It’s time for my annual analysis of Virginia’s recently signed football class for next year. As always, I write as a fan and not as an objective journalist. And I will give the same disclaimer as I did last year: I am not a recruiting guru and don’t subscribe to any pay Web sites. So if you are a guru, you will not find anything new here. I am here to answer some pressing questions for the typical fan.
You might wonder why I am writing this article now. It’s because there were many articles written on the subject back in February. This is an introduction to those players that have recently arrived at school for those fans that might have forgotten what they read six months ago.
Let the questions and answers begin.
Which position unit am I most excited about?
I am most excited about the offensive lineman. Our O-Line corps has been very thin recently from several years of under-recruiting. We are very fortunate that we didn’t have many injuries this past season on the OL, or it could have been ugly—or should I say, uglier than it was.
Six offensive lineman signed, though Morgan Moses and Cody Wallace will end up prepping for a year at Fork Union Military Academy. Moses was expected to go, but Wallace's situation is a bit of a mystery.
This is a deep and talented group.
What’s the weakest position unit?
I don’t think we have anything to go on besides the ratings of the recruiting services. As I argued last year, though the services certainly are wrong in their evaluations of certain players, as an aggregate they probably have some validity.
As rated by Rivals, which is probably the most widely-recognized service, the defensive backs and linebackers were the weakest units.
Here they are with the number of stars in parentheses: Defensive backs Corey Lillard (three), Laroy Reynolds (three), Perry Jones (two), LoVante' Battle (two), and Javanti Sparrow (two), and linebackers Tucker Windle (three), Jeremiah Mathis (two), and Connor McCartin (two).
I know that Reynolds might end up at receiver or grow into a linebacker, and that Sparrow could end up at receiver, but this is a guess where they might start at.
A couple weeks ago, Groh said Sparrow is already one of the fastest players on the team, so let’s hope he exceeds his two-star rating.
Which single player am I most excited about?
I am most excited about Tim Smith, as his senior year stats and his highlight videos are very impressive.
One video clip I remember especially fondly is from a kickoff return for a touchdown, and his acceleration through a hole was breathtaking.
He is the first four-star receiver to sign with Groh—though I remember thinking that Ogletree should have been a four-star when he signed—and Groh even said on signing day that he’s never signed a receiver with the accolades that Smith has.
In the 2004 recruiting class, Virginia was the runner-up for three four-star receivers, and it still hurts to this day. Of the three receivers, Dwayne Jarrett and Eddie Royal had tremendous college careers and are playing in the NFL, while Doug Dutch did nothing at Michigan.
It’s about time we got one.
Which player is least likely to red-shirt?
My guess would be Tim Smith, given his accolades coming in, the fact that we lost our two top receivers from last year, and the fact that we are switching to a spread offense that heavily uses four-receiver sets.
Another possibility for early playing time is at defensive end, where we are pretty thin, and Will Hill seems to be the most likely candidate since he started a semester early.
Groh has recently said that there are quite a few true freshmen that seem capable of earning playing time this year. Javanti Sparrow has impressed the coaches and is in the running to handle kickoff and punt returns.
How did we do in the speed department?
Groh’s teams have unfortunately not been known for speed. But in his press conference, Groh said, “It’s a class that makes us a lot faster. Speed on the edges has not been a cornerstone of Virginia teams long before we were here. This class brings cumulatively, more speed here than has been the case, and we certainly intend to take advantage of that.”
But judging from the 40 times listed on the recruiting Web sites, this class doesn’t seem faster than previous ones. In fact, it seems like every year, fans or columnists say that the incoming class will increase our team speed. But this is the first time I remember Groh saying it, so I trust his opinion and I hope he is right.
Groh has recently said this about Javanti Sparrow: "When we said this class would, amongst other things, make the team faster and be one of the faster classes we've had here, he certainly was one of the players in mind. We knew that by numbers and by video, but to see that with our own eyes, he's legitimately fast."
Did any position units get too many or too few recruits?
The recruits are pretty well distributed over the various position units. We got four defensive ends, which I think is a bit excessive—notwithstanding the fact that we are thin there—and no nose tackles.
We are pretty thin at nose tackle, so it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the defensive ends will end up at the nose. Will Hill and Justin Renfrow would be most likely because they have the body type needed.
