The state of Virginia is poised to knock the recruiting world off its axis.
With three of the nation’s top-10 players in the 2014 class calling Virginia home—Da’Shawn Hand, Andrew Brown and Quin Blanding—geography could soon flex its recruiting muscles.
Whether in-state schools can capitalize on this perk won’t be known until next February, but the possibility of a shakeup (even a temporary one) is alive and well.
“Virginia has always produced outstanding football talent, but it is rare for a state other than Florida, Texas or California, to have three elite of the elite-type of prospects,” said JC Shurburtt, National Recruiting Director for 247Sports. “But these three, given their lofty comparative positions with other prospects nationally, will be remembered for years.”
This comes at a time when the names and faces are familiar. Not with the players, who only become household names by the end of the recruiting cycle shortly before we hit the reset button and start from scratch. But instead with the teams, coaches and powerhouse programs that reserve this yearly real estate at the top of the recruiting rankings.
Under Nick Saban, Alabama has become a fixture at the top. The likes of Florida and LSU know plenty about this real estate as well, while Ole Miss and Auburn were able to stake their claim to this spot earlier this year. Other SEC schools such as Georgia and South Carolina occasionally stop by.
Sprinkle in Notre Dame, add in Big Ten powers Ohio State and Michigan, and throw in the occasional USC and Florida State commit, and a familiar equation comes into focus. Despite the unexpected that comes with recruiting, the end game remains predictable. At least it has in recent years.
2014—and perhaps beyond— could be different. If Virginia and Virginia Tech are able to close on these three prep stars, it will be different.
The Woodbrige, Va., defensive end is the No. 1 player, according to 247Sports. He’s already been compared to Jadeveon Clowney and sports a 4.6 40 at 250 pounds.
“Hand's first step and quick hands (no pun intended) are elite and some of the best I've seen in person," said Shurburtt. “Combine that with his natural strength and tireless work ethic and it adds up to the No. 1 overall prospect at this time thanks in large part to the rarity factor.”
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has established a wonderful relationship with Hand, something that has been discussed often. Of the experts on 247Sports’ Crystal Predictions, 84 percent feel Hand will eventually sign with the Hokies, while 16 percent predict Michigan.
The No. 4 player nationally on 247Sports and the highest-ranked defensive tackle, the 6'4", 282-pound Chesapeake native is one of the fastest risers in the recruiting world.
“Brown's quickness and athleticism are too much to handle for most great offensive tackles,” Shurburtt noted. “That type of size/athleticism combo plus the versatility factor makes him a big-time rarity.”
As for 247Sports’ Crystal Ball, 89 percent feel he’ll stay close to home and commit to Virginia. Yes, that Virginia. North Carolina checks in second, getting 11 percent.
The nation’s top safety prospect, according to 247Sports, and also the No. 9 playerl, Blanding is the only top-10 player verbally committed.
“Blanding is a 6'2", 200-pound defensive back that has the hips, speed and athleticism to play cornerback in college, though he can and likely will be an elite free safety in the NFL,” Shurburtt said. “He's not just a coverage guy, either, as he's not afraid to come up and strike an opposing ball-carrier in the run game.”
Blanding has verbally committed to Virginia. Yes, that Virginia. If the commitment holds, it would be an enormous land for head coach Mike London, who is under pressure in 2013 to a) win and b) close strong on the recruiting trail.
A Big Splash Could Lead to Much More
It’s unfamiliar territory seeing the Virginia logo (and only the Virginia logo) at the top of the recruiting rankings.
Granted, it’s incredibly early in the 2014 recruiting cycle, and a verbal means little until the letter of intent is signed. Still, non-traditional powers rarely climb this high, at any time, even with distinct geographical advantages in play. If Virginia and Virginia Tech are able to keep three of the top 10 players from leaving the state, it’ll be an exceptional win in the world of ultra-competitive recruiting.
Landing one (or two) of the nation’s top players could go beyond simply landing a potential difference-maker. It could provide buzz and an infusion of energy both schools crave. It could give future recruits, both in- and out-of-state, something to think and talk about.
Success on the recruiting trail could be contagious, and the perks beyond simply keeping in-state talent close to home could be enormous.
The schools weren’t able to do it last year with quarterback Christian Hackenberg, linebacker Jonathan Allen or running back Derrick Green, all of whom were Virginia products considered premier players in the country at their positions. Hackenberg chose Penn State, Allen signed with Alabama and Green chose to attend Michigan.
2014 could be different.
Alabama will still be in the picture, of course. So will Ohio State and Michigan. And LSU. And other familiar recruiting assassins will make their yearly cameos when it comes to landing the elite. But if both Virginia and Virginia Tech are featured prominently among the familiar powers, don't be surprised.
Geography is on their side, and momentum might not be far behind.
*Adam Kramer is the Lead Football Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.