Virginia Tech Football National Signing Day 2014: Position-by-Position Analysis
The Virginia Tech football program might not have had a huge national signing day, but like most years, Frank Beamer and company assembled a deep, well-rounded class.
The Hokies were able to address some big needs and add depth for the future, all while recruiting better outside the state of Virginia than they have in a decade.
247Sports rates the class No. 27 in the nation, and that feels about right for a class that was solid, if not spectacular.
The coaching staff is surely down about not landing some top in-state recruits, particularly losing out on Derrick Nnadi on signing day, but Hokies fans should be pretty happy about this class. Beamer might not always deliver fireworks in the recruiting cycle, but he and his staff have become adept at finding players who fit in his system.
Read on for a look at how the Hokies did on national signing day at each of the major positions.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats and ratings are courtesy of 247Sports and all quotes were obtained in person from the team’s signing day news conference.
Chris Durkin: 3-star pro-style quarterback; 6’4’, 216 lbs.
Andrew Ford: 3-star pro-style quarterback; 6’3”, 198 lbs.
2013 Stats: 161 of 234, 2,778 yards, 35 TD, 6 INT.
Travon McMillian: 3-star dual threat quarterback; 6’1”, 203 lbs; 40-yard dash time: 4.50.
2013 Stats: 97 of 169, 1,472 passing yards, 14 passing TD, 7 INT, 1,537 rushing yards, 20 rushing TD.
The Hokies desperately needed to restock at the quarterback position, and it seems like they’ve done so.
Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler got his first chance to go out to recruit quarterbacks to fit his system, and he came back with a pair of interesting prospects in Durkin and Ford.
“One of the adjustments we made (this season) was to get our quarterback coach, Scot Loeffler, actively involved in the recruiting of our quarterbacks,” said recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Bryan Stinespring. “He has a tremendous reputation as a coach, teacher and developer of quarterbacks, and it really benefits us.”
Ford has already enrolled at Tech, and he’s really got a chance to make an impact immediately. Redshirt senior Mark Leal may be the presumptive starter heading into spring practice, but Ford could push him right away if he’s able to use his time in Blacksburg effectively.
He’s a pure pocket passer—accurate and poised in a lot of the ways outgoing starter Logan Thomas just wasn’t. Durkin more closely resembles Thomas, in that his size and arm strength jump out on film, but he’s more of an athlete than a quarterback.
In the same vein is the team’s third QB recruit, McMillian. He ran a spread offense in his time at C.D. Hylton High School, and while his running skills are impressive, accuracy was never a strong suit.
But he’s said in the past that he wants a shot at quarterback, and it seems the coaches are inclined to give it to him.
“He’s going to start out at quarterback. And I tell you, he throws the ball well, and I think he’s got a shot at quarterback,” Beamer said. “But he’s athletic enough. This is a great kid, great leader on his football team, but if it’s not quarterback, he’s athletic enough to play somewhere else. Where that is, we’ll determine later, but first thing’s going to be to try him at quarterback.”
McMillian doesn’t seem to have a realistic shot at actually sticking at quarterback, especially given the depth of the position, but his athleticism should guarantee he finds a spot on the field to help the Hokies somewhere.
Overall, this part of the class was excellent. Loeffler’s got options to work with, helping to fill the biggest need on the team headed into 2014.
Shai McKenzie: 4-star running back; 5’11”, 210 lbs; 40-yard dash time: 4.58.
2012 Stats: 2,669 yards, 42 TD.
D.J. Reid: 3-star running back; 6’1’, 195 lbs; 40-yard dash time: 4.50.
Tabyus Taylor: 3-star running back; 6’1”, 220 lbs.
2013 Stats: 264 attempts, 2,066 yards, 25 TD.
Marshawn Williams: 3-star running back; 5’11”, 215 lbs.
2013 Stats: 2,192 yards, 30 TD.
Running backs were another strong area for the team this recruiting cycle.
The younger Beamer — Shane, the team’s running backs coach — helped reel in three of these four guys personally, and he got an excellent bunch.
McKenzie is likely the best of the four. His combination of speed and power could make him a star one day, but his recovery from an ACL tear in high school might slow his initial progress.
Meanwhile, Reid and Taylor are a pair of stellar athletes who played multiple positions in high school, and could really add depth to this team down the line or even make a position switch if necessary.
