved to tailback in spring practice this year and is backing up starter Mike Imoh. Junior Cedric Humes from Virginia Beach, Va., spent two years backing up Jones and Lee Suggs, then started the first four games this season at tailback. With Imoh's emergence, Humes was moved down to No. 3 on the depth chart in October. Junior D.J. Walton from Dumfries, Va., was suspended from the team last season after being arrested for his second DUI offense. He re-joined the team in spring practice and is third-team at rover.
Among the players who weren't the most highly sought-after recruits coming out of high school, there have been some bright spots. A few players even have worked their way into regular starting jobs.
Tight end Jeff King from Dublin, Va., linebacker James Anderson from Chesapeake, Va., and left guard Reggie Butler from Charlottesville, Va. all juniors this fall each started Tech's first six games this season. King was the team's second-leading receiver with 13 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown, and Anderson had 24 tackles.
Junior Will Montgomery, a walk-on from Clifton, Va., has been one of the most successful no-names from the 2001 class. He came in as a defensive tackle, moved to the offensive line, started at left guard last season and is the starting center this season. He is now on scholarship.
Junior Chris Clifton from Chesapeake, Va., got his first career start in Tech's first game of the 2004 season at receiver against No. 1 Southern California, but he since has fallen back on the depth chart. Linebacker Blake Warren from Fairfax, Va., the son of former Washington Redskins great Don Warren, also started the first game of his career against USC, but he subsequently dropped back to No. 2 on the depth chart.
Some players from the 2001 class either got late starts or never have been able to make strides in moving up the depth chart.
Sophomore Andrew Fleck from Edmond, Okla., deferred his enrollment until January 2002 because of back surgery. He has bounced around from defensive tackle to center and is now a fourth-team tight end. Sophomore Brandon Frye from Myrtle Beach, S.C., also enrolled in January 2002 and is the No. 2 right tackle. Sophomore Danny McGrath from Herndon, Va., was another January 2002 enrollee and has worked his way up to the No. 2 center spot.
Junior Jason Murphy was recruited as a defensive tackle but got moved to the offensive line in the spring of 2003 and is now the No. 2 left guard. Junior Jordan Trott didn't start playing football until late in high school. He signed at Tech two weeks after signing day and has moved from linebacker to defensive end. He hasn't played this season because of a back injury.
Norm Wood, Newport News (Va.) Daily Press
Wake: Typical Hand-Off Class
WINSTON-SALEM Through six games this season, Wake Forest appeared to be only a few plays from being 6-0. With a little more talent, experience or depth, maybe the Demon Deacons wouldn't have lost in overtime to Clemson and N.C. State or dropped a second-half lead to Virginia Tech.
Something is haunting coach Jim Grobe, and it's the ghost of a mostly missing class the Class of 2001.
This class should be leading the program now, as seniors or redshirt juniors, but Grobe isn't getting much help from it. Only five 2001 signees are starters this fall, and two of those weren't even part of the school's signing day announcement. Few others are even contributing as reserves.
This class was the dreaded "hand-off" class from departing coach Jim Caldwell, who didn't exactly leave the cupboard well-stocked. Although Caldwell had been to a bowl game in 1999, Wake fell to 2-9 in 2000, which was the sixth season of three or fewer wins in Caldwell's eight years. Most recruits were correctly questioning his job security and the program's status.
When Caldwell was fired in December 2000, he left 12 commitments for Grobe. Four of them linebacker Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay (N.C. State), defensive end Charlton Keith (Minnesota/Kansas), defensive back Kendrick Simpo (Bethune-Cookman) and offensive lineman John Kato (North Carolina A&T) switched to other schools.
Of the eight Caldwell commitments who made it to signing day, just four are still with the team and only one is starting: defensive lineman Goryal Scales. He was pressed into action immediately because of Wake's lack of linemen, but he blew out a knee after two games. Since turning that season into a redshirt year, Scales has been a solid contributor in the middle of the line.
Four of Caldwell's players are now gone. Receiver Maurice Moten left without any on-field impact after an honor code violation in March 2003. Quarterback Nick Smith, the Virginia offensive player of the year as a prep senior, announced a transfer to Division I-AA James Madison but never surfaced on the team there. Linebacker Garrett Young is now a running back at Division II Tusculum in Tennessee. Defensive lineman Arthur Orlebar exited (with his younger brother Daniel) for Division I-AA Appalachian State after last season, leaving behind complaints about Wake's strength-training program. Arthur had eight tackles for ASU in his first six games this fall.
