After a great close in the 2012 football recruiting class, the Virginia Tech Hokies are off to a strong start for the class of 2013, well ahead of their usual pace. Here with us to share insight on the construction of the latest VT class is Gobbler Country's Chris Hatcher.
Virginia Tech signed a consensus top-25 recruiting class in 2012. Did this meet, exceed or miss your expectations?
It absolutely exceeded my expectations. Coming off of a down year in recruiting with the class of 2011, the Hokies needed to re-establish themselves, especially with their in-state rivals the Virginia Cavaliers making a bid at their crown as recruiting champions of the Commonwealth. The Cavaliers bested the Hokies in 2011 according to about every recruiting service in a year where The Commonwealth was loaded. As a result of that, I billed it the worst recruiting class in modern Virginia Tech history.
By comparison, the 2012 class was probably the best class in modern Tech history.
What was the most important thing that Virginia Tech did in its 2012 class?
The most important thing Virginia Tech did in the 2012 class was to get the big names. In previous years the Hokies would load up on players that fit their mold: diamonds in the rough who were generally underrated by recruiting services and flew under the radar of other BCS teams. When it came to big time players they would be lucky to get two or three. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that, and the Hokies have built their program off of that model. The class of 2012 was simply the first time I saw the Hokies really go for it and say "We’re going to get out there and be a real player for some of the nation’s top talent" and back it up. I attribute that success to the young coaches on Tech’s coaching staff; Shane Beamer, Torrian Gray and Cornell Brown getting out there and recruiting their tails off.
What misses in the 2012 class must now be addressed in the class of 2013? Who are the top prospects Virginia Tech is pursuing to meet this need?
The Hokies' three biggest needs for the class of 2013 are quarterback, offensive line and cornerback in that order. Tech has already done the meat of their work in those departments as they have secured two quarterback commitments, two offensive line commitments and at least two cornerback commitments in the 2013 class. They missed on the quarterback position not only in 2012, but also in the 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008 classes as well. While they did secure three quarterback commitments over that time period, two are no longer with the program and neither made a meaningful impact. It is important to remember that Logan Thomas was listed not as a quarterback but as a wide receiver or a tight end by every major recruiting service in 2009.
As for the offensive line, Tech has struggled to recruit both quality and quantity in that area. It’s disturbing that some of the Hokies biggest targets on the O-line for 2013 have already committed elsewhere, but heartening that they’ve locked up probably the two best offensive linemen in the state.
As for cornerback the Hokies simply need bodies as a result of attrition. Jayron Hosley’s early departure to the NFL coupled with James Farrow’s transfer and the Tech coaching staff’s desire to change positions in the secondary led to the Hokies being stuck with four scholarship cornerbacks on the roster in 2012.
What positions were not a need with the 2012 class due to returning players, but will now be a need in 2013 due to graduation/attrition? Who are the top prospects Virginia Tech is pursuing to meet this need?
I would say more than anything inside linebacker is a concern going forward. Tech dismissed backer Telvion Clark in the offseason and lost former starter Barquell Rivers to graduation. Clark actually flirted with the starting job in 2011, but injuries and a surreal performance by eventual starter Tariq Edwards in fall practice limited his playing time. Now Tech is down to just a few players at both the mike and backer spots.
Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of guys on Tech’s recruiting board who are likely to play those two positions as opposed to the whip linebacker spot, a hybrid linebacker/safety position that usually is filled by smaller, more athletic players. It may be a need Tech chooses to address in the near future as opposed to in the class of 2013, but it is worrisome anytime there is a depth concern at a position. Also after losing three running backs and the top-two wide receivers in school history to the draft in the last two years, continuing to fill these positions back up will be a challenge. Tech also loses its top-three current receivers on the depth chart at the end of this year.
Which commitments in the 2013 class have been the most important for Virginia Tech?
Bucky Hodges is by far the biggest commitment for the class of 2013 so far. As stated above quarterback was the biggest need and Hodges was the Hokies biggest target at that position, maybe overall. To land him and get that area of need out of the way this early was important. If the Hokies land Kendall Fuller, widely considered to be the nation’s top cornerback, I may have to re-evaluate that, but for right now it’s definitely Hodges.
