Are recent recruiting developments proof that Mike London will be back at UVa in 2014?
CHARLOTTESVILLE – News that provided a diversion for Virginia football fans during the Cavaliers’ ongoing tailspin were the oral commitments, days apart, from prospects for 2014 and 2015.
The first came from a current junior, 6-1, 175-pound Juan Thornhill, an all-purpose threat from Altavista High School, located in the same Lynchburg-area county that produced standout former UVa running back Cedric Peerman, now with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Thornhill’s pledge was the Cavaliers’ first for 2015 and was followed by a commitment from Donovan Dowling, a 6-1, 206-pound senior at Varina High School outside Richmond. Dowling would give Virginia four players from powerful Varina on its 2014 roster, joining cornerbacks Maurice Canady and Tim Harris, as well as defensive tackle Tyrell Chavis.
The in-season commitment was the second this year for Virginia, which earlier had landed Darious Lattimore, a 6-0, 161-pound cornerback from Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville, Ga. Lattimore had taken an official visit to Charlottesville during the weekend of the Cavaliers’ game with Duke, won by the Blue Devils 35-22 after trailing 22-0.
Coach Mike London’s bosses have remained steadfast in their support during a losing streak that stands at eight games heading into a weekend visit to Miami, saying that he will return for a fifth year in 2014.
To this point, the Cavaliers have been able to hold together a recruiting class that includes one of the nation’s top-ranked defensive linemen, Andrew Brown from Oscar Smith in Chesapeake, and his equally routed Tidewater neighbor, safety Quin Blanding from Bayside in Virginia Beach.
During the open date following Virginia’s 45-10 loss at North Carolina, it was reported by Jamie Oakes of the 247Sports network that Brown’s father had inquired about London’s future and had been reassured by athletic director Craig Littlepage, with school president Teresa Sullivan possibly involved as well. Those assurances must have done the trick, because Brown signed a grant-in-aid that will allow him to enroll at UVa in January.
Another top prospect in the class is quarterback Corwin Cutler, a 2013 signee out of Ocean Lakes in Virginia Beach who is recovering from a torn ACL but seeing some action as a postgraduate at Fork Union Military Academy.
The presence of Cutler in the recruiting class is one of Virginia’s chips in its efforts to land one of the top uncommitted players on its board, wide receiver Jamil Kamara from Bishop Sullivan in Virginia Beach. Kamara has visited Michigan State and Wisconsin and has trips upcoming to South Carolina and UVa. Pittsburgh also ranked high on his board earlier in the season.
The Cavaliers have plenty of wide receivers with eligibility remaining in 2014 and beyond, but that group’s inconsistency was enough for UVa to make a late move on Dowling, who had not been rated on the Rivals.com star system and had no other listed offers at the time of his commitment.
Dowling, an outstanding student, was named the offensive player of the year in his district and was named first-team all-district as a receiver, safety, utility player and punter. He had five scoring plays of 82 yards or more and scored touchdowns on an interception return, punt return and blocked punt.
Virginia’s once-touted class has dropped to 44th in the Rivals.com ratings but remains at No. 21 on ESPN.com. For one thing, it’s a small class, currently numbering 12 players and unlikely to get much larger. There are only eight scholarship seniors on the current roster, one of them a walk-on, fullback Billy Skrobacz, who was put on grant this year.
Most glaring will be the holes created by the loss of the Cavaliers’ two best offensive linemen, left tackle Morgan Moses and center Luke Bowanko. A third senior offensive lineman, 2012 starting guard Sean Cascarano, suffered an offseason hip injury and was declared out for the season before the Cavaliers played a game.
Injuries clearly have played a role in Virginia’s season. Junior cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, who had started the first 30 games of his college career, never came back from a turf toe and was shut down for the season after playing in five games. The other starting corner, Canady, suffered a lacerated kidney that resulted in internal bleeding. Tim Harris, a true freshman, has started five games and has been a work in progress.
The biggest loss, literally and figuratively, was 6-7, 295-pound fifth-year defensive tackle Brent Urban, who was on the verge of a monster season when he suffered a high-ankle sprain at Maryland. Urban may return for the Cavaliers’ upcoming games with Miami and Virginia Tech, but it will be way, way too late for him to help save the Cavaliers’ season.
Leaving with Urban this year will be Jake Snyder, a defensive lineman and co-captain who is one of the most respected players on the team. Fortunately, fortifications will come in the form of another fifth-year player, Chris Brathwaite, who was one of the Cavaliers’ top defensive lineman before he was declared academically ineligible for the 2013 season.
Bennett Gets His Men
An open date for football coincided with the letter-of-intent day for men’s basketball and there were no surprises in a UVa class that included B.J. Stith, who has been committed for two years. Stith is the younger son of all-time UVa scoring leader Bryant Stith, now an assistant coach at Old Dominion.
After playing on a state-championship team coached by his father at Virginia’s Brunswick County High, Stith is at Oak Hill Academy this year. He is the highest-rated signee in a UVa recruiting class that includes 6-8 Isaiah Wilkins from Greater Atlanta Christian in Norcross, Ga., and 6-10 Jack Salt from Westlake Boys High in Auckland, New Zealand.
Salt was the object of a whirlwind courtship by the Cavaliers, who slow-played several other prospects after getting a favorable review on Salt from Kirk Penney, a former University of Wisconsin player under then-Badgers assistant Tony Bennett. Penney is a graduate of the same New Zealand school that produced Salt and played for the same Oceanic pro team that has Salt’s rights.
Wilkins, the stepson of former NBA star Dominique Wilkins, comes from the same Atlanta-area program that produced UVa sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, who is off to an impressive season after taking a medical redshirt in 2012-2013 season. UVa already has a pair of Christian school teammates, Akil Mitchell and Anthony Gill from Charlotte, with Gill having transferred from South Carolina.