Williams, recruited by Stinespring and outside linebackers coach Cornell Brown, has a superb build and could play right away if he makes an impression in spring practice.
Both he and McKenzie are already enrolled, giving them extra time to learn the playbook, which should really help the initial development of each.
But the bottom line is that a team that already had some good runners on the roster just stocked its depth chart at the position for the next few years with some solid talent.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Jaylen Bradshaw: 3-star wide receiver; 6’1”, 178 lbs; 40-yard dash time: 4.44.
2012 Stats: 35 receptions, 722 yards, 10 TD.
Xavier Burke: 3-star tight end; 6’4”, 247 lbs.
Isaiah Ford: 3-star wide receiver; 6’2”, 170 lbs.
2012 Stats: 42 receptions, 602 yards, 13 TD.
Kendrick Holland: 3-star wide receiver; 6’3”, 195 lbs.
Cameron Phillips: 3-star wide receiver; 6’1”, 181 lbs; 40-yard dash time: 4.50.
2013 Stats: 52 receptions, 908 yards, 15 TD.
Tech’s coaches quickly established the pass-catchers as a big position of need for the program, and they addressed it well with the wide receivers and tight ends they signed.
The team desperately lacked depth at the position, and while guys like Demitri Knowles, Josh Stanford and Willie Byrn grew tremendously over the course of the season, the depth chart is awful thin at the bottom. This group should solve that.
Phillips in particular seems polished enough to play right away, and the coaches intimated that a couple of these guys could get chances for early playing time.
“I would venture to say one of those guys in the receiving corps is going to be playing for us next year, one maybe two,” Stinespring said. “I like to think one or maybe two of those guys can figure it out.”
The team also did well with the recruitment of tight end Xavier Burke. With 2012 starter Ryan Malleck returning from injury and 2013 starter Kalvin Cline continuing to develop, Burke’s addition helps turn a thin position into a deep one.
But should the position be too deep, Burke’s experience on defense could facilitate a switch in the future.
“Burke, if he’s a tight end or a defensive end, he’s a guy that is a skilled guy,” Beamer said. “He can flat run. I feel good about that.”
Yet beyond the impact this group can make right away, it also shows how successful Tech was at recruiting outside Virginia.
Wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead has been huge for the Hokies in areas like Maryland and Florida, and his efforts in those states helped land the excellent Phillips and Ford, respectively.
“When you talk about Aaron, it helps when you have a guy on your staff that has a familiarity and he’s not going in there completely blind and has some ties there,” Stinespring said. “We wanted to maximize our capabilities and that benefited us.”
Ford probably represents Moorehead’s greatest success. The Hokies thought they lost him when he committed to Louisville, but Moorehead was able to reel him back in when he de-committed, and he’s another receiver who could play right away.
In general, this is another very strong area of the class.
Eric Gallo: 3-star center; 6’3”, 280 lbs.
Billy Ray Mitchell: 3-star offensive guard; 6’4”, 285 lbs.
Cole Pettit: 3-star offensive guard; 6’4”, 260 lbs.
Tyrell Smith: 3-star offensive tackle; 6’5”, 265 lbs.
Before offensive line coach Jeff Grimes departed for LSU, he assembled a good group of offensive linemen for 2014.
None of them were particularly highly rated—with Brady Taylor, the highest-rated recruit of the bunch, bolting to OSU—but each fit Grimes’ system and have good size.
The question is how they’ll gel with new OL coach Stacy Searels’ philosophies. Mitchell and Pettit both have excellent size and strength, while Gallo could easily develop into a solid center one day, but no one can be sure how Searels with utilize them.
At a glance, this part of the class looks good, and bringing in four recruits on the line is a big positive for depth, but there are no guarantees until Searels asserts his new priorities.
Kevin Bronson: 3-star weak side defensive end; 6'4", 233 lbs.
2013 Stats: 50 tackles, 20 TFL, 4 sacks.
Vincent Mihota: 3-star strong side defensive end; 6’4”, 250 lbs.
Steve Sobczak: 3-star defensive tackle; 6’1”, 305 lbs.
Ricky Walker: 3-star defensive tackle; 6’2”, 275 lbs; 40-yard dash time: 5.00.
2013 Stats: 65 tackles, 24 TFL, 6.5 sacks.
Losing out on Nnadi and 5-star Virginia DT prospect Andrew Brown hurt this category, but this is still a very good group.
