BLACKSBURG – As Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer turned his attention to National Signing Day, he stumbled across a letter written recently by a fan who spoke from the heart about what Tech needed to get in future recruiting classes.
The note came from a 12-year-old observer of the Hokies. The kid wrote about concern regarding Tech’s offensive linemen, who often seemed - in the kid’s opinion - to just let defensive linemen run by them without any resistance and how Tech needed to bring in more athletic linemen.
“It was kind of humorous at the time,” said Beamer, who saw 16 of his team’s 28-man class end up being offensive signees. “The kid was exactly right. What we need is more athletic guys that’s got toughness to them, that plays really hard and then (strength and conditioning) coach (Mike) Gentry will get weight on them. That’s the direction we’ve gone with this group, and that’s the direction we’ll continue to go.”
Signing linemen with less girth was just part of Beamer’s thought process while assembling the 2014 recruiting class, but his priorities obviously didn’t stray far from the offensive side of the ball. Tech’s quarterback, running back and wide receivers of the future will all be expected to emerge from this class.
While there’s no question Tech helped itself by signing three players who will have a chance to play quarterback and four running backs (with three of those seven players – quarterback Andrew Ford and running backs Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams – already enrolled), the receiver spot is where the Hokies might have gotten some immediate assistance.
If Ford impresses in the spring and preseason and McKenzie can get back to 100 percent in the spring or summer after sustaining a torn ACL early in his senior season of high school, either player could end up having the most impact next season of any of the freshmen on Tech’s offense.
Yet, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see any of Tech’s four receiver signees emerge as the biggest new addition to offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s scheme.
Cam Phillips from Laurel, Md., and Jaylen Bradshaw from Chesapeake, Va., both had at least 65 receptions in their senior seasons, while 6-3 Kendrick Holland from Winter Haven, Fla., presents a big target and 6-2 Isaiah Ford from Jacksonville, Fla., offers the late addition (Ford was a signing day find) of size and speed to Tech’s class.
“We’ve added some receivers, and I think that position is much better now,” Beamer said. “The guys that we’ve got (at Tech) now – (Joshua) Stanford and (Carlis) Parker and (Demitri) Knowles and (Willie) Byrn – they’re back.
“Adding the guys that we’ve added at that position I think has really made that position much stronger. That’s what I feel like we needed to upgrade.”
Tech’s acquisition of the 11 skill players at quarterback, running back and receiver demonstrated the success of Tech’s expanded philosophy to have assistant coaches recruit their specific positions, regardless of where the recruits were located.
Receivers coach Aaron Moorehead was responsible for Tech’s pursuit of Andrew Ford and Phillips. Loeffler, who is also Tech’s quarterbacks coach, recruited Ford out of Camp Hill, Pa., and fellow quarterback addition Chris Durkin out of Youngstown, Ohio.
Running backs coach Shane Beamer stayed near one of his usual recruiting territories of Richmond, Va., to help bring in running back newcomers Tabyus Taylor from Hopewell, Va., and D.J. Reid from Fork Union Military Academy and Chester, Va.
All four of Tech’s new offensive linemen – Eric Gallo from Richboro, Pa., Billy Ray Mitchell from Westwood, N.J., Colt Pettit from Deshler, Ohio, and Tyrell Smith from Ramsey, N.J. – were recruited by former Hokies offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. New offensive line coach Stacy Searels was charged with helping make sure Tech retained the linemen after Grimes left in January for Louisiana State.
The average weight for Tech’s offensive linemen when they signed their letters of intent was 271 pounds – not exactly lightweights but also somewhere around the average weight of many incoming defensive linemen that sign with schools in power conferences.
McKenzie, who had 36 carries for an unreal 650 yards (a mere 18.1 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns before tearing his ACL as a senior, was also a talent Loeffler picked up while mining the state of Pennsylvania.
After the way the running game struggled last season, Tech certainly isn’t giving up on running back Trey Edmunds (led Tech with 675 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last season; rehabbing a broken right tibia that caused him to miss the Sun Bowl and will have him out of contact drills in the spring), but Beamer also has plans for McKenzie.
One of the reasons Beamer said they wanted McKenzie to enroll early was so he could get to work on developing a rehab schedule with Tech’s doctors and trainers. McKenzie had 2,689 rushing yards as a junior.
“We think he’s got a terrific future,” Beamer said.
Ford Ready For QB Battle
In a signing day interview with Tech radio man Andrew Allegretta, Andrew Ford made all the right noises and sounded like a good-natured kid. He talked about his love of Kenny Chesney, his need to add muscle and weight to his 6-3 and 195-pound frame (maybe as much as 15 pounds before the start of the season) and how he developed an early desire to watch film and learn on the field.
“He had great touch,” said Loeffler of what stood out about Andrew Ford during the recruiting process. “His mechanics for a high school kid were excellent. He has the ability to make someone miss, however he’s labeled as the so-called dropback passer, but I don’t know what that means anymore. ... He’s got all the intangibles.”
All of the glowing advance copy will be a thing of the past soon. Andrew Ford will have to show he has what it takes to earn the starting job in what will likely be a three-man race with rising senior Mark Leal and rising sophomore Brenden Motley. Loeffler knows the challenge for Andrew Ford is immense.
“Just translating from the high school game to the college game,” said Loeffler of the most daunting work ahead of Andrew Ford. “It’s a difficult process. It’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight.”