By Doug Doughty
Roanoke (Va.) Times
February 20, 2007
CHARLOTTESVILLE Until the incredible, shrinking Class of 2006 came along, Virginia coach Al Groh had the reputation of a guy who could bring in talent but couldn't always get the most out of it.
In retrospect, Groh's classes might not have been as packed with talent as originally touted, and his coaching might have been better than skeptics allowed, but clearly the 2006 class had its drawbacks.
With the 24-member group he introduced Feb. 7, Groh may have restored some of his reputation as a recruiter, and it would serve him well if the results are carried over to the field.
The Cavaliers also signed 24 players in 2006, but only 16 ended up enrolling last September. Eight either failed to meet NCAA eligibility guidelines or were rejected by UVa's admissions office, and that didn't include four committed players who had de-committed by signing day.
Some of the defections could be traced to the loss of four assistants following the 2005 season. By mid-December that year, Al Golden and Ron Prince had accepted Division I-A head coaching jobs at Temple and Kansas State, respectively. Danny Rocco had taken over at Division I-AA Liberty. Mike London had joined the Houston Texans.
The departure of former recruiting coordinator London apparently hit hardest because, in the year after his return as defensive coordinator, he had a direct hand in the signings of seven prospects, including Rivals four-stars J'Courtney Williams, Nick Jenkins and Lamar Milstead.
Then, on signing day, Groh was able to tell reporters that London was preparing to remove his name from consideration for the head coaching job at Old Dominion, which will begin football at the I-AA level in 2009. Groh said the return of London was like getting a 25th recruit.
Groh's contention all along was that the Cavaliers signed 24 players in 2006 with the knowledge that at least a couple would require a year in prep school. Four did enroll at Virginia prep schools Asa Chapman at Fork Union Military Academy, and the threesome of Almondo Sewell, Ras-I Dowling and Billy Cuffee at Hargrave.
All held to their commitments, but in the weeks leading up to signing day this year, UVa let Chapman and Sewell know that they could not get into school on the second try. Chapman ended up with West Virginia, Sewell with Akron.
The Cavaliers also lost two committed players, including Pottsville, Pa., offensive lineman Brad Hallick, who first had pledged to Virginia on May 31. Hallick later committed to Stanford, and Washington, D.C., linebacker Romale Tucker signed with Syracuse.
Tucker played during the fall for D.C. Interhigh champion Ballou, then transferred to Milford Academy in New York for the second semester. If he does not meet NCAA eligibility guidelines, he may go to Fork Union or Hargrave and re-open his recruiting. The same goes for D.C. all-metro receiver Vincent Hill, who signed with Akron.
Aside from that, there was little activity late in the recruiting process. More than half of UVa's class was committed by mid-summer, headed by 6-5, 235-pound West Springfield quarterback Peter Lalich, who announced on April 25.
Groh coached the all-time leading passer in UVa history, 2002 ACC player of the year Matt Schaub, but Schaub was recruited by George Welsh's staff. Lalich, rated the No. 5 passing quarterback in the country by Rivals, is the top-rated signal-caller Groh and his staff have recruited.
"Let's say a team chooses not to recruit a quarterback one year," Groh said. "Maybe their roster is stocked with quarterbacks. They might have a really strong class, but without that marquee quarterback they might not have the rating that so many people get off on."
The highest-rated class of the Groh era was the 2002 group, which included D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham, as well as a promising in-state quarterback, Anthony Martinez, who's now playing pro baseball.
That class was ranked among the top 10 in the country by several services. This year's group cracked at least one top 25, but most analysts now are taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Groh's classes.
There's a lot to like about Lalich. Named for legendary basketball star Pete Maravich, Lalich passed for 3,134 yards and 33 touchdowns this past season, when he threw eight TD passes in one game.
Virginia had a redshirt freshman quarterback in 2006, Jameel Sewell, who started the last nine games and led the Cavaliers to a late-season upset of Miami. UVa was shut out in two of the last three games, however, so there has been considerable debate as to whether Lalich can challenge for the starting job as a true freshman. Sewell had academic issues that limited his work during the spring of 2006, so it's a situation that bears watching.
Of Lalich, Groh said, "He throws every day. He thinks quarterback every day. But we've got a quarterback who had a pretty good season last year."
Groh, criticized for not putting the redshirt option to better use in his early years, played only one of his 16 recruits last fall. As a result, he'll have plenty of redshirt freshmen in 2007 and doesn't expect many members of this class to see the field right away.
He cited Jenkins (6-3, 315) as a possibility because of his uncommon strength for a player coming out of high school, but Jenkins is projected as a nose tackle. The Cavaliers appear to be set at that position, with senior Allen Billyk and sophomores Nate Collins and Kevin Crawford, Collins being the only true freshman who played last year.
There is plenty of promise in an incoming linebacker corps headed by Williams, rated the No. 3 linebacker in the country by SuperPrep. Some had questioned the level of competition Williams faced at private Christchurch School, but that perception changed after the Army All-American Bowl, where Williams beat out touted Tennessee signee Chris Donald for a starting job.