Walker is the star of this class, and could be the one guy from the recruiting class who makes the biggest initial impact in 2014 (especially if one of the new quarterbacks doesn’t end up starting).
His first step and explosiveness are dynamic, and the similarities to the departing Derrick Hopkins abound. Walker should right into Bud Foster’s defense, and given the lack of depth at DT, he could certainly play a lot right away.
“When you go back and watch the senior tape of individuals, you watch Ricky or go to a game, I thought he had a fantastic senior year,” Stinespring said. “You see a guy that was a good player as a sophomore, got better as a junior and really improved as a senior. When you see a guy getting better and better, that’s going to continue at this level.”
If he can continue that progression, the Hokies have something really dynamic here.
But the class is strong beyond Walker as well. Mihota already is enrolled, and seems like another strong fit for Foster’s defense, while Bronson is an intriguing athlete who has the potential to grow into a good frame.
“When you look at (Bronson’s) frame, he’s going to really develop,” Beamer said. “He’s got a good frame to be a really big kid that’s athletic. I’m really excited about this kid.”
This group might not have been all the Hokies were hoping for, but they still landed some potential impact players.
Melvin Keihn: 3-star outside linebacker; 6’1”, 225 lbs.
2013 Stats: 85 tackles, 16 TFL, 9 sacks, 2 FF.
Raymon Minor: 4-star linebacker; 6’3”, 210 lbs; 40-yard dash time: 4.60.
One nitpick with this class is that it didn’t restock the linebacker position particularly well, especially given the loss of both starters at the position after this season.
However, the linebackers the team did sign both seem like excellent prospects.
Getting Minor on signing day was a big win for the Hokies, and he seems athletic enough that he could make an impact on the field right away at Tariq Edwards’ old “backer” position, which requires a lot of coverage.
Keihn is also intriguing. His background is as a defensive end in high school, so he certainly has the potential to contribute to the pass rush in a big way.
So while fans might’ve liked to see more linebackers on the 2014 list, the Hokies at least made an impact with the players they did sign.
Terrell Edmunds: 3-star cornerback; 6’2”, 186 lbs.
Holland Fisher: 4-star safety; 6’1”, 200 lbs.
Shawn Payne: 3-star safety; 6’3”, 180 lbs.
C.J. Reavis: 3-star safety; 6’2”, 207 lbs; 40-yard dash time: 4.55.
2013 Stats: 87 tackles, 4 INT, 8 pass breakups.
Greg Stroman: 3-star cornerback; 6’0”, 162 lbs.
Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray continues to prove why he’s one of the best assistants in the game by assembling another excellent class in the secondary.
Gray had a hand in recruiting every one of these guys, undoubtedly helping to sell them on the notion of “DB U” and of the potential to play early, given the success of former freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller.
Since both starting safeties are graduating after the 2014 season, and the team’s backups haven’t been particularly good, Fisher and Reavis could both be huge for the team. Either one could also play cornerback, if necessary, given their combination of size and athleticism.
It was also a nice win for the team to keep Edmunds—starting running back Trey’s younger brother—in the Hokie family, and the team’s success with promoting heritage, like with the Fuller and Hopkins families, is a testament to the strength of the program. But Edmunds has serious speed, too, and while he might be deep on the CB depth chart, he could easily make some noise on special teams in the return game.
Gray nailed this class, and he’s proving to be one of Beamer’s most valuable lieutenants in years.
Michael Santamaria: 2-star kicker; 5’9”, 160 lbs; 40-yard dash time: 4.87.
It might seem rare, but yes, the Hokies did actually get a signed letter of intent from a kicker.
That’s the kind of emphasis Beamer put on the position following the departure of troubled former starter Cody Journell.
Sophomore Eric Kristensen was pressed into duty as the team’s starter at the end of last season, and while he did make a few field goals, he didn’t “wow” the coaches with a particularly strong leg. Sophomore Mitchell Ludwig has also gotten some attention, but he’s fought through some injuries.
That makes the addition of Santamaria a surprisingly meaningful one. He could contribute right away on kickoffs—not a strength of Kristensen’s—and even challenge for a starting spot.
It might seem like a small addition, but when combined with some walk-ons that will join the team later, the team restocked at the most meaningful position on special teams.