Which commitments to other schools have been the most damaging? Will Virginia Tech be able to flip them, and if not, who will Virginia Tech pursue to fill the need?
There aren’t that many commitments the Hokies will lose sleep over at this point. Obviously the amount of offensive line targets that have committed elsewhere is a concern, but most of those were out of state as it was not a particularly good year for offensive linemen in The Commonwealth. If there was one player who committed elsewhere the Hokies would really want I believe it would be Tim Harris, a 6’2" 188 lb. defensive back out of Richmond’s Varina HS, a school that has been a pipeline for Tech in the past. Harris committed to Virginia and as I mentioned, cornerback is a stated need in the class of 2013.
How many recruits do you expect Virginia Tech to take in the 2013 class? If possible, can you provide a position breakdown?
I could see the Hokies taking somewhere between 20 and 22 recruits in their 2013 class. This number could rise with attrition or early entrants into the NFL Draft (which there will be). The number also depends on how many of the recruits are coming on regular scholarships versus grayshirt scholarships, in which a recruit will receive a scholarship the spring after their class is set to enroll as opposed to enrolling in the fall with the rest of the class. Tech likes to make use of this tool to stay at the scholarship limit and still get a player they want. With the use of grayshirts, that number could climb as high as 23 maybe even 24 players.
The Hokies are probably looking to take somewhere in the ballpark of three quarterbacks, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, four offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, two linebackers and four defensive backs.
Does Virginia Tech experience any negative recruiting on the trail? If so, what are other colleges saying? Location, conference, Beamer's age, other stuff?
I’d imagine they get around the same amount of negative recruiting as any other school. No more, no less. Yes Beamer’s age might be a concern for some players, but there’s nothing really suggesting that he will step down. Additionally he has maybe the most stable staff in college football, and if he should step down, there are two prime candidates on staff to succeed him: Bud Foster and Shane Beamer. The only negative recruiting points I’d expect opposing coaches to pull out is Beamer’s record against Top-5 teams.
What is Frank Beamer's and Virginia Tech's coaching style? How does it differ from the other coaches on staff? And speaking of the other coaches, who are the top recruiters recruitniks should know? Where would you rate this staff's recruiting ability against the other staffs in the conference?
Frank’s coaching style is a blander than vanilla, run, run, pass offense, a tenacious and unforgiving defense and a special teams unit that makes kickers and punters pee their pants. Frank loves running the ball and that’s still the M.O., but grumblings from the fan base to improve the offense over the last 10 years reached a roar in 2009, and as a result the Hokies have had two of their best offenses in school history the last two years, including probably the two best passing seasons. Most of the coaches on the staff are out of the same mold as Beamer, including lapdog and offensive coordinator Brian Stinespring. Bud Foster is a little more outward and intense, and as a result, his defense takes more risks. I think some of the new blood on the coaching staff has actually helped to convince Beamer to throw the ball more, that or the fact that the Hokies’ offense finished 2006, ‘07, and ‘08 ranked 99th, 101st and 103rd respectively despite winning 31 games over that stretch.
The primary recruiters on Tech’s staff are Shane Beamer, Torrian Gray and Cornell Brown. All three were former Virginia Tech players and the latter two played in the NFL. Brian Stinespring has a knack as a big-time recruiter having signed some of the biggest prospects for Tech over the last decade, but he isn’t assigned the volume of targets as the three above anymore. I feel like the Hokies coaches are in the upper echelon of the ACC coaches when it comes to recruiting, if for nothing else their ability to identify and evaluate talent. It always seems like guys who were nobodies according on the recruiting sites jump a few stars and have their recruiting explode after Virginia Tech offers.
The Commonwealth produces a good amount of talent, but with more and more colleges becoming aware of the talent, and Virginia doing well (though not dominating) in the 757 and elsewhere, Virginia Tech has to turn elsewhere for at least some of its talent. Where does VT go when it leaves the state, and are there other areas the Hokies should be targeting?
