Comparing recruiting years in Virginia has become increasingly difficult as three state programs have begun the move to Football Bowl Subdivision status, most notably at Old Dominion, which has started to give full rides and officially becomes a member of Conference USA on July 1, 2014. LIberty has announced plans to jump to FBS while James Madison has shown considerable interest, most recently culminating in the Dukes' hiring of former Ohio State assistant head coach and ex-North Carolina interim head coach Everett Withers as its new head coach.
Traditionally, the ballpark figure for Division I-A signees from Virginia was 50. In one particularly fruitful year, there were 67, with the Mid-America Conference teams geting an unusually big haul that year, particularly from the Virginia Prep League. The full rides extended to in-state prospects by Old Dominion pushed the number close to 60 this year, but, in many respects, it was a typical year numbers-wise.
If there was a difference from past years, it was in the make-up of the top prospects. From a state that recently has produced the likes of quarterbacks Tajh Boyd, E.J. Manuel, Mike Glennon, Bryn Renner, Logan Thomas and 2013 Big Ten Rookie of the Year Christian Hackenberg, most lists of Virginia's top prospects this year did not include a quarterback. There wasn't a running back or receiver either.
North Carolina and Michigan both landed well-respected Virginia quarterbacks, Caleb Henderson from Burke Lake Braddock for the Tar Heels and Wilton Speight from Richmond Collegiate for the Wolverines. Collegiate is the same program that produced Russell Wilson of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Wilson wasn't a top five prospect in Virginia as a senior in 2006, when QBs Tyrod Taylor and Peter Lalich were rated 1-2.
This was the year of the defensive linemen, headed by two of the highest-rated in the country, Da'Shawn Hand from Woodbridge and Andrew Brown from Chesapeake Oscar Smith. Some top-five lists also included D-linemen Derrick Nnadi from Virginia Beach Ocean Lakes and Jalyn Holmes from Norfolk Late Taylor. Every reputable recruiting service had either Hand or Brown rated the No. 1 prospect in Virginia,
MAJOR ACC GETS
1. Andrew Brown, DL, (6-3, 298) Chesapeake, Oscar Smith
Brown long had been considered a Virginia "lean" before he committed to the Cavaliers at a news conference June 29. Alabama and Florida State were among close to 30 schools who made scholarship offers to Brown, later chosen Gatorade National Player of the Year. Brown had 31 tackles for loss and 16 sacks for Oscar Smith before enrolling at UVa for the sping semester.
2. Quin Blanding, S (6-2, 206) Virginia Beach, Bayside
Barely had the 2013 signing class inked its letters of intent before Blanding committed to Virginia on Feb. 27. He never wavered despite the Cavaliers' on-field losses in the fall and played a major role in the recruiting of such other prominent "757" colleagues as Brown and Jamil Kamara. Blanding had 118 tackles as a senior and has a good chance to start for the Cavaliers from Day One.
3. Caleb Henderson, QB (6-4, 223) Burke, Lake Braddock
Henderson, who committed to North Carolina in April 11, comes from the same coaching pipeline that produced 2013 Tar Heels' senior quarterback Bryn Renner. Henderson's father coached with Renner's father in northern Virginia. Henderson wasn't widely recruited nationally but had ACC offers from UNC, Boston College, Maryland, Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Henderson, the Washington Post Metro Offensive Player of the Year, accounted for more than 3,000 yards as a senior (2,100 passing, 900 rushing).
4. Jamil Kamara, WR (6-1, 202) Virginia Beach, Bishop Sullivan
The last of UVa's three big-time "gets" from the beach area, Kamara waited till January before casting his lot with the Cavaliers. He earlier had taken trips to Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and Michigan State and the Cavaliers had to withstand late pushes from Florida and Penn State, the latter after James Franklin was named coach. Kamara had 63 receptions for 1,293 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior, although he didn’t face the stiffest competition the 757 has to offer.