The three other Caldwell commitments who remain have had little impact. Wide receiver Cassiel Smith has never caught a pass for the Deacons. Defensive end John Finklea (Jason when he was recruited) showed potential but has been beset by injuries, including a concussion and an Achilles tear. Offensive lineman Kreg Rotthoff has seen only a few snaps at Wake and has been bothered by chronic knee pain.
Grobe took over that December with a recruiting dead period arriving quickly, and he and his staff wasted little time. His eight assistants from Ohio took two cars and drove the eight hours to Winston-Salem on a wintry Wednesday.
"We got briefed here on Thursday, and on Friday we all hit the road recruiting," assistant Dean Hood said at the time. "It's not like we had to sit there and meet on philosophy or talk about what kinds of kids we want. We just decided which areas everybody was going to have, got plane tickets and cars, and we were out of here."
While being familiar with each other helped, rushing usually doesn't aid recruiting. Grobe remembered signing 25 players when he arrived at Ohio, simply because he was shocked at the program's lack of depth. He also remembered that few of those players ever made an impact, and he didn't want to make the same mistakes in Winston-Salem.
"We were determined to be very patient and only take players we felt could come in and really contribute to helping us win in the ACC," Grobe said.
While Grobe's theory was correct, his results haven't turned out very well. He added nine players on signing day, plus Georgia linebacker Brad White as a transfer, and three more by the fall.
Only two of Grobe's original nine are starters. Offensive lineman Greg Adkins became a valuable reserve last year, despite an ankle injury, and he's played almost every snap this fall as a guard.
Quarterback Cory Randolph originally committed to Central Florida, but Grobe knew he would need another quarterback in the 2001 class, especially after C.J. Leak's injury and departure. Randolph saw action as a redshirt freshman backing up James MacPherson, then took over as the starter last season. Randolph can run and throw, but his passing is sporadic, and he struggled down the stretch last year. He's still the starter, but redshirt freshman Ben Mauk is gaining ground quickly.
Three of the players Grobe brought in are no longer with the program. Kicker Chris Strappel got into academic trouble and then charged that the program essentially forced him to quit. He wound up at Division I-AA East Tennessee State in 2003, just in time for that program to fold.
Wide receiver Derek Tharpe left after encountering the same honor code problem as Moten. Tharpe saw little action, but he'll be remembered by Wake Forest fans for a muffed punt return against Florida State in 2002. Wake had cut the FSU lead to 24-21 in the fourth quarter, then forced the Seminoles into a three-and-out. Fabian Davis, the usual punt returner, was injured, and Grobe put in Tharpe, who had returned punts in practice but never in a game. He fumbled near midfield, and FSU went in to score and finish off the Deacs.
Offensive lineman Craig Jones became a rising star as a perfect fit for Grobe's offense. He was versatile, agile and aggressive, and his bowling-ball style got him into the lineup. But Jones' academic and other off-field problems got him out of it. He was suspended last season, then re-instated, then kicked off the team in the spring.
The other six Grobe players from signing day are reserves this fall. Chris Owen moved from linebacker to fullback but plays only on special teams. Defensive back Robert Simmons is one of the team's hardest workers, but he's seen only a few career snaps. Linebacker Jason Pratt started getting some reps as a reserve late last season, and he's getting a few more in each game this year.
Dominic Anderson has been an unfortunate story so far. A number of big programs liked his talent on the recruiting trail, but an injury during his senior year kept many away. Recruited as a running back by Wake, he moved to strong safety as a redshirt freshman. As a reserve, he looked like a future star. Lack of depth at running back, though, forced the Deacons to move him back, and he was one of the stars of the 2003 spring game. But he tore up his knee in the 2003 opener, missing the rest of the season. This year, he's returned to safety but hasn't looked as strong so far.
Cori Stukes was recruited as a linebacker, but he moved to nose tackle because of Wake's lack of depth there. He's been a solid reserve for two years, starting five games last season. He's failed to seize his opportunity to make an impact this year, however.
Running back Cornelius Birgs looks like a star at times, and he would have started for the last couple of years if not for the presence of 2002 signee Chris Barclay. But Birgs keeps undermining himself, as he did when he slept through a spring scrimmage and again when he got suspended for a game this year. In that game, redshirt freshman Micah Andrews ran wild. When Andrews, a great practice player, got the backup carries after that, Birgs quit the team, only to ask to re-join later. He's back, but it's doubtful that Grobe has much patience left with him.
Two of the best players in the class were the two who arrived through unconventional means.
