Virginia Football Recruiting Interview: Mike London Steadily Improving

April 14, 2012; Charlottesville, VA USA; Virginia Cavaliers head coach Mike London talks with Cavaliers guard Jon Goss (52) during warm ups prior to the Virginia spring game at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Recruiting analyst Justin Ferber of SB Nation's excellent Virginia site Streaking The Lawn joins SB Nation Recruiting to talk UVA football recruiting.

Thanks to Justin Ferber of SB Nation's Streaking The Lawn for joining us. Virginia signed a consensus top-25 recruiting class in 2012. Did this meet, exceed or fall short of your expectations?

I’d say meeting expectations is fair. UVA’s 2012 class ended up pretty similar to the 2011 class, which was Virginia’s best recruiting effort in a while. London and his staff stockpiled defensive talent in the 2012 class, with US Army All-Americans Eli Harold and Kwontie Moore (projected as a defensive end and inside linebacker, respectively) leading the way. Like any recruiting class, there were a few prospects that got away and a few that UVA ended up getting that nobody expected them to. Overall, I feel it was a successful recruiting cycle for Virginia, especially when it comes to adding speed and athleticism to the program.

What was the most important thing that UVA did in its 2012 class?

The easy answer would be landing Eli Harold, the consensus No. 1 player in the state for the 2012 graduating class. Everybody thought Harold would end up at an SEC power, but instead Virginia made a lot of headway with him last spring, and ended up signing him over a ton of other suitors.

Besides that though, the most important thing UVA did on the trail in 2012, in my opinion, was just cultivating relationships with more high schools around the state of Virginia. Mike London’s predecessor, Al Groh, had a reputation for being on bad terms with a lot of high school coaches around the state, and that showed in his recruiting efforts in his last few seasons in Charlottesville. (Groh’s 2008 class was basically a disaster, only signing a total of four in-state players in the cycle, and the only one who played meaningful minutes was originally from Canada).

Mike London and his staff have gone a long way towards mending those relationships, and trying to regain some favor with coaches, especially in the talent-rich Tidewater area of the state. Virginia signed 10 players from the "757" in 2012, after signing nine from the region in 2011. By comparison, Virginia Tech has signed only five players from the Tidewater in the past two recruiting cycles combined. That’s a pretty big shift from how things have usually gone in that region over the past decade or so.

What misses in the 2012 class must now be addressed in the class of 2013? Who are the top prospects UVA is pursuing to meet these needs? What position(s) 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 UVA is pursuing to meet this need?

Since Mike London’s arrival, Virginia has not had a lot of success luring tight ends to Charlottesville. In fact, the only tight end on the roster that has been brought in since London returned to UVA is Jake McGee, who is a converted quarterback. Although there are still some solid tight ends on the roster, they are all getting closer to graduating, and the position will certainly need to be addressed. Virginia has targeted several tight ends in this cycle, including Arshad "A.J." Jackson from Georgia, who has named UVA his leader on several occasions. Another tight end Virginia has offered is Ohio native Greg Hart, but he has not been linked with the Cavaliers much lately.

Linebacker is going to be a major need for the 2013 class, with several players at the position graduating after this upcoming season. Virginia has already begun to address this need, by landing Baltimore native Micah Kiser recently. The UVA staff is going after a ton of other linebackers though, including current Stanford commit Doug Randolph, Oren Burks, Buddy Brown, Matt Rolin, Marcus Newby, Peter Kalambayi … the list goes on and on. I expect Virginia to land a couple more linebackers before the 2013 class is wrapped up.

Which commitment(s) in the 2013 class have been the most important for UVA?

Micah Kiser was a great addition because he’s filling a position of need, but I’ll say Tim Harris, because he’s the best of the bunch so far. Harris, a talented defensive back from Richmond holds offers from Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and a bunch more. Harris is the only consensus four-star in Virginia’s 2013 class thus far, and pulling a talented athlete from the battleground Richmond area is always good.

Which commitment(s) to other schools have been the most damaging? Will UVA be able to flip the recruit(s) committed to the other school, and if not, who will UVA pursue to fill the need?

There are three four-star quarterbacks in the Commonwealth’s 2013 class, and UVA whiffed on all of them. Christian Hackenberg committed to the new Penn State staff, Ryan Burns committed to Stanford, and Bucky Hodges chose the Hokies. Virginia offered and pursued all three of these quarterbacks, and all three picked other schools. One reason for this may be that other schools are using Virginia Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor’s recent flirtations with the NFL against UVA on the recruiting trail.

Virginia has taken a commitment from a three-star signal caller Brendan Marshall from Maryland, and he does have some promise. The Cavaliers are also the perceived leader for Corwin Cutler, another 2013 quarterback from Virginia Beach. If Cutler comes onboard, this will be back-to-back years that Virginia takes two quarterbacks in a recruiting cycle. Virginia also recently landed transfer quarterback Phillip Sims from Alabama.

So from a depth perspective, missing on the top three Virginia quarterbacks isn’t devastating. It just hurts to miss on that kind of quarterback talent when it’s sitting right there in your backyard.

How many recruits do you expect UVA to take in the 2013 class? If possible, can you provide a position breakdown?

My guess would be about 20 or so. In the past two classes Virginia has taken more than that, but in some years it’s a little harder to get under that mandatory 85 scholarship limit. This is one of those years. As far as a position breakdown goes, UVA has already taken a quarterback, two wide receivers, an offensive tackle, a linebacker and a safety. If Virginia ends up with 20 commits, my guess would be: two quarterbacks, a running back, a tight end, three offensive linemen, three wide receivers, three defensive backs, four linebackers, and three defensive linemen.