You’re not kidding. Can somebody please tell Stanford that high schools in Virginia dropped football for hockey? Do you think that would work? Because someone in Palo Alto decided they wanted to set up camp in Virginia and it’s working. In all seriousness though, I would say Virginia did dominate the 757 area in 2011, but not in 2012. They may not have it locked up, but they are making some serious inroads in that area. As for the Hokies going out of state, I think that would be unwise. They’re so synonymous with football in Virginia that home is where they need to do most of their damage. They have had forays into New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California and even Minnesota in past years. But generally speaking, the Hokies have a foothold in the Carolinas, Maryland and D.C., the Atlanta area and the East coast of Florida. If they should experience a shortfall at home, they have the ability to at least remain competitive with their connections in those states, but if they aren’t winning Virginia over the long term, they’re out of their element and will struggle on the field.
Let's talk opposing coaches. How have the hires of Urban Meyer and Bill O'Brien affected Virginia Tech's recruiting?
Anytime Urban Meyer goes somewhere recruits ears perk up. It doesn’t really matter if they had an interest before his arrival, as recruiting analysts saw last year. Many players who had eliminated Ohio State from their list moved them back into their top-3 immediately after his hiring. That’s just a product of Ohio State’s tradition and Coach Meyer’s pedigree. I don’t know that Meyer will be able to come into Virginia and win those recruits with regularity, but it is a concern any time a coach who has yet to coach a game for a team has recruits jumping at the bit even if they don’t commit. As for O’Brien, the Hokies and Nittany Lions only run into each other every once in a while on the recruiting circuit, and that’s usually when the Hokies meander into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Occasionally the Nittany Lions will make their way into Northern Virginia and even down into Richmond, but normally there isn’t too much crossover. However, about one time per year the Hokies and the Nittany Lions will battle over a recruit, and to date, I cannot remember Tech winning the services of a player on a 50-50 chance with Penn State in the recruiting site era. I just figure they will do that to the Hokies one time every year or so.
It seems that Virginia Tech has very good coaches, and it develops its talent quite well, but that the talent developed is consistently top-20 type recruits. Would you agree that in order to get over the hump against elite teams that the Hokies need to bring in a higher-level of talent? Is that feasible? If so, how can that be done in a place like Blacksburg? If not, does it mean that Virginia Tech will continue to hit its ceiling?
Absolutely I believe the Hokies need to bring in a higher level of talent to get over the hump against elite teams. As I mentioned before, the Hokies have previously been content to go after guys that fit their system. They’re not talentless hacks but they’re not often the top players in the country either. I read an article about a year back on a recruiting site that said the Hokies have the greatest positive differential in recruiting rankings and their actual rank in the polls. That speaks to the job they do in evaluating talent and then coaching it up. But the question of "what could the Hokies do if they were getting four and five star recruits regularly instead of three and the occasional four star recruit" has certainly crossed the mind of many Hokie fans. I do think it’s feasible, but if you had asked me that question after the recruiting class of 2011 I would have said no. Since then Tech’s coaching staff went back to the drawing board, re-focused their efforts, brought in new blood while still retaining all of their previous coaches and made the necessary changes to their strategy. The results are apparent in the 2012 class and so far in the 2013 class. I don’t think Blacksburg is particularly an issue. Recruits will go to the program they think fits them best or helps them the most no matter the location. As for the Hokies ceiling, I would tend to agree that without recruiting better the Hokies will continue to hit their ceiling.
With 11 commitments, Virginia Tech is off to a much faster start this year than it has been in the past. Is this by design? How big of an adjustment will it be for VT's staff to hold and continue to recruit committed players as opposed to chasing others?
As I mentioned above, the Hokies tended to pick up more under-the-radar talent in years past. Obviously those kinds of players were more willing to commit as soon as they received an offer or shortly after that, so starting early isn’t something completely new. In fact the Hokies have done well in the number of commitments they have received early over the last few years. The fear with that strategy is that sometimes the Hokies were reaching and that they would receive so many early commitments from borderline players that they would play themselves out of the opportunity to get big players. That has actually happened before, most notably in the class of 2011. The difference this year is that the players the Hokies have received commitments from early on generally are or are among the best players on Tech’s board. I think with several of their biggest needs filled the Tech recruiters are dangerous. They will be able to pin their ears back (much like their defense) and go after players that were previously an afterthought.
For more on Hokies football, visit Virginia Tech blog Gobbler Country.
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