Actually, the Cavaliers first will look at Williams, a 6-3, 218-pounder with sub-4.6 speed, at safety. They picture him as a hybrid linebacker-safety in the Troy Polamalu mode. In the early part of the recruiting cycle, athletic Terence Fells-Danzer from Culpeper was talked about in the same breath as Williams.
One of the worrisome aspects of the 2006 class for UVa and Virginia Tech was the exodus of many of the state's top recruits. It was back to normal this year, when 13 of the Cavaliers' signees were from Virginia.
"We felt it was possibly a one-time aberration," Groh said, "but we were intrigued by the answer to it. So, we went and looked at the circumstances of a lot of high-profile players who leave their states. The answer was, to a pretty large degree, it goes with the wide receiver
As a result, Virginia found itself shy at receiver, a discrepancy that was alleviated by the additions this year of SuperPrep All-American Chase Minnifield, all-state wideout Kris Burd, South Carolina product Dontrelle Inman and in-state speedster Jared Green.
Remarkably, Green, son of former NFL star Darrell Green, received little attention from recruiters or recruiting services until offered by Virginia at the end of January. At UVa, he will join another NFL legacy, Minnifield, whose father, Frank, played cornerback for Cleveland when Groh was a Browns assistant.
GREEN KNOWN FOR DAD, SPEED, WORK ETHIC
Virginia coach Al Groh laughs at the suggestion that signee Jared Green had somehow flown under the radar.
"He wasn't under our radar," said Groh, whose staff became aware of Green in 2005 while recruiting his Oakton High teammate, Keith Payne.
Payne, something of a late bloomer himself, was a powerful running back who led Oakton to a state championship in 2005. Green was a role player on that team, having transferred from Bishop O'Connell after his sophomore year.
That transfer decreased the amount of attention Green normally would have attracted as the son of former Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green, known during his prime as the fastest player in the NFL.
Green has just enough of his father's speed that, now that he has grown to 6-2 or 6-3, he makes for an intriguing prospect. He was a wide receiver this year at Oakton but also has experience in the secondary and on special teams.
Oakton coach Joe Thompson doesn't think Virginia took a gamble on Green, who had 24 receptions for 475 yards and four touchdowns as a senior.
"You're probably asking the wrong guy about that," Thompson said. "I think it's a great decision. He has a phenomenal work ethic, he runs a sub-4.4 40, he's (nearly) 6-3, he catches the ball well, he runs good routes. I don't know if I'd call him a late bloomer. This summer at Penn State, he ran a 4.37 and a 4.39. He just didn't have a large body of work."
Obviously, somebody needed to be paying more attention to Bishop O'Connell, also home to Wake Forest signee Devon Brown, an unheralded running back who became an all-state player after transferring to Stone Bridge.
VIRGINIA 2007 SIGNEES
Name Pos. Ht./Wt. Stars High School/Junior College
Danny Aiken DS 6-4/230 2/2 Fork Union (VA) Military
Ace snapper; from Roanoke (VA) Cave Spring; over I-AA (!)
Mark Ambrose TE 6-5/215 2/3 Mt. Carmel (PA) High
RV-32 PA; all-region; very early over BC, NW, Syr. (!)
Landon Bradley OL 6-7/255 2/2 Conway (SC) High
SP-35 SC; all-region; also played TE; over MTSU, I-AA
Kris Burd WR/DB 5-11/175 3/3 Chesterfield (VA) Matoaca
SP-19 VA; 1st-team 3A all-state; 46-958-10 (WR); over Md.
Matt Conrath OL/DE 6-7/230 2/3 Chicago (IL) St. Rita
SP-28 IL; all-state; 4.3 GPA, 29 ACT!; over MAC, Stan. (!)
Billy Cuffee OL 6-5/300 2/2 Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military
Re-sign; Chesapeake (VA) Deep Creek; 2005 all-region
Jared Detrick LB 6-1/215 3/3 Newport News (VA) Woodside
SP-30 VA; 2nd-team all-area; early over UNC interest
Andrew Devlin TE/DE 6-6/255 4/3 Mt. Lebanon (PA) High
SP-19 PA; 2nd-team all-state; over BC, Mich., Pitt (!)
Ras-I Dowling WR/DB 6-2/180 3/4 Chatham (VA) Hargrave Military
Re-sign; Chesapeake (VA) Deep Creek; 2005 all-metro (?)
Terence Fells-Danzer* RB/LB 6-1/220 3/4 Culpeper (VA) High
SP-9 VA; PrepStar A-A; early over Clem., Md., VT
Jared Green WR 6-2/165 2/2 Oakton (VA) High
Son of Darrell Green (NFL); 17-245-4; over UAB, UCF
Chris Hinkebein PK 6-1/170 2/2 Charlotte (NC) Providence
3-time all-conference; school-record 256 points; over I-AA
Dontrelle Inman WR/S 6-3/185 2/3 Batesburg (SC) Leesville
SP-20 SC; limited sr. (knee); 2A POY as jr.; over GT (!)