VT smashed UVA last year, 38-0, and has dominated the decade. How much negative recruiting does UVA receive due to this, given that today's recruits have never seen UVA beat VT during their formative years?

I don’t think the Virginia Tech staff even needs to remind recruits about their dominance over their in-state rivals anymore. The kids just know. If you are a recruit in Virginia in the 2013 class, the last time UVA beat Virginia Tech, you were 8 or 9 years old. All the recruits from Virginia that choose UVA do so knowing all about Tech’s run of dominance over the Cavaliers in the past decade, and those who choose other schools over UVA may do so in part because of this streak.

Mike London and his staff have only played the Hokies twice, so that streak doesn’t necessarily reflect as poorly on them as it does on the prior coaching staff, in the eyes of many recruits and fans. The staff’s goal at this point is to continue to sell the idea that Virginia is on the way up in the ACC, and while making that pitch, try to end the run of poor form against their neighbors to the southwest as soon as possible.

The state of Virginia produces a decent amount of talent, but given that elite programs usually cherry pick some of the top kids, and at best UVA splits the rest with VT, the Hoos must go out of state some. Where does UVA currently turn for out-of-state kids? Do you see these areas being maintained, expanded, etc?

Since Mike London took over, Virginia is emphasizing in-state recruiting more heavily. In the past two cycles fewer top recruits have left the state in previous years, but it’s always something that both Virginia and Virginia Tech have to deal with. When UVA does go out of state to recruit, the D.C. and Maryland area is the most heavily targeted. With many top-flight prep programs in the "DMV" area (Good Counsel, Dematha, Gilman, etc), schools from all over the nation, Virginia included, visit the area quite often for talent. Virginia is one of the local options for these Maryland and DC natives, so UVA pulls kids from this area in every recruiting cycle.

Other areas Virginia has hit hard lately are New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as Georgia. The Hoos have not had much success recruiting in the state directly to the south, North Carolina, however. Yes, Virginia has pulled a few kids from there in the past few years, but considering the amount of talent in that state and its relative proximity to Charlottesville, it’s an area Virginia would like to see more success in the future.

How have the hires of Urban Meyer, Bill O'Brien and Randy Edsall affected UVA's recruiting in the state?

The Edsall hire has had the biggest direct impact on Virginia’s recruiting in the state, and that has been all positive for UVA. Maryland got one commit from Virginia in the previous class, and it was from a prospect that neither of the in-state schools offered. Maryland usually pulls far fewer players from Virginia than the Cavaliers get from Maryland, (Torrey Smith being the exception to the rule), and I wouldn’t expect that to change much.

As for Meyer and O’Brien, they have been actively pursuing players from Virginia since they were hired. Meyer once mentioned on ESPN during his hiatus that the state was an underrated area for talent, and that if all the Virginia kids stuck together, the results would surprise people. At Florida, he plucked Percy Harvin from the Virginia Beach area, so he will continue to scour the state for talent from Columbus I’m sure.

Bill O’Brien already grabbed Christian Hackenberg from the Commonwealth since taking over for the late Joe Paterno. O’Brien’s hire will have a direct impact on the recruitment of quarterbacks in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Nittany Lions head coach can tell blue-chip quarterbacks that he coached Tom Brady to a Super Bowl appearance, and not many college coaches other than Charlie Weis can say that.

What is Mike London's recruiting style?

Coach London has a reputation for not pushing players into commitments. When players come in for visits, the staff would always like to seal the deal with them, but according to the prospects that have come through the McCue Center, the staff doesn’t pressure them into a quick decision. Many recruits have mentioned that when they meet with London he doesn’t really ask them much about football, instead choosing to talk about how their academics or personal life was going. London’s approach is to make recruits feel like he truly cares about them, unlike some coaches who treat players like stocks or chess pieces.

London and his staff have also gotten creative with how they try to connect with prospects. When 2012 quarterback Greyson Lambert came to Charlottesville from Georgia, Mike London was away on business. So, for the meeting, Mike London made a special personalized video for the Lamberts that lasted several minutes. Apparently that really impressed the quarterback, who ended up signing with Virginia over offers from Alabama, Clemson and others.

Coach London also sent letters to a bunch of recruits a day or so before they met up with nationally-ranked and undefeated Georgia Tech last fall. The letter began with, "By the time you read this, we will have upset Georgia Tech." A gutsy strategy for sure, but it worked out for the Cavaliers in the end, as they upset the Yellow Jackets 24-21 in Scott Stadium.

UVA had a very nice year at 8-5 in 2011. If the Cavaliers backslide some, or fail to improve on 2011, does London's message begin to wear off?

As long as Virginia doesn’t have a losing season, I doubt the message will wear off for the 2014 recruits. UVA loses a lot on the defense from last season, and if the young guys come in and play like, well, young guys, Virginia will probably fail to win eight or more games in 2012.

If the Cavaliers can get back to another bowl game this year, then I think that will only re-affirm that Virginia is on the way towards more consistent success, and that message to recruits will be as strong as ever.

If the Cavaliers fall flat in 2012 and win five games or fewer, which I don’t see as being too likely without a bunch of damaging injuries, then some recruits will probably stop buying what London is selling.

For more on Hoos football recruiting, visit Virginia blog Streaking The Lawn.

While we’re here, let’s watch some college football videos from SB Nation’s new YouTube channel together:

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