The 2014 class of football recruits in the state of Virginia is arguably the best ever. Led by the No. 1 overall prospect in the country, Da’Shawn Hand of Woodbridge, the state boasts three of the top 10 players overall, according to 247Sports.
Unfortunately for Virginia Tech and Virginia, many of the nation’s top schools have noticed the unusually high level of talent in the Old Dominion State.
Mike London’s future at Virginia could be dependent on how well he continues to recruit within the state. In a year like 2014, London has an opportunity to stock his talent-deficient roster with several top-rated players. London can offer these players something many of the top schools can’t—the chance to play as true freshmen.
Legendary Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer’s job is not in jeopardy, nor should it be. However, with each passing season he is getting further away from filling that empty trophy case on the school’s campus.
In 2013, the state's top two players, Christian Hackenberg and Jonathan Allen, bolted Virginia for Penn State and Alabama, respectively. In recent years, Michigan, North Carolina and Stanford, in particular, have consistently raided Virginia for top talent. London and Beamer can’t afford to see this happen again.
Derrick Green, the state’s No. 5-ranked player in 2013, signed with Michigan in February and didn’t even have the Hokies or Cavaliers in his final three. The Hokies have long had a tradition of signing the state’s top running backs.
Both schools got an early jump on the Class of 2014. The Cavaliers landed a commitment from 5-star safety Quin Blanding of Virginia Beach, and the Hokies received a commitment from 4-star running back Marshawn Williams of Hampton. The No. 9 player in the state, offensive lineman Steven Moss, also committed to Virginia.
Hand, the state’s prized recruit, is a 6’5”, 245-pound defensive end who currently has offers from 39 schools, including the Cavs and Hokies. Hand’s size, athleticism and overall game are reminiscent of 2011’s top high school player, Jadeveon Clowney.
The competition to sign Hand will be fierce. As noted by 247Sports, Hand has said that Michigan, Alabama and a few other schools are "warm," but Hokies’ defensive coordinator Bud Foster is his favorite recruiter.
For whatever it is worth at this point, 247Sports’ Director of Recruiting, J.C. Shurburtt, has the Hokies landing Hand.
While Hand is not seriously considering Virginia, not all is lost for the Cavaliers. The state’s No. 2 ranked player, defensive tackle Andrew Brown of Chesapeake, has the Cavaliers as one of his favorites. 247Sports has Brown as the nation’s No. 4 overall prospect.
If Virginia lands Brown, that would be three of the top 10 players in the state for Cavaliers, giving them arguably their best recruiting class of all time. The 1989 class featuring Terry Kirby and Chris Slade is tough to beat.
With so much premier talent in the state in 2014, do the Hokies and Cavaliers have a legitimate shot at keeping the majority in state?
In the past several years, the state’s top talent often went elsewhere. In 2006, Percy Harvin of Virginia Beach was the top-ranked player in the Commonwealth. Harvin chose to attend the University of Florida. The Hokies or Cavaliers weren’t even in Harvin’s final five.
While the Cavaliers are off to a good start for 2014, will it be enough to save London’s job? In three seasons at Virginia, London has an overall record of 16-21. He has one 8-5 season sandwiched between two 4-8 campaigns.
London needs progress in 2013. He made several coaching changes this offseason, undoubtedly feeling the heat after a miserable 2012. The Cavaliers have struggled to fill Scott Stadium in recent seasons despite some noteworthy opponents. The easiest way to get fans to attend the games is to win. Acquiring the top talent in a talent-rich state is a good place to begin.
The great programs keep the top talent in state. Miami built its program in the 1980s by keeping the top players home. Sure, Alabama doesn’t build its roster with only homegrown talent; however, they rarely let the best players in the state leave.
Texas is perennially one of the top programs in the country. Its spring roster featured just 12 players from the outside the state. Since Mack Brown took over as head coach of the Longhorns in 1998, he made signing the top players in Texas a priority each season. He has competed for national titles and kept Texas in the top 25 for the better part of the last 15 years by prioritizing in-state talent.
So, if London’s job is on the line, what does this mean for Beamer?
Beamer has often resisted change with his offensive coaching staff for years. However, after a mediocre 2012 season in which the Hokies finished 7-6, their worst record in 20 years, Beamer finally made changes to his staff. Was it panic, or did Beamer truly feel it was time for a change? Nonetheless, the timing was interesting.
The Hokies’ current athletic director, Jim Weaver, is set to retire at the end of 2015. Does Beamer feel the pressure to win now before Weaver leaves his post? A new athletic director will likely not feel the same loyalty to Beamer that Weaver does.
Firing Beamer is out of the question—he built the program—but would it be outside the realm of possibility for a new administration to try to force Beamer into an early retirement?
In assessing the last 10 years of recruiting data for Virginia’s top 25 players, Virginia Tech has scored well. The Hokies have averaged signing nine of the top 25 per year. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have averaged just over five per season.
The “757," aka the Tidewater region of Virginia, is the state’s most fertile recruiting ground, and the Hokies have traditionally fared well there. But since London assumed the reins in Charlottesville, the momentum has shifted a bit.
As the 2013 season gets closer, look for more head coaches, like Nick Saban and Brady Hoke, to make frequent visits to the state. A head coach often stays out of the recruiting process until the end, unless the player possesses elite talent. The state of Virginia has several elite talents in 2014.
Can the Hokies and Cavaliers both sign double-digit numbers of players from within the state in 2014? The Cavaliers look primed to do so. The Hokies, however, are focusing on specific players, such as Hand and defensive end Jalyn Holmes of Virginia Beach.
Over the last several years the Hokies have focused on other states such as North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. With the recent influx of talent on the home front, perhaps they’d be wise to get more involved with the uncommitted players inside their own state in 2014.
2014 could be a make-or-break year for both schools for different reasons. If the Cavaliers can sign a top-10 class, London likely buys himself a few more years at the helm of the Cavaliers. Beamer likely cares chiefly about landing Hand. If he can, it would be the first time in school history the school signed 5-star recruits in successive seasons.
The battle for recruiting supremacy in the state of Virginia will be fun to watch in the next nine months. Sadly for Beamer and London, they will be competing with coaches from across the entire country.
Will the Class of 2014 pay close attention to what was a dreadful 2012 for both schools? If so, Saban will be smiling again next February while London and Beamer ponder what could have been.
All recruiting ratings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com unless otherwise noted.