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Hokies, Cavaliers Exposing Last Year's Exodus As Aberration

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Doug Doughty
Roanoke (Va.) Times

August 30, 2006

Virginia Tech and Virginia generally have succeeded in convincing their state's top football prospects to stay at home in recent times, so when there was a mass exodus in 2006, coaches from both staffs bravely called it an "aberration."

Based only on the early returns for 2007, it was an aberration.

Last year, none of the state's top five prospects (by any ratings service) went to Tech or UVa. This year, the state's marquee prospects are a couple of quarterbacks, Tyrod Taylor from Hampton High and Peter Lalich from West Springfield. By the end of July, both had pledged themselves to in-state programs, Taylor to Virginia Tech and Lalich to Virginia.

"When I went to (Tech's) senior camp (in July), I had a very good feeling," Taylor said. "I wanted a school close enough so my family could see me play. Then it was just wherever I felt most comfortable with the coaches and players. When I went to camp, I knew Tech was the best place for me."

"Virginia was my top school all along. I took a lot of trips and looked around, but I never found anybody to beat them out," Lalich said. "I like the coaching staff a lot, I like the offense they run, and I feel very comfortable around the players. I also think I'll have a chance to play early."

Neither commitment caused much of a stir. Virginia had targeted Lalich as its No. 1 choice, perhaps realizing that it would face an uphill battle for Taylor. Once, the Cavaliers had been the school of choice for Hampton players, but that relationship has soured since Al Groh's arrival as head coach in 2001.

Virginia Tech previously had gone more than a decade without landing a Hampton player, but when Hokies coach Frank Beamer had an opening on his staff this winter, he filled it with James Madison assistant Curt Newsome. Newsome is a former coach in the Hampton-Newport News area and a close friend of Hampton High coach Mike Smith. Word was, wherever Newsome went, Taylor would follow.

Before he talked to Beamer, Newsome interviewed for a vacancy on the UVa staff that was created when ex-Cavaliers offensive coordinator Ron Prince was named the head coach at Kansas State. If Virginia had made Newsome an offer in December, he probably would have accepted. Instead, Groh hired Dave Borbely from Colorado because, Groh said, that program had an offensive system similar to Virginia's.

Of course, the Newsome theory does not take into account the possibility that Tech would have attracted Taylor on its own merits, or that the Taylor family had a mind of its own. It also discounts the possibility that the Cavaliers might have preferred a quarterback with Lalich's size (6-5, 235) and arm.

Taylor (6-1, 200) is shorter than Lalich but has the kind of mobility more closely associated with his Tech predecessors from the Hampton area, Michael and Marcus Vick. Groh said when he took the Virginia job that he had a mental picture of how his quarterback should look. That picture had an uncanny resemblance to former UVa starter Matt Schaub, a tall pocket passer who now backs up Michael Vick as a member of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

To Groh's credit, he got a lot of mileage during the past two seasons out of Marques Hagans, who was shorter than 5-10 but made a ton of big plays as the Cavaliers' starting quarterback. Lalich isn't likely to win many games with his feet, but he did play wide receiver at one point in his West Springfield career.

Moreover, Lalich's early commitment (April 25) and his eagerness to call and text-message other UVa targets was noted by players from inside and outside Virginia. Less than a month later, the Cavaliers picked up a commitment from Chase Minniefield, a wide receiver and defensive back from Lexington, Ky., who is considered the top player in that state.

Although the Cavaliers have piled up the early commitments in other years, there never has been a summer like this one state-wide. As of late August, 29 Virginia high school players had made commitments to Division I-A programs, including a total of 18 to Tech (11) and UVa (seven).

In 2006, Virginia signed one player who was ranked among the top 10 in the state, Oakton High running back and Group 3A player of the year Keith Payne, but Payne wasn't a top-10 prospect at the beginning of the year. This year, in addition to Lalich, the Cavaliers got a pair of consensus top-10 picks in linebackers Terrence Fells-Danzer and J'Courtney Williams.

