2006 Recruiting: Forced to Go Out of State, Hokies Do Okay But Not Great

The 2006 football recruiting ride was a wild one. When it became apparent early on that the top-rated players in the state of Virginia were casting their eyes beyond the borders of the Commonwealth, Virginia Tech's recruiting took a more out-of-state focus than usual. The Hokies continued their efforts to build inroads in the mid-Atlantic states that they now consider their recruiting grounds, but they also relearned the lesson that once you get outside of Virginia, the going gets rough for Virginia Tech.

Using Rivals.com's comprehensive recruiting rankings, the Hokies landed right about where they usually do. (These figures are taken off of Rivals at 11 am Thursday.)

Virginia Tech Recruiting Rankings (per Rivals.com)
Year 5-stars 4-stars 3-stars Others Ave. Stars Nat'l Rank
2006 0 5 12 5 3.00 32
2005 1 5 14 5 3.08 14
2004 0 3 8 8 2.80 41
2003 0 6 10 8 2.91 27
2002 1 3 8 9 2.75 45

VT's national rank and average star ratings for recruits are neither significantly higher or lower than usual. The 32nd place finish is based on a composite score that takes the number of recruits into account; in terms of average star rating per player, the Hokies finished tied for 27th.

But many are unhappy with the results. Why? When the results are the same as always, what's the fuss? In the last seven football seasons (1999-2005), Virginia Tech has ridden similar recruiting classes to two conference championships (1999, 2004) and four top ten finishes (1999, 2000, 2004, and 2005).

In recruiting, perception is everything, because after all, no one knows how these kids are going to do once they set foot on campus … if they set foot on campus. And in Virginia Tech football recruiting in particular, perception is based primarily on two things:

By both measurements, the Hokies were subpar, or more accurately, they've done better in the past. In the case of item #1 – in-state recruiting – the Hokies (I swallow when I say this) did horribly. In the case of item #2, Tech didn't finish strong, either.

We'll revisit those two topics here in a second. First, though, there is a unique third criterion that has arisen this year to color how Tech fans view this recruiting class: the FSU/Miami factor. The ghosts of November 5th and December 3rd are rattling their chains in the attics of Hokie fans' minds, crying in doom-filled voices that if the Hokies want to compete against the teams from Florida, they'll need better players. If this year's recruiting class isn't any better than recent classes, the voices say, those better players aren't on the way.

In-State Recruiting Crashes and Burns

2006 will be remembered as the year that out of state programs infiltrated the wall set up by Virginia and Virginia Tech and plundered the state for its top recruits. UVa and VT haven't done this poorly with the top players in state in many years.

I took a stroll through the In-State Recruiting Rankings page at TSL to see what sort of historical data was available, and unfortunately, prior to 1997, we don't have a consistent archive of the college destinations of the top 25 in-state recruits. We have archives of the Roanoke Times Top 25 dating back to 1988, but we only consistently recorded their destinations from 1997 onward. Here's what we found. (I'm using the Roanoke Times Top 25 here, because we have more historical data for Doug Doughty's rankings than we do TSL rankings, which only go back a few years.)

Roanoke Times Top 25 Recruits
Year VT UVa Other
2006 5 5 15 **
2005 11 9 5 *
2004 8 7 10
2003 11 8 6
2002 9 10 6
2001 11 7 7
2000 5 8 12
1999 10 5 10
1998 10 8 7
1997 6 9 10
* In 2005, 19 of the top 20 picked VT or UVa
** In 2006, only 6 of the top 20 picked VT or UVa

From a sheer numbers standpoint, UVa and VT got whipped by out of state programs in 2006, and when you look closer, it doesn't look any better.

Counter-arguments to those three bullet points go like this: those four top 10 recruits in the 2000 class were unimpressive as a group; Tyrone Robertson never even enrolled at Tech in 1997; and in the past, the Hokies were willing to take chances on a lot of lower-rated in-state recruits, something they seem unwilling to do these days, so the quality of in-state recruit that VT is signing is generally better.

But you can't deny that for a program with Virginia kids as its life blood, a recruiting class that only includes five in-state kids is a bad thing. So the key question becomes, is this a one-year phenomenon, or a trend? Conventional wisdom says that it's most likely a one-year phenomenon. It was just last year that Tech and UVa had a lockdown on the state, signing 19 of the top 20, but historical data suggests that's a freak data point … much like this year has to be considered a freak data point, with out of state programs signing the 12 of the top 15.

By definition, you can't identify a trend until it's a trend, so we'll have to wait and see what happens. All you can do is take this fact with you: from 1997-2006 (ten years), an average of nine RT Top 25 players per year didn't sign with VT or UVa, so that's your measuring stick for coming years.

For some excellent thoughts from recruiting analyst Zirkle Blakey on whether or not a trend is developing, see Chris Horne's Postseason Top 30, and check out the section titled, "Out-of-state movement a beginning trend?" The quick and dirty info is that Blakey doesn't think it's a trend, and he makes some good points to support that.

The bottom line, though, is that signing only five in-state players, "freak data point" or not, is a rotten in-state recruiting year for the Hokies.

Kids From Elsewhere Going Out of State, Too

An interesting phenomenon that message board poster Jason Berkeley pointed out is that other states struggled to keep their prospects within the borders, as well. Going by Rivals.com rankings (note that I looked this data up during signing day, so some of it may have changed slightly as LOIs did or didn't come in, and some players decommited and went elsewhere):

Out of State Results

Forced to go out of state, the Hokies discovered how difficult it is for them to knock heads with tradition-laden programs outside the borders of Virginia. All things considered, the Hokies did well, particularly in New Jersey, where Kevin Rogers paved the way for landing 4-star DE Jason Adjepong, 3-star ATH Zach Luckett, and 3-star DE Mike Gee.

Also in NJ, Rogers lost OL Lou Eliades to Penn State and RB Knowshon Moreno to the Georgia admissions department. Moreno needed another math class to qualify for admissions, and while VT wasn't willing to waive that requirement prior to his enrollment, Florida and Georgia were, telling Moreno that he could take the class upon enrolling in the fall. Moreno signed with Georgia.

Rogers had also positioned Tech very well with 5-star PA running back LeSean McCoy, but insiders say that when Rogers announced he was leaving VT, the transition from Rogers to Billy Hite as McCoy's primary recruiter started to phase the Hokies out of the picture. (In fairness, there were other unknown things going on with McCoy, who finally signed with Miami, a place he never even visited officially). Rogers wasn't able to wrest PA DT Jared Odrick away from PSU, but VT victories over PSU in PA are going to be rare.

In Maryland, the Hokies did fair. They ran headlong into Penn State, who snatched away DE Aaron Maybin, LB Navorro Bowman, and DT Phillip Taylor. Tech also lost TE Drew Gloster to the Terps, but the Hokies got three-star recruits in TE Andre Smith, CB Rashad Carmichael, and LB Nekos Brown. None were listed in the Top 10 in Maryland, which is territory Tech would like to plunder, but Penn State will be a thorn in everyone's side there, especially as long as Larry Johnson coaches for the Nittany Kitties.

The Hokies didn't do well in North Carolina, a state they want to succeed in just as much as MD (or more). The big losses there were 4-star LB Brandon Spikes to Florida, plus 3-star OL Hutch Eckerson – who once upon a time named Tech as his leader – to South Carolina and Steve Spurrier. Spurrier will be a formidable opponent in the Southeast, but the Hokies did wrestle away 3-star (and near 4-star) DT Olufemi Ajiboye, a one-time South Carolina verbal commitment, from