Here are a few other things to like about the class
One player that won’t show up in most lists is Drew Jarrett, who is a recruited walk-on as a place kicker and was one of the best kickers in the state. He could end up being among the most important recruits, as a good place kicker can be among a team’s most important players.
It’s risky to offer a kicker a scholarship out of high school, since it’s a waste of a scholarship if they don’t win the starting position. Unlike most positions, it’s quite common for the starting kicker to begin as a walk-on.
For example, Connor Hughes, UVA’s best kicker in the last decade and arguably the best in the school’s history, started as a walk-on. Chris Hinkebein, who was offered a scholarship out of high school, is handling Virginia’s kickoff duties but doesn’t appear to have the accuracy to do field goals. Therefore, our field goal kicking was poor last year as we scrambled to find someone who could do the job.
So, it’s less risky to recruit good kickers as walk-ons and then give them a scholarship if they win the starting position, which is exactly the offer we made to Jarrett. He chose UVA over a scholarship offer from JMU, confident that he could become the starter.
If Hinkebein never wins the field goal kicking duties, I would say that his scholarship is a waste.
We got 14 players from Virginia, which is probably the most Groh has ever gotten in one class. Seven of those are from the Tidewater area, which is a hotbed for talent, and Virginia has been rightly criticized for not doing well there in the past.
Ultimately I want to recruit the best players that can survive UVA’s academic rigors and represent the school well no matter where they come from, but, as I persuasively argued in last year’s article, I think there are advantages of getting in-state players. I was appalled that we only got three in-state recruits last year.
This is a big class compared to the number of scholarships that seem to be available. Usually, Virginia seems to be a bit conservative in the number of players it signs, so it doesn't risk having the problem that some schools have where they sign too many players and have to ask some to wait a semester (called gray-shirting) or an entire year to enroll, or even finding ways to kick current non-contributing players off the team.
However, the Cavaliers always have unexpected attrition: Academic casualties, injuries, behavioral misfits, and guys who leave for personal reasons. When they don’t have 85 scholarship players, they give scholarships to several hard-working walk-ons who rarely see the field. While this is a magnanimous gesture to the loyal walk-ons, it’s not the best way to win championships.
Though a few months ago, it looked like they would have trouble getting to the 85 limit, it now appears that they have exactly 85, caused by “unexpected” attrition.
We didn’t have many de-commitments in the 2009 class, especially considering our losing record and the fact that three coaches were fired after last season.
It seems like every year we have at least a couple decommits. Caleb Porzel committed briefly last spring before changing his mind. The early ones don't hurt nearly as much as the late ones.
Tyree Watkins was the other decommit, as he was wavering for months before changing his mind. In the past, it seems like the guys that are iffy for several months usually decommit in the end, so it didn’t surprise anyone. After he changed his mind, the coaches we able to replace him in the last week with Bobby Smith, a tall receiver out of Richmond, so the damage was minimal.
So what’s the conclusion on this year’s class?
Most UVA fans seem pretty happy with the prospects we signed, and I feel the same way.
Most recruiting analysts put us in the middle of the ACC as far as recruiting classes go, which—if the rankings are an accurate predictor of future success—will keep us where we’ve generally been during Groh’s tenure: in the middle of the ACC. I don’t know however, if this is the sort of class that will get us to where we want to go: The ACC championship game.
Now, it’s up to the coaches to do something with the talent. In recent years, Miami and Florida State have gotten the highest-ranked recruiting classes, and it hasn’t necessarily translated to success on the field.
Virginia Tech, the most dominant team in the conference over the past five years, typically gets recruiting classes ranked in the middle of the pack. So, it’s not impossible to win championships with these guys.
What about next year’s class?
Virginia won’t be graduating very many seniors next year, so I expect the recruiting class of 2010 to be small—maybe around 18 players.
Recruits want to play on a winning team. I think our weak recruiting class for 2008 was partly due to our 5-7 record in 2006 and our strong class this year was partly due to a 9-4 record in 2007. Our poor 5-7 record last year could spell trouble for next year’s class, so maybe it’s a good thing that it will be small in number. That will allow the coaches to focus on the best players that we have a good chance with.
We are off to a decent start so far, but unfortunately, it appears we aren’t in the running for many four- or five-star recruits, or for many recruits from the state of Virginia.