The nature of analyzing recruiting in the college football world is that it demands the instant quantifying of winners and losers, but the best way to evaluate a recruiting class is to examine how it performs years down the line—the Virginia Tech Hokies’ 2011 class represents a perfect example of this.
At the time, people were starting to wonder if Frank Beamer and company had lost their touch.
Most merely considered the class a mediocre one, but others went so far as to even call the class the “worst recruiting class in modern history.”
Mike London had just taken over for the Cavs, and there were major concerns that the new coach would help UVa wrest control of the state away from the Hokies, no matter how ridiculous the notion seems in hindsight.
Yet, given the narrow focus of recruiting analysis on the number of 5-stars and 4-stars each program signs, it’s understandable that fans were concerned when presented with the numbers. Tech only managed to sign three 4-star recruits and missed out on big in-state prospects like Richmond’s Curtis Grant.
However, three years later, it’s clear that the staff knew what they were doing when they brought this class in. The athletes they recruited might not have been the most prominent coming out of high school, but many have since turned into key contributors for the Hokies.
Even though Tech managed to land some future stars in this class, there’s no doubt that there were still some duds in this group.
For starters, the team’s highest-rated recruit, defensive tackle Kris Harley, isn’t with the team anymore after transferring. He never fit in at a crowded position group and just never harnessed the talent he displayed when he was rated the second-best player in the state.
Additionally, running back Michael Holmes initially got on the field early in his career, but off-the-field troubles led to him getting dismissed from the school in July 2013.
Despite some players who never found their place with the Hokies, there were plenty of others in 2011 who did.
The name that truly pops off the list of Tech’s 2011 recruits is defensive tackle Luther Maddy.
Although he was just a lowly 3-star recruit back then, the coaching of Beamer, defensive coordinator Bud Foster and defensive line coach Charley Wiles has helped him transform into one of the premier defensive tackles in the country.
Maddy has already put together a fantastic career with the Hokies, and after briefly flirting with declaring for the NFL draft at the end of last season, he’s back to improve on his already impressive numbers. Both Athlon Sports and Phil Steele have named him to their preseason All-ACC first teams, and it’s no mistake why—Maddy is simply dominant on the field.
Safety Kyshoen Jarrett has similarly defied expectations. He was at least rated a 4-star recruit, but he’s become an outstanding safety since then.
He was third on the team in tackles last year and second the year before. Pittsburgh’s Devin Street is probably still smarting from this hit, and he too has NFL aspirations.
Phil Steele named him to his All-ACC second team heading into the year, while Athlon put him on its third team.
These two players alone have been so meaningful to the greatness of Tech’s defense these last two years, but there are other key contributors to the program in this group.
One pair likely hasn’t demonstrated their full value just yet.
Dadi Nicolas only really made his talent known last year, but the numbers he piled up in limited snaps last season have to make it clear that he’s ready to break out in 2014.
Meanwhile, Corey Marshall also looks like he’s ready to finally come into his own at defensive tackle. He made some contributions early in his career, but now that he’s moved past some off-the-field issues, coaches seem excited about what he can bring opposite Maddy at DT this year.
Linebacker Ronny Vandyke and tight end Ryan Malleck also seem to be poised to tap into their tremendous potential after fighting through injuries in 2013.
Both of them suffered shoulder injuries that put them out last year, but each started a number of games for the team in 2012 and looked good doing it.
Vandyke started to get a handle on playing coverage in the latter half of the season, while Malleck started seven games at the position.
Now they can rejoin the lineup and offer more flexibility for the staff on both sides of the ball.
This class didn’t offer a lot in terms of offensive talent, but the coaches did manage to find one future starter in Demitri Knowles.
Knowles looked tentative in his redshirt freshman year, catching just 19 passes for 240 yards. However, last year he turned into a major threat for the offense, notching 45 receptions for 641 yards and three scores. He’s never developed into the kind of downfield option the coaches were likely hoping for when they signed him, but he’s since managed to find ways to be effective all the same.
On offense, Darius Redman has also offered some value as a blocking tight end, while wide receiver Kevin Asante started a game in 2012 before leaving the program in 2013. However, he recently rejoined the squad and has two remaining years of eligibility.
Looking forward, defensive end Dewayne Alford finally seems ready to enter the rotation this season after an uneven redshirt freshman year, and he too could end up demonstrating his value.
Safety Michael Cole also deserves a final mention. He started four games for the Hokies in 2012 and could’ve been a valuable reserve contributor in the defensive backfield had he not been forced to retire with a neck injury.
All in all, this class wasn’t perfect—in fact, it probably was one of the more underwhelming ones Tech has brought in recently in terms of immediate impact.
However, the staff and these players deserve tremendous credit for transcending what the recruiting services said about this class. Maddy and Jarrett are a pair of players Hokie fans will remember for a very long time, and several other athletes in this class could cement their legacy this fall.
It’s all proof that, while 2011 might’ve seemed gloomy for Tech at the time, it was actually a seminal year for the rebuilding of the defense.