CHARLOTTESVILLE – In the waning minutes of his signing-day news conference, Virginia football coach Mike London was asked if there were any disappointments with his class.
“Probably the biggest disappointment was the decommitment of Gary (Wunderlich), the kicker,” London said.
Wunderlich, the No. 1 kicker in the country and the son of UVa graduates, decommitted to Virginia in August and signed with Mississippi. The Cavaliers later entertained the nation’s No. 2-ranked kicker, Adam Centers, on the final weekend before signing day.
Centers ended up signing with Wake Forest, but if London’s biggest disappointment was the inability to land a kicker, maybe the Cavaliers’ program is in a lot better shape than people thought.
Punter-placekicker Alec Vozenilek will be a senior next year, but kicker Ian Frye, whose injury resulted in Vozenilek getting the kicking job, has two more years. Kickoff specialist Dylan Sims has three more years.
If Virginia could get itself in the mix for the Nos. 1 and 2 kickers in the country with all of its specialists returning, then perhaps the Cavaliers will find a comparable candidate in the 2015 class.
What remains to be seen is whether London is still at the helm in 2015. He was fortunate to keep his job after going winless in the ACC this past season and 2-10 overall, but the Cavaliers had commitments from some of the top prospects in the state, and London’s bosses had to know that.
One of the first sure signs that London would be back came when athletic director Craig Littlepage had a conversation with the father of Andrew Brown, a prized defensive lineman from Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake. Littlepage assured Brown’s father that London would be returning in 2015.
Brown (6-4, 290) was a consensus choice as one of the top three prospects in Virginia, as was another prospect from the 757 area code, safety Quin Blanding from Bayside High in Virginia Beach.
Rivals.com senior recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said that Blanding is probably the most sure thing in the 2014 recruiting class nationally – high praise, indeed. Blanding committed to the Cavaliers on Feb. 27, 2013, and never wavered in his commitment.
“He became, if you want to say, the bell-cow guy in this class,” London said. “He, along with a guy like Andrew Brown, said, ‘We want to play together. You’re in state, stay in state. If you’re out of state, come join us.’”
The only service that had Virginia’s class rated in the top 25 nationally was ESPN.com, which had the Cavaliers rated No. 25. The rankings ranged from No. 25 to 48, but some of the lower rankings may have stemmed from an accumulation of stars.
UVa, which had seven seniors play during the 2013 season, signed 17 players, and that followed earlier projections that there might be room for only 12 or 13. In-state rival Virginia Tech signed 28 players, and programs such as Tennessee were in the 30s.
Virginia’s top three recruits all came from the 757, including Jamil Kamara, a wide receiver from Bishop Sullivan in Virginia Beach who had 63 receptions for 1,399 yards and 23 touchdowns. Among the schools that made late pushes for Kamara were Florida and Penn State.
UVa signed four of the consensus top 10 in-state prospects, including Steven Moss, a 6-5, 275-pound offensive lineman from Chancellor High in Fredericksburg. UVa would have liked one more offensive lineman, but Will Richardson from Burlington, N.C., flipped to N.C. State on the day after returning from his visit to UVa, to which he had committed earlier in the process.
The loss of Richardson made the Cavaliers even more grateful that they were able to land Parkersburg, W.Va., offensive lineman Jake Fieler in time to enroll for the spring semester. Fieler, younger brother of Florida Gulf Coast basketball star Chase Fieler, spent the first semester at Fork Union Military Academy.
Fieler, who eventually received a third star on the Rivals.com scale, was one of the sleepers in a UVa class that had five two-stars. Two of the more intriguing are outside linebackers Cory Jones (6-5, 220) from Archbishop Carroll in Washington, D.C., and Chris Peace (6-3, 225) from Denbigh in Newport News, Va.
Peace, previously a wide receiver and safety at Indian River in Chesapeake, had 20 sacks after moving to the defensive line as a senior. Jones, who had never played football before his senior year, had 26 sacks as a senior and finished with 150 tackles (103 solo).
Jones flipped to Virginia after earlier committing to Toledo. Another UVa-bound defensive end, Michael Biesemier from Virginia Episcopal in Lynchburg, had committed to James Madison before the coaching change in Harrisonburg. Darrious Carter from Indiana, Pa., flipped from Temple to UVa.
Cutler’s Right On Time
Almost forgotten is Corwin Cutler, a 6-4, 180-pound quarterback, who originally committed to Virginia in the summer of 2012, prior to his senior year at Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach, where he passed for more than 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns before his season was cut short by a torn ACL.
If there ever was a convenient time for a torn ACL, Cutler had it. From the beginning, it was thought to be a long shot for Cutler to meet NCAA initial-eligibility standards, so he ended up at Fork Union, a prep school 35 miles from the UVa campus. He was able to rehab his knee while working to get his academic house in order.
Unlike Fieler, Cutler will be completing the school year at Fork Union. In all likelihood, he will be redshirted at UVa in the fall, but it appears he could be Virginia’s quarterback of the future, particularly since the Cavaliers showed some restraint this year and did not sign another quarterback to add to the four underclassmen they had on campus.
For all the praise that Blanding has received (and deservedly so) for keeping the class together, Cutler is a charismatic guy who also played a role in steering his 757 buddies to Charlottesville. The Cutler-to-Kamara connection should be interesting to watch.
Not only did Virginia put together a respectable class in the face of speculation on London’s job future, but the Cavaliers didn’t miss a beat after the departure of assistant coaches Anthony Poindexter and Vincent Brown, who will be the co-defensive coordinators under another former aide, Bob Diaco, the new head coach at Connecticut.
Scout.com named UVa cornerbacks coach Chip West as its ACC recruiter of the year, the second different service to honor West that way during his four years at UVa. However, no head coach hits the recruiting trail any harder than London, and this year’s class is a clear reflection of his determination.