White has been the Deacons' defensive leader at linebacker for three seasons, after transferring from Georgia. When the Bulldogs fired coach Jim Donnan after the 2000 season, linebackers coach Brad Lambert moved to Grobe's new staff at Wake, and he told White a scholarship was waiting if he wanted it. White, though undersized, has used his brains and work ethic to become a standout.
Matt Wisnosky was originally an invited walk-on at Wake. His kicking career has been rocky, possibly costing the Deacs a couple of wins and getting him replaced by punter Ryan Plackemeier for part of last season. But Wisnosky showed tremendous improvement this year and became one of the league's better kickers, before blowing out his knee while making a tackle against Virginia Tech.
Wake Forest's signing day class was rated the worst in the ACC back in 2001, and it's difficult to dispute that now, even with the additions of White and Wisnosky. It contained no prep All-Americans and had only two signees (Anderson, Scales) who received multiple offers from BCS-conference schools. Recruiting rankings are far from perfect, but history suggests it's almost impossible to build a winning program that way.
Seven players from the class are no longer with the team, and six others are almost "dead weight" on the roster. The high attrition, which is rare at an outstanding academic school such as Wake, almost can be considered a good thing. It's allowed Grobe to recruit with those scholarships during the last several classes, after he got the program on more solid footing.
On signing day, Grobe identified the offensive line and inside linebacker as positions he wished he had addressed better. He's paying for that this season, as those are two of Wake's thinnest areas. Back in 2001, Grobe tried to put a positive spin on the class.
"As we look back years from now, I don't think we're going to say it's the strongest class that we've ever brought to Wake," Grobe said. "But we're not going to have a hole in our recruiting structure because of this class coming in."
Looking back, Grobe probably wouldn't make the latter statement again. Indeed, the failures of this class, compared to the relative success of the program, are all the more a tribute to Grobe's coaching ability.
Devils Endured Losses, Tragedy
DURHAM When Carl Franks looked at his recruiting class on signing day in 2001, the Duke coach said he saw speed and versatility. Almost everyone else saw yet another bunch of prospects likely to leave the Blue Devils at the bottom of the ACC.
The 22 high school players who joined the Duke program that February, plus Rutgers quarterback transfer Chris Dapolito, literally have experienced the worst of college football. The 17 who are still in Durham have outlasted Franks, who was fired last October.
Duke's Class of 2001, which includes 10 starters this season, took a 5-34 career record into late October. The class survived an 0-11 season that occurred during its first year on campus, plus the majority of an ACC-record 30-game conference losing streak, which ran from Nov. 13, 1999, through Nov. 8, 2003.
They have not matriculated through Duke without real tragedy, one beyond the numerous losses on the field. Defensive end Micah Harris, the spiritual leader and perhaps best player from the Class of 2001, died in a car accident in June. Living down to low expectations seems small compared to that loss.
"He meant a lot to all of us," said Duke coach Ted Roof, who spoke at Harris' funeral service in Ohio. "He was an example of someone who worked extremely hard to become a quality football player. He was someone who liked to laugh, to have fun, to enjoy life, to enjoy football. We miss him on and off the field."
On the bright side, 13-15 players from the 2001 group became contributors,
and six others remain with the program in some capacity. Franks was right about
this group's versatility. Six of the
remaining players switched positions at Duke.
The increase in team speed did not turn out as Franks planned. Two receivers he cited on signing day, Ben Kittleson and Mark Wigal, are no more than roster-fillers in terms of their on-field productivity. In other bad news, an unusually high number of 2001 signees transferred from a program that traditionally doesn't lose many players. Duke always has prided itself on keeping players and graduating them at a very high rate.
Of the four students who transferred, only Kurt Falke remains at the Division I-A level. An offensive lineman from Bellville, Texas, he left Duke after redshirting in 2001 and spending the 2002 season as a backup. He transferred to Blinn College, a junior college in Texas, and then to Syracuse. He is a backup tackle for the Orange this season.
Ben Baker, an offensive line prospect from Tustin, Calif., broke his wrist during his first season in Durham. Baker, whose father David Baker is the commissioner of the Arena Football League, left Duke and football after the 2001 season. He is a student at New York University and works part-time for the AFL offices in New York.
David Gutshall, a defensive end from Spartanburg, S.C., who was considered one of the top 10 prospects in South Carolina, also is out of football. He transferred to Coastal Carolina in his home state after redshirting during the 2001 season at Duke.
