BLACKSBURG – If there was any doubt Virginia Tech’s quarterback of the future isn’t currently on campus, it seems one of Tech’s recent personnel adjustments in practice has provided some insight.
In June, Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler hustled and used old coaching ties to nab a crucial commitment from Andrew Ford. He’s a 6-3, 193-pound senior at Cedar Cliff High in Camp Hill, Pa., considered by most recruiting analysts to be among the nation’s top-60 quarterback prospects in the class of 2014.
After an impressive showing this past summer landed him among the 18 finalists in the prestigious Elite 11 camp, Ford’s stock on a national level increased. That’s a good thing for Tech, since he’s going to be expected to challenge for a starting role in a hurry.
For the immediate post-Logan Thomas future, Mark Leal will be the favorite to lead Tech’s offense next season. With four seasons of redshirting or signaling plays in from the sideline under his belt behind both Thomas and former Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Leal has earned the right to have a shot to be the starter.
Leal, a 6-1, 217-pound product of Greenacres, Fla., will be a senior next season. He’s played in just seven games and attempted only 23 passes, but it may be hard to find a player with better understanding of Loeffler’s scheme than Leal – well, at least from a film room perspective.
Though Leal may be challenged by Ford, redshirt freshman Brenden Motley and junior walk-on Trey Gresh next season, one player who doesn’t look like he’ll be in the mix is one-time coveted quarterback recruit Bucky Hodges. For the last few weeks, Hodges has spent time working in practice at a position other than quarterback.
He’s been a tight end, which seems like a fairly natural transition for a 6-6, 235-pound kid with an athletic-looking frame. After Hodges signed his letter of intent in February, when he was rated by most recruiting analysts one of the nation’s top 45 quarterbacks in the 2013 class, something about him as a quarterback obviously hasn’t clicked with Loeffler.
Hodges was recruited by former Tech offensive coordinator and current tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring. Hodges struggled in preseason scrimmages, but that’s not unusual for a true freshman working out for the first time with college teammates and an unfamiliar system.
In any case, it’s apparent Loeffler wants his own guy – Ford – to get a crack at being Tech’s quarterback of the future.
If Leal doesn’t pan out, it’s very possible Ford could be looking at playing time as a true freshman, which would be a worst-case scenario for Tech even if he does enroll in January as expected. Like just about every college program, Tech would much prefer to redshirt its true freshman quarterback.
If Ford does get the benefit of a redshirt season, who will he have to compete with in future seasons?
Travon McMillian, a 6-0, 190-pound senior from C.D. Hylton High in Woodbridge, Va., is going to get an opportunity to play quarterback next year at Tech, but he’ll likely end up in the secondary.
Graham Smith, a 6-3, 190-pound Class of 2015 quarterback from Lunenberg Central High in Victoria, Va., is already garnering plenty of love from Tech. He visited Tech in September, and he’s scheduled to return to Tech for the Oct. 26 game against Duke.
Loeffler and outside linebackers and assistant defensive line coach Cornell Brown are recruiting Smith. If Tech offers him a scholarship, it may be difficult for another school to sway him. Smith, who doesn’t have any offers yet, has long been a Tech fan.
The national talent pool at quarterback in the 2015 class is relatively deep, but the majority of that talent is located on the West Coast. That’s not an area Tech’s coaching staff, and particularly Loeffler, is familiar with in terms of recruiting.
Other than Smith, there isn’t a clear-cut elite-level quarterback in the 2015 class who has Tech near the top of his list of schools right now, or that Tech appears to be recruiting hard. Of course, a lot can change in a year-and-a-half.
Taylor Isn’t Walking Through That Door
The fact is it’s going to be imperative Tech finds at least one other quarterback to have on the practice field. Ford looks like a promising prospect, but there’s no guarantee that he, the lightly recruited Motley, McMillian or, obviously, Hodges will pan out as Tech’s next starting quarterback beyond Leal.
The last time Tech openly got into the business of going all-in for just one quarterback recruit in a particular class was when it was going after Taylor. He was considered a can’t-miss prospect coming out of high school, and all the pundits were spot on with those projections.
He finished his career as Tech’s career leader in total offense (9,213 yards) and passing yards (7,017; Thomas has passed him), and as the winningest quarterback in school history (34-8).
No such promises were made to Ford in terms of him being the only quarterback recruited by Tech in the 2014 class. As a matter of fact, he was one of at least four quarterbacks Tech went after hard, including David Cornwell of Norman, Okla., Jacob Park of Goose Creek, S.C. and Zack Darlington of Apopka, Fla. – all of whom committed to schools other than Tech before Ford committed.
None of that means Ford is destined to have a career that won’t match up to that of Cornwell, Park and Darlington, all of whom are rated better in the 2014 class by most recruiting analysts than Ford. Actually, based on Ford’s somewhat surprising rise to Elite 11 status, it could be argued he’s trending up more than the aforementioned trio of 2014 recruits.
Regardless, Tech runs the risk of putting itself in an enormous bind if it doesn’t bring in more talent under center to at least push Ford. Loeffler and Tech coach Frank Beamer are aware of this fact. It’s a certainty they’ve set adding at least one more arm in the 2015 or 2016 classes, and maybe in both classes, as a priority for the program.