At the time Tech hired Newsome, there was speculation that a UVa recruiting drought in the Hampton-Newport News area would not end any time soon, but that didn't take into account the return of Mike London to the Cavaliers' staff. London, the UVa recruiting coordinator before joining the NFL's Houston Texans in 2005, had no less appeal to recruits when he returned to Charlottesville as Al Golden's replacement as defensive coordinator.

London quickly landed a trio of linebackers from his area - Williams, sleeper Jared Detrick (his brother played basketball for Oklahoma) and Aaron Taliaferro. Taliaferro's coach at Gloucester High is Tommy Reamon, who coached the Vicks at Warwick High but speaks kindly of London and wouldn't mind stealing some of Hampton's thunder.

Even Ronald Curry and Michael Vick weren't rated the Nos. 1 and 2 prospects in Virginia in their senior year, so it's unlikely that any position group will upstage the quarterbacks in this year's class. But the linebackers and offensive linemen may come close.

What's most remarkable is that Virginia had a corner on the state's top linebackers, and Tech got virtually all of the state's top offensive linemen. Some of that can be attributed to Newsome's hiring, although few of them were actually from his recruiting areas (Hampton High and Tidewater).

One of the first offensive linemen to fall, Andrew Nuss, went to Notre Dame. However, the offensive lineman at the top of Virginia Tech's list might have been unheralded Blake DeChristopher from Clover Hill High, just outside Richmond. After committing to the Hokies, DeChristopher conceded that he once had been a Virginia fan but said the Hokies "bring it every year."

Prior to DeChristopher's July 6 announcement, the Hokies had two commitments. Two days later, Tech had a one-day camp attended by Taylor and a host of other prospects. Over the next month, Tech added 20 more pledges - most from players who had been at the one-day camp - in a testament to what the Hokies are able to do when they get recruits on campus.

Tech didn't just go for the name players, taking commitments from prospects such as Alonzo Tweedy, a 6-1, 180-pound defensive back from Hermitage High in Richmond who projects as a "whip" linebacker in the Hokies' scheme. Danny Coale, a wide receiver from Episcopal High in Alexandria, may have been better known as a lacrosse player before attending Tech's one-day camp.

Outside of Taylor, the most highly rated Tech prospect was Davon Morgan, a 6-0, 185-pound quarterback and defensive back from Varina High, an annual stop for the Hokies' recruiting coordinator, Jim Cavanaugh. Morgan understood that he was being recruited as a defensive player, the Hokies having promised Taylor that they would not take another quarterback.

That's why Tech did not make a push for Bradley Starks, the all-state quarterback in Group 2A, Virginia's second-largest classification. Starks is from Orange, located 35 minutes from Charlottesville, but, like Tech with Taylor, the Cavaliers didn't want to jeopardize their recruiting of Lalich.

As a result, West Virginia assistant and former VMI head coach Billy Stewart was able to sneak into central Virginia and get a commitment from Starks, just as the Mountaineers did with Brandon Hogan, another accomplished quarterback from Osbourn High in Manassas.

Starks and Hogan aren't likely to supplant West Virginia quarterback Pat White any time soon, but the Mountaineers didn't have to make any promises before taking their commitments. Starks is more likely to get a look at quarterback because of his height; in any other year, Tech and UVa might have been hot after him.

Morgan and Hogan are among a group of multi-purpose quarterbacks being recruited as athletes, joining the likes of Savion Frazier from Gar-Field High in Dale City and Maryland recruit Torrey Smith from Stafford. Frazier reportedly has offers from Tennessee and Virginia Tech, although the Hokies are close to running out of available grants.

If this year's Virginia recruiting class is shy in any area, it's running back. UVa took a commitment in March from Max Milien, a running back from Arlington's Yorktown High, alma mater of one-time North Carolina running back Mike Geter (as well as TV anchor Katie Couric), but Milien is a size-speed athlete who also could play wide receiver or defensive back.

