You might be wondering why I am writing this now when the signing day was months ago. It’s mostly because after signing day, there are scores of articles on the subject, but now is a slow time where we can really reflect—and fans hungry for something to read in the off-season might actually read my article.
Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not a recruiting guru. If you are, then this article won’t contain much new for you. I am not a subscriber at Rivals, Scout, or The Sabre. I used to subscribe several years ago until I realized I was too obsessed and addicted.
For example, not was it only very time-consuming, but I found recruiting was the first thing I would think about when I woke up in the morning, and my mood was controlled by the answers that 17-year old boys gave to insightful questions, such as: “How did your feelings toward UVA change when you took a dump in their locker room on your official visit?”
So now, without the subscriptions, I follow it from afar and use the extra time to do things like spend time with my wife and kids.
Anyway…enough about me. Everyone knows that UVA’s recruiting class was ranked among the lowest in the ACC. The low ranking is based partially on the average star rating and partially on the fact that it was a small class (18 signees).
We knew all along that it would be a small class because of the small number of graduating seniors, so that’s not a big problem.
Now, fans often debate about the accuracy of star ratings. There are those who think star ratings are everything and use USC as their example. (USC has been the best team in the 2000s and regularly has the top ranked recruiting class, but it’s a question of the chicken and the egg: are they good because they get the best players, or do the best players want to go there because they are so good?)
There are those who think star ratings mean nothing and use past UVA players Brandon Albert (who was completely unnoticed in high school but was recently drafted in the first round) and Michael Johnson (the five-star running back who did nothing in college) as their examples.
I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.
For a given player, star ratings don’t determine their future success, but in aggregate getting more higher ranked players will translate to a more talented team, everything else being equal. The higher ranked players are the ones that more top colleges are recruiting, so those players must have something that many coaches think has historically led to talented college players. Here’s a great article about whether the rankings are accurate:
Most of the article is giving examples of when the ratings were inaccurate. However, the stat given near the end seems to prove that higher rated players are more likely to be top college players. So the rankings certainly miss on plenty of players, but taken as a whole they end up being a good indicator of the level of talent a program is bringing in.
Here’s the quote from the article:
“Extensive research into SEC and ACC recruiting history does indicate that upper-tier prospects have a better chance of succeeding. The Post and Courier examined every prospect signed from 2002 to 2005 in both leagues, calculating how many have gone on to make first- or second-team all-conference. In the ACC, 19.2 percent of four- and five-stars (46 of 239) have made one of those teams, according to Rivals' ratings. For three stars and lower, the percentage dips to 8.1 (64 of 786). There's a similar gap in the SEC, where 17.3 percent of four- and five-star players signed (52 of 300) have made first- or second-team all-conference, according to Scout's ratings. For the lower-tier players, the percentage is 6.6 percent (57 of 859).”
I am not overly disappointed in UVA’s class given the fact that there is no player in particular that I’m unhappy about—all of them have a lot of potential, particularly unsung guys like Tory Allen who haven’t played much football before (like Brandon Albert). But here are a few things that concern me:
1. I think we should take a bigger class. It seems like we never approach the 85 scholarship limit, such that we have extras to award non-contributing walk-ons. This is because we always experience significant attrition, which it seems like the coaches don’t take into account when they aim for only 18 players.
We’ve lost seven players so far in 2008, with rumors that more could be on the way. It’s possible that the four academic suspensions could return, but the past track record isn’t good with these cases returning.
2. In the final couple months of recruiting, we lost quite a few highly rated guys that we were in very good position with. I know we had a bad record in 2006, which might have cost us with some early verbals, but with a good 2007 season, we should have finished strong with undecided recruits.
Here are some that we whiffed on late:
Granted, two of the above were guys who committed to us earlier and signed elsewhere at the last minute, and losing only two after coach Mike London’s departure isn’t too bad.
3. We didn’t get enough offensive lineman. We are quite thin there and I was hoping for five signers. We got three, plus Michael Price could end up there. I supposed it wasn’t for lack of trying since three of the players on the whiffed list above are OL.
4. We got our tails kicked in an unprecedented and incomprehensible way in-state by Virginia Tech. More on this below.
So, my overall conclusion is that I am not disappointed with the guys that we signed. I am just disappointed about some of the ones that slipped through our hands. So let’s wait and see which one of these unheralded guys becomes the next Heath Miller.
