Running back Shai McKenzie is one big question mark left for the Hokies.
National signing day may seem far away, but for the Virginia Tech football team’s coaching staff, Feb. 5 is rapidly approaching with some big questions left unanswered.
The staff has already assembled an excellent class for 2014, which Rivals.com currently rates as the No. 23 group in the nation.
According to the scouting service, the Hokies have nabbed early commitments from five 4-star players and 13 3-star players, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still work left to do.
Fork Union Players Returning?
The Hokies were forced to send three players off to prep school this past summer, and the staff is still searching for solid answers about when they’ll actually set foot on Tech’s campus.
Defensive backs Holland Fisher and Cequan Jefferson and running back D.J. Reid all spent the semester at Fork Union Military Academy, a frequent choice for Tech recruits looking to improve their grades before enrolling.
Fisher is the most highly regarded of the trio, as Rivals rated him as a 4-star recruit before he headed off to prep school, and he was even chosen as an Under Armour All-American.
Jefferson was a 3-star recruit, and although he was initially projected as an athlete during recruitment, his high school highlights show he has skill in the secondary.
Reid was also rated as a 3-star athlete, but he played running back at Fork Union.
The academy’s coach, John Shuman, offered praise for each athlete when he spoke to the Roanoke Times’ Doug Doughty, indicating that Fisher could play an immediate role on the defense and that each should be ready to head to Tech.
“I think Fisher will be more of an outside linebacker,” Shuman said. “He’s got good speed, good range. With what they like to do, I think he’ll that rover-whip type guy.”
Reid is already eligible and Jefferson and Fisher “should knock it out with this next class” which ends Dec. 12, Shuman said.
Each should be ready for spring practice, but with several running backs and defensive backs still among the Hokies’ targets for the 2014, Tech will have to be sure before going forward with some other decisions.
Crowded Running Back Picture?
The Hokies have been aggressive about going out and recruiting running backs in the 2014 cycle, and now they find themselves with an embarrassment of riches at the position.
Tech’s stable of runners is already crowded; redshirt freshmen Trey Edmunds, Chris Mangus and Joel Caleb and sophomore J.C. Coleman have all shared carries this season.
Each will return next year, in addition to the three running backs Tech has already gotten commitments from.
Williams has dazzled with his performance in the Virginia high school playoffs, and according to the Daily Press’ Norm Wood, he’ll be enrolling at Tech early.
Williams announced Tuesday afternoon via his Twitter account (@RunJuice42) he’ll be enrolling in January at Tech, which means he’ll be able to participate in spring practices. With Tech’s running-back situation unsettled heading into next season, Williams has the potential to catch some attention in practices.
"I just want to get comfortable," Williams said. "Instead of getting there around the same time as everybody else, and everybody going through the same process, if I get there early I'll get comfortable with the system and class. It'll help me, and it'll help some of my teammates also."
This season for Phoebus, Williams had 2,192 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns. Phoebus finished 10-2, losing to King’s Fork 17-14 in the Group 4A playoffs.
One only needs to watch his highlight video of his eight-touchdown performance to understand that Williams could make an immediate impact at Tech.
However, Williams’ development and Tech’s crowded backfield means that the Hokies might lose out on other running back recruits.
The Hokies were recruiting 4-star Pennsylvania running back Shai McKenzie aggressively, but he’s since drawn interest from the Pittsburgh Panthers, an in-state school.
He visited Tech on Nov. 15 but made a trip to Pitt on Dec. 4, and according to ESPN’s Jared Shanker, he’ll be making his decision on Dec. 20.
Shai McKenzie committing at 1 pm Friday between Pitt, VaTech and Georgia Tech.— Jared Shanker (@JShankerESPN) December 16, 2013
If the Hokies should land McKenzie, the rich will get richer at running back, and they’ll be faced with some challenging decisions about which players to redshirt.
If McKenzie chooses the hometown school, however, they’ll still have some talented players, but another 4-star could really bolster the class.
The Hokies landed one talented in-state defensive tackle when they got a commitment from Walker, but now they’ve turned their attention to Virginia Beach 4-star recruit Derrick Nnadi.
Tech suffered a bit of a blow when they lost out on Chesapeake 5-star defensive tackle Andrew Brown to rival Virginia Cavaliers, and they’re trying to rebound by grabbing Nnadi.
The tackle is being pursued by a variety of other out of state schools, and will make some important visits over the coming weeks, according to the Virginian-Pilot’s Larry Rubama. Nnadi will visit Florida State this weekend. The Seminoles play Auburn for the BCS National Championship on Jan. 6. He will visit Ohio State the weekend of Jan. 15-16. And then he will visit Virginia Tech on Jan. 24.
The fact that Nnadi will be visiting Tech last bodes well for the Hokies, but his commitment remains a big question mark for the staff.
Landing Nnadi and Walker would be a big statement about the program’s ability to land in-state defensive recruits, particularly after losing Brown and safety Quin Blanding to Virginia.
Defensive tackles also tend to play a big role in Bud Foster’s defense, and with Tech losing senior Derrick Hopkins, there will be a hole at the position for the pair to fill.
Overall, the Hokies have more answers than questions heading into national signing day, but they could use a little more certainty in some key areas.
If Tech can land players like McKenzie and Nnadi and bring in their prep school recruits, the 2014 class will shoot up national rankings.
But if they can’t, they’ll stay ranked as a good class, but not among the country’s elite.
The Hokies have faced some real uncertainty lately, and a big national signing day would do a lot for the program.