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Hokies Re-Widen Recruiting Net

Friday, July 19, 2013 2:35pm

BLACKSBURG – For more than a decade, there hasn’t been much mystery regarding the regions of the country Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has traditionally considered to be his program’s most fertile recruiting areas, but those comfortable mining zones could be changing.

Nearly two-thirds of Tech’s signees have come from the state of Virginia in the last 11 years. It’s a typical approach, not unlike that of most college coaches aimed at keeping home-state high school programs – the lifeblood of many college teams – on the good side. That general approach isn’t going anywhere.

But with the addition of offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes to Tech’s coaching staff, there could be more of a movement to head to areas to find talent where things as Southern as sweet tea are only a rumor. New wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead won’t spend most of his time recruiting the Midwest, but as an Illinois native, he’ll at least make semi-regular visits to the heartland.

There’s no doubt grabbing top players from the state of Virginia remains Tech’s primary objective, but Loeffler and Grimes have been responsible for garnering commitments from five class of 2014 players from New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. As of mid-July, those players represented more than one-third of Tech’s commitments for the ’14 class.

It remains to be seen if what Loeffler and Grimes are doing becomes a trend in Tech recruiting. Loeffler is responsible for the recruitment of Pennsylvania quarterback Andrew Ford, while Grimes has brought in commitments from Ohio offensive guard Colt Pettit, Pennsylvania offensive guard Eric Gallo and New Jersey offensive linemen Billy Ray Mitchell and Tyrell Smith.

If Tech ends up getting at least those five players, it’ll be the first time since 2006, and only the second time in the last 14 years, Tech has gotten more than four signees in one class from outside its normal Southeastern recruiting footprint of Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Only twice in the last eight recruiting classes has Tech gotten more than 20 percent of its signees from places other than the aforementioned states (22 percent in the ’11 class and 23 percent in ’06).

When Loeffler and Grimes came on board, Beamer indicated both assistant coaches would utilize “spot recruiting” techniques – going where they needed to go to recruit their specific positions. Getting Ford, who is considered by most recruiting analysts to be among the nation’s top-40 quarterback prospects in the class of ’14, was a product of Loeffler smartly using long-established connections.

Jim Cantafio, Ford’s coach at Cedar Cliff High in Camp Hill, Pa., coached Chad Henne in high school. Loeffler went on to be Henne’s quarterbacks coach at Michigan.

Loeffler missed out on getting commitments from quarterbacks from Florida, Maryland, Oklahoma and South Carolina, but his recruiting ties to the state of Pennsylvania paid off. During his six seasons as quarterbacks coach at Michigan, Loeffler spent a lot of time recruiting the state of Pennsylvania.

Though he’s charged with the task of going where the quarterbacks are, Loeffler is clearly comfortable in Pennsylvania, as nearly half of the known ’14 class recruits he’s been in touch with are from Pennsylvania.

During his four seasons at Auburn, Grimes cast an incredibly wide net to seek recruits, but it’s interesting to note his recruiting missions didn’t involve many forays into the areas where he’s had success for Tech.

At Auburn, Grimes was known to have contact with recruits from Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Washington, D.C.

Past Success Outside Virginia

Tech has dabbled at times in recent years in the Midwest and above the Mason-Dixon line, with varying degrees of success from a recruiting standpoint. In the ’12 class, Tech got center Jack Willenbrock from Pennsylvania, but highly touted running back Drew Harris from Pennsylvania may never make it to Tech because of academic issues.

In ’11, Tech took defensive tackle Kris Harley from Indiana, tight end Ryan Malleck from New Jersey, defensive back James Farrow from Minnesota and safety Kyshoen Jarrett from Pennsylvania. Malleck and Jarrett are starters, while Harley is a second teamer and Farrow is no longer playing. Tight end Jerome Lewis from New York was part of the ’10 class, but he transferred to Massachusetts.

Tech picked up running back Darren Evans from Indiana, defensive end/tight end Chris Drager from Pennsylvania and Collin Carroll from Minnesota in the ’07 class – all of whom had starting roles.

In ’06, Tech grabbed offensive linemen Aaron Brown and Clark Crum from Ohio and defensive end Mike Gee, wide receiver Zach Luckett and defensive end Jason Worilds from New Jersey. In that group, only Worilds ended up becoming a starter, or even finished his career in a Tech uniform.

There was a time when Tech regularly received letters of intent from players in areas that wouldn’t normally pop up on the radars of the Hokies’ staff. Some of those signees came along during Tech’s rise to prominence. In 2000, Tech got 37 percent of its class from New Jersey (two signees), California, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee (one each). In ’98, Tech received 24 percent of its class from New York, Nevada, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia (one each).

Tech’s staff spent nearly as much time outside Virginia to build the ’96 and ’97 classes as it did inside. In ’97, Tech got 42 percent of its class from Pennsylvania (four signees), Delaware (two), New Jersey (two), Ohio (two) and New York (one). In ’96, Tech garnered 43 percent of its class from Pennsylvania (six signees), New Jersey (three), New York (two) and Mississippi (one).

Of course, players from those ’96, ’97 and ’98 classes ended up providing the majority of the makeup for Tech’s team that reached the 2000 Sugar Bowl national championship game.

Chances are Tech isn’t done yet in the Midwest or in the North for the ’14 class. Moorehead is recruiting Illinois linebacker Nyles Morgan, and Moorehead is teaming with defensive coordinator Bud Foster to go after Indiana linebacker Brandon Lee. Grimes is recruiting Ohio offensive tackle Brady Taylor and Illinois offensive tackle Brendan Brosnan.

Loeffler is pursuing Pennsylvania running back Shai McKenzie, and Loeffler and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray are combining on the recruitment of Pennsylvania safety Montae Nicholson. Outside linebackers coach and assistant defensive line coach Cornell Brown is recruiting athlete Noah Brown and tight end Ryan Izzo from New Jersey.