Nick Jenkins* DT 6-3/315 4/4 Wheaton (MD) Good Counsel
SP-34 DL; 1st-team all-state; 4-year starter; over UNC, PSU
Dom Joseph WR/DB 6-1/180 3/3 Philadelphia (PA) Roman Catholic
PrepStar A-A; 1st-team 4A all-state; over BCS interest (?)
Peter Lalich* QB 6-5/235 4/4 Springfield (VA) West Springfield
SP-10 QB; 2nd-team 3A all-state; over Md., Mich., Miami (!)
Anthony Mihota OL/DE 6-4/245 2/3 Fredericksburg (VA) Massaponax
SP-29 VA; two-way all-district; early over Duke, NW (!)
Max Milien RB 6-0/195 3/3 Arlington (VA) Yorktown
SP-13 VA; all-region; six games-sr. (knee); early decision (!)
Lamar Milstead* OL 6-5/290 3/4 Washington (DC) Ballou
PrepStar A-A; 4-year starter; UNC switch; BC, Ill., Md. (?)
Chase Minnifield* WR/DB 6-0/185 3/4 Lexington (KY) Clay
PrepStar A-A; dad Dirk (NFL); over Louis., Mich., Stan. (!)
Corey Mosley RB/DB 5-10/195 2/2 Richmond (VA) Henrico
SP-22 VA; two-way (WR/DB) all-district; late over VT
Zane Parr OL/DT 6-6/297 2/2 Williamsport (PA) High
ST-55 PA; all-district; shot put champ; over UConn, Temple
Aaron Taliaferro LB 6-2/215 3/3 Gloucester (VA) High
SP-31 VA; 2nd-team all-district; DE as jr.; over Md., VT
J'Courtney Williams* S 6-3/218 5/4 Christchurch (VA)
SP-3 LB; 1st-team D2 all-state; early over Md., UNC, VT
*-All-American (top 250 by two/more services) ^-enrolled (!)-strong academics (?)-unconfirmed academics STScout.com RVRivals.com SPSuperPrep STARS: By Scout/Rivals.
WHO GOT AWAY?
The following prospects had firm scholarship offers from Virginia and/or took official visits to Charlottesville but signed with other programs: East Meadow (NY) High OL John Elliott (BC), Pacific Palisades (CA) Charter OL Mitchell Schwartz (Cal), Westlake Village (CA) Oaks Christian WR Sean Wiser (Stan.).
The following prospects also claimed scholarship offers from UVa but eliminated the Cavaliers early in the recruiting process: Dallas (TX) St. Mark's DE Sam Acho (Texas), Woodbridge (VA) Hylton OL Will Alvarez (VT), Hollywood (FL) Chaminade CB Akeem Auguste (USC), Sherman Oaks (CA) Notre Dame OL Charlie Carmichael (Ore.), Fork Union (VA) Military OL Anthony Castonzo (BC), Columbia (SC) Spring Valley OL Mason Cloy (Clem.), Midlothian (VA) Clover Hill OL Blake DeChristopher (VT), Monroeville (PA) Gateway TE Jon Ditto (PSU), Mt. Ulla (NC) West Rowan LB Tristan Dorty (WF), Mansfield (MA) High DE Corey Eason (BC), Westlake Village (CA) Oaks Christian DE Mike Ebbitt (Texas A&M), Freehold (NJ) Township OL Joe Faiella (Md.), Highland Springs (VA) High DB C.J. Fleming (Tenn.), Millersville (PA) Penn Manor OL Jordan Gibbs (Pitt), Paterson (NJ) Catholic RB Malcolm Harris (Pur.), Highland Springs (VA) High DB Cris Hill (VT), Virginia Beach (VA) Kempsville DB Trenton Hughes (Md.), Burlington (NC) Cummings WR Dwight Jones (UNC), Germantown (MD) Seneca Valley DT Donald Langley (Tenn.), Midlothian (VA) Manchester OL Khalil Latif (VT), Wheaton (MD) Good Counsel S Joseph Lefeged (Rut.), Piscataway (NJ) High WR Tony Logan (Md.), York (PA) Penn OL Richard Muldrow (Rut.), Ashburn (VA) Stone Bridge OL Andrew Nuss (ND), Hollywood (FL) Chaminade OL Emeka Nwankwo (ND), Pittsburgh (PA) Hampton LB Steve Paskorz (ND), Wheaton (MD) Good Counsel TE Danny Parker (Duke), Syracuse (NY) Christian Brothers QB Mike Paulus (UNC), Naples (FL) High DB Junior Petit-Jean (WF), Wadesboro (NC) Anson LB Barquell Rivers (VT), Somerville (NJ) High WR Mason Robinson (Rut.), Union (NJ) High OL Desmond Stapleton (Rut.), Memphis (TN) University DE John Stokes (Vandy), State College (PA) High LB Nathan Stupar (PSU), Wilmington (DE) Salesianum TE Andrew Szczerba (PSU), Jersey City (NJ) St. Peter's LB Will Thompson (BC), New Berlin (NY) Milford LB Romale Tucker (Syr.), Roxboro (NC) Person OL Doug Weaver (WF), Germantown (MD) Northwest DE Justin Young (VT).
Compiled by David Glenn