As the regular season neared, the top uncommitted prospects in the state were Cris Hill, a 5-11, 175-pound cornerback and wide receiver from Highland Springs High, and Jay Smith, a 6-2, 195-pound wide receiver from Norfolk's Lake Taylor. Rivals.com had Smith rated as the No. 2 prospect in Virginia - behind Taylor and ahead of Lalich - at mid-summer.

All that did was set Smith up as possibly the most overrated prospect in the state. Smith had only 17 receptions for 276 yards and six touchdowns as a junior at Kempsville High, where the offense revolved around running back Kevin Simmons, whose shaky academics have kept him from being recruited at the highest level. Smith, now listed at 6-4 in some reports, reportedly has offers from the likes of Tennessee, Penn State, Miami and Notre Dame.

Hill, too, did not have eye-popping numbers as a junior. However, he won't turn 17 until after the season starts. Hill is thought to have more of an upside than his fellow Highland Springs defensive back, C.J. Fleming, who has been the more heralded of the two. Hill has indicated that he would like to take a look at Michigan and Ohio State, both of whom reportedly extended early scholarship offers, before making his decision.




VIRGINIA'S TOP 30

No. Name Pos. Ht./Wt. High School College Favorites
1. Tyrod Taylor QB 6-1/200 Hampton High VIRGINIA TECH
2. Peter Lalich QB 6-5/235 Springfield West Springfield VIRGINIA
3. Cris Hill DB 5-11/175 Highland Springs High VT, UVa, Tenn., NCSU, Md.*
4. Davon Morgan DB 6-0/185 Richmond Varina VIRGINIA TECH
5. Terrence Fells-Danzer LB 6-2/235 Culpeper High VIRGINIA
6. Jay Smith WR 6-2/195 Norfolk Lake Taylor VT, Miami, NCSU, Clem.*
7. Blake DeChristopher OL 6-5/300 Midlothian Clover Hill VIRGINIA TECH
8. J'Courtney Williams LB/S 6-4/215 Christchurch School VIRGINIA
9. Andrew Nuss OL 6-6/285 Ashburn Stone Bridge NOTRE DAME
10. William Alvarez OL 6-5/305 Woodbridge Hylton VIRGINIA TECH
11. Bradley Starks QB 6-4/190 Orange County WEST VIRGINIA
12. Khalil Latif OL 6-2/275 Midlothian Manchester VIRGINIA TECH
13. Max Milien RB 6-0/200 Arlington Yorktown VIRGINIA
14. Jamar Jackson LB/DE 6-4/225 Richmond Varina VT, NCSU, BC, Clem.*
15. Jaymes Brooks OL 6-3/290 Newport News Denbigh VIRGINIA TECH
16. Aaron Taliaferro LB 6-2/215 Gloucester High VIRGINIA
17. Brian Linthicum TE 6-4/230 Charlottesville St. Anne's CLEMSON
18. C.J. Fleming DB 5-11/170 Highland Springs High TENNESSEE
19. Savion Frazier DB 6-2/210 Dale City Gar-Field VT, Tenn., Marsh.*
20. Russell Wilson QB 5-11/180 Richmond Collegiate N.C. STATE
21. Maurice Hampton OL 6-4/290 Hampton Phoebus VT, UVa, UNC, Md.*
22. Torrey Smith WR 6-2/180 Falmouth Stafford MARYLAND
23. Quillie Odom LB 6-1/205 Manassas Osbourn Park VIRGINIA TECH
24. Trenton Hughes DB 5-10/175 Virginia Beach Kempsville MARYLAND
25. Alonzo Tweedy DB 6-1/180 Richmond Hermitage VIRGINIA TECH
26. Jared Detrick LB 6-2/225 Newport News Woodside VIRGINIA
27. Danny Coale WR 6-0/195 Lexington Episcopal VIRGINIA TECH
28. Patrick Terry WR 6-0/180 South Boston Halifax Co. VIRGINIA TECH
29. Anthony Mihota DT 6-5/255 Fredericksburg Massaponax VIRGINIA
30. Ian Davidson DT 6-2/275 Alexandria St. Stephen's MARYLAND

NOTE: Preseason player rankings by the ACC Sports Journal.
* – also considering other schools