5. Greer Martini, LB (6-3, 230) Woodberry Forest
In an earlier time, Martini would have been viewed as an ACC miss, but now that Notre Dame has joined the ACC, he'll be playing in ACC games if not playing for an ACC championship. Maryland and N.C. State were the only other FBS programs that had made offers to Martini in the summer before his junior year at Woodberry, a prep school located less than 45 minutes from UVa's campus. Martini was the third Woodberry player to commit to Notre Dame in a two-year span.
MAJOR ACC MISSES
1.Da'Shawn Hand, DL, (6-4, 260) Woodbridge
Hand's only official visits were to Michigan, Alabama and Florida (in that order) before he committed to the Crimson Tide on Nov. 14. Hand had offers from 11 ACC schools, including Maryland and Notre Dame, but never indicated much interest in staying close to home. Rivals.com had him rated the No. 1 prospect in the country after a senior season in which he had 17 sacks, three forced fumbles and three blocked kicks.
2. Jalyn Holmes, DE (6-5, 235) Norfolk Lake Taylor
Virginia Tech thought it was in good position for Holmes before he committed to Ohio State on June 20. When Holmes went to Columbus, Ohio, in late October, it was the only official visit he would take. Eight other ACC schools joined the Hokies in making offers to Holmes, including Florida State, Miami and Notre Dame.
3. Wilton Speight, QB (6-8, 217) Richmond, Collegiate
Speight originally was targeted for the 2013 signing class but suffered a broken collarbone in the first game of the 2011 season. Over the following winter, Speight made the decision to reclassify. He didn't have any offers at the time but performed so well over the fall of 2012 that he picked up an early offer from Michigan and jumped at it.
4. Trace McSorley, QB (6-0, 180) Ashburn, Briar Woods
New Penn State head coach James Franklin thought so highly of McSorley, who had committed to Franklin at Vanderbilt, that he made available a scholarship that McSorley accepted to join him at Penn State. Five ACC schools made early scholarship offers to McSorley, a 6-foot, 182-pounder who led his team to a state title but he wasn't originally viewed as a QB prospect. He ended up throwing for 3,252 yards and 36 TDs.
5. Coleman Thomas, OL (6-6, 295) Max Meadows, Fort Chiswell
Virginia and Virginia Tech both made pitches to Roberts, whose school is off an Interstate 81 exit less than 50 miles down the road from the Blacksburg exit. However, that's also approaching a part of the state that has always split its allegiance between the Hokies and Volunteers. There was also serious West Virginia interest in Thomas before he picked the Vols.
STILL ON THE TABLE
1. Derrick Nnadi, DL, (6-1, 299), Virginia Beach, Ocean Lakes
Florida State is considered the team to beat for Nnadi, who took official visits to Virginia Tech and Virginia (in that order) on the final two weekends of January. Nnadi's father is a Virginia Tech graduate and has favorable memories of his alma mater, while many of NNadi's Tidewater buddies have committed to UVa. Nnadi had taken a third January trip to Ohio State and also has been to Penn State officially, evidence of the regard in which he is held. Rivals.com rates him the No. 4 defensive tackle in the country.
2. Raymon Minor, ATH (6-3, 220), Richmond, Benedictine
Check any recruiting database and almost nobody has a longer list of offers than Minor; however, an official visit to Virginia Tech on the weekend before signing date was only his third, following earlier trips to Nebraska to Marshall. Minor reportedly has a clearinghouse issue but coaches have been swarming Benedictine, which has a pair of talented juniors in LB Ricky DeBerry and DB Garrett Taylor.
THE WINNER IS ...
Virginia's success with players ranked among top the 10 prospects in the state, given the problems UVa has had on the field in the past two seasons, certainly represents a victory of sorts. However, the Cavaliers' in-state haul was decidedly top heavy, while archrival Virginia Tech had a much broader cross-section, receiving pre-February commitments from seven players off The Roanoke Times Top 25 and 12 off the top 50.
North Carolina, which once recruited Virginia like an annex going back to the Bill Dooley era, is expected to sign five players from Virginia, four off The Roanoke Times Top 25.
The ACC also had to be considered a winner in Virginia, given the relative scarcity of marquee players who are leaving the "footprint." Only Hand and Holmes, among the ACC misses above, picked a major national power outside the league.