Receiver Lance Johnson, an unheralded recruit from Hickory, N.C., worked his way up the depth chart to become a dependable slot receiver for the Blue Devils. He caught 25 passes in 2002 and scored two touchdowns in six starts. In 2003 he caught 23 passes, and he entered spring practice this year as the No. 1 receiver, but this summer he was dismissed for violating team rules. After transferring to Division I-AA Gardner-Webb in North Carolina, Johnson is not academically eligible this season but plans to play in 2005.
Of the 13-15 contributors from the Class of 2001, nine are starters this fall. (A 10th is out for the season with an injury.) Two others are Harris, a two-year starter who finished his career with 124 tackles and 6.5 sacks, and linebacker Jim Scharrer, Duke's version of Chris Weinke.
At the age of 25, Scharrer joined the Devils for spring practice in 2001, after six years of minor league baseball. He started the 2001 season at outside linebacker, making 69 tackles and one sack. After shoulder surgery in December 2001, he lost his starting job to Brendan Dewan in 2002. Scharrer graduated after the 2002 season and decided not to use his final two seasons of eligibility.
Linebacker Giuseppe Aguanno, rated the 12th-best prospect in New York by SuperPrep, leads the Blue Devils in tackles this season with 45 (through the first five games) and finished with 60 in 2003 as a reserve.
Alex Green, a three-year starter, was considered one of the top 10 prospects in Maryland. A handful of NFL scouts attended Duke's 28-10 win over The Citadel earlier this season, and they were there to watch Green and one of his 2001 classmates. Defensive tackle Orrin Thompson, a 6-5, 315-pounder who arrived at Duke from Charlotte Christian Academy as a 230-pound end, is another three-year starter for the Devils.
Versatile tight end Andy Roland came to Duke as a top-40 prospect from Pennsylvania. He has lined up as a tight end and fullback this season and leads the Devils with two touchdown catches. For his career, Roland has 42 catches and five TDs. He has one season of eligibility remaining, after redshirting in 2001.
"He's been a steady player for us for three years," Roof said. "I've always said good things happen when he touches the ball."
One of the most intriguing recruits from 2001 was Dewan, a running back from Austin, Texas, who was the team captain for national power Westlake High but was ignored by most of the in-state Division I-A programs. After Dewan redshirted in 2001, Duke made him a linebacker, where he has started since 2002. He showed his running back pedigree with a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown in the 2002 season opener against East Carolina, which ended what was at the time the nation's longest (23 games) losing streak.
Jim Moravchik, rated one of the top 10 seniors in Wisconsin, waited behind a veteran group of linemen before getting a starting role this season at left tackle. He also redshirted in 2001 and can play next season if he wants.
Five of this year's starters didn't earn any rave reviews from the recruiting analysts but have worked their way into the lineup during their time in Durham.
Phillip Alexander, an outside linebacker from the Bronx, N.Y., switched to defensive end at Duke and played as a true freshman. He was second on the team with 6.5 sacks in 2003. He has added 40 pounds since arriving in Durham and was considered an All-ACC candidate this season, before breaking his leg in the second game. Alexander will apply for a medical redshirt so he can play in 2005.
Chris Best came in as a tight end from Canada and ended up winning a starting spot at left guard this season on a struggling line. A redshirt junior, he saw limited action in 2002 and 2003 but started three of the first five games this fall.
Running back Cedric Dargan spent most of his high school career at White Oak High in Jacksonville, N.C., injured. At Duke he has dealt with a number of foot and toe problems, and until this season he played behind All-ACC tailback Chris Douglas and Alex Wade. In his first start this season, Dargan rushed for 114 yards but injured his left knee and foot and missed the next several games.
Safety Brian Greene started two seasons at cornerback before switching to strong safety this season. A second-team all-state selection from Kennesaw, Ga., he entered Duke without a state or regional ranking by a scouting service.
Of the six backups still with the program, defensive tackle Demetrius Warrick has been the biggest disappointment. A SuperPrep All-American out of Wilmington, Del., he has played but not as a regular starter. He has added 70 pounds but was a reserve behind All-ACC tackle Matt Zielinski last season and now behind sophomore Casey Camero.
Receivers Wigal and Kittleson haven't panned out, with Kittleson out for the season with a knee injury and Wigal with two career receptions. Receiver Jamin Pastore has been used as a punt returner but has suffered multiple concussions, which could end his playing career. John-Paul Kimbrough came in as a cornerback but switched to running back this spring. He has a lingering knee injury that has kept him off the field. Defensive end David Martin has played sparingly, despite a lack of depth at his position.