Now I’d like to address the fact that our in-state recruiting was so poor this year. We only got one player from VA’s consensus top 30 recruits (Buddy Ruff), plus two more that were less heralded.
On one side, you have those who say that it doesn’t matter at all where our recruits come from—they could all be out of state if they are good players.
On the other side, you have people that say we’ll never be a successful program if we don’t do a better job of recruiting in state; that we’ll never surpass VT until we surpass them in in state recruiting; that VA football players are better than surrounding states.
I reject both of these extremes. When a player commits to come here, I am just as excited about them whether or not they are in state. And I love our past and current players just the same whether or not they came from in state.
That said, here are some reasons that I think it’s important to get as many players as possible from in state:
1. When we get in-state recruits, it can create pipelines from certain high schools. It’s not impossible that this could occur at an out-of-state school, but much less likely because loyalty from a given high school is much more likely to be to an in-state college.
For example, several recruits from Pennsylvania that we were in good shape with at the end of the season suddenly decided to go to Pitt, largely because it was an in-state school.
2. I am going to be a rabid UVA fan no matter whom we recruit, but that is not the case for everyone. This is especially true for non-alums that live in VA. They are more likely to be UVA fans if the local stars go to UVA. If we get a larger non-alum VA fan base, the benefits are myriad:
a. More people coming to games and clamoring for media coverage.
b. More media coverage has a feedback effect that creates more fans
c. More fans and media coverage makes future recruits more likely to be UVA fans.
d. This has an obvious feedback effect for years to come
3. If more of our recruiting is in state, this allows the coaches to spend less money and time recruiting because the geographical footprint area in which they are spending most of their time driving around is smaller.
That is why I don’t agree with people who argue that we should be recruiting more in talent hotbeds like FL. There is plenty of talent in the area from NC to NY, such that I don’t think we should be going outside this area unless there is a recruit with UVA ties or they have a 3.9 GPA or some other reason that we should go out of our way.
4. You can get an inside scoop on recruits that might be under the radar, or even if they aren’t under the radar, you can recruit them early and get a head start.
This is because you have developed a good relationship with coaches and people in the know in VA who tip you off to rising stars, and because you see younger players in their freshman to junior years as you are scouting the older players.
5. The Virginia Athletics Foundation is the fund-raising arm of the athletic department, and they are responsible for paying tuition to the university for every scholarship athlete. The VAF has to pay UVA a lot more money for out of state scholarships than in state.
To back up these ideas about loyalty and pipelines from in-state schools, I will share some examples from things I have read in the past year. I have seen a number of quotes from VT commits last year saying that one of the reasons they chose it is because there are other current VT players from their region.
This sort of thing has a cumulative effect over time. For example, Isaiah Hamlette, who committed to VT: "I want to represent the state of Virginia when I play in college…This class at Tech has that—a bunch of guys with the same goal."
Darrel Roberts had this to say about his close friend Tyrod Taylor (a current VT player) before committing: "We always get together and throw the ball around and workout…We're building chemistry, and the plus with that is that I know who the quarterback of the future is… Tech has a lot of '757' players. They pretty much run that school."
After committing to VT, he said, "I've got friends like Tyrod there." (757 is the area code for the Peninsula area of the state, which produces a lot of D1 talent.)
After committing to Virginia Tech, Bobby Massie (who actually de-committed later) said. "It was just how the players liked Virginia Tech and how they are from all over Virginia. They love it there. They seemed to be just like me. They are the same people I'm used to being around. I just felt comfortable."
Here’s a great article about how important it is for the college coaches to build long-term relationships with high school coaches:
One telling quote from the article: “The most successful recruiting pipelines seem to develop because of a coach's prior ties there, or simply the length of time he has been coming back to the same schools.”
During Groh’s tenure, there has been a lot of turnover with the assistant coaches, which VT has experienced comparatively little of.
This is not saying that our coaches aren’t trying hard enough at in-state recruiting. For all I know, they are working as hard as they can already. We are off to a fantastic start for the 2009 class.
In most years since Groh was hired, we have been approximately equal to VT in in-state recruiting, and overall recruiting, which makes it all the harder to swallow the disparity in on-field results. UVA and VT usually split the majority of top-30 VA recruits. Two years ago was an aberration where neither of us did well in-state.
With the way the class of 2009 is shaping up, it appears 2008 was an aberration and not, as some have posited, the start of a trend resulting from VT’s dominance over us on the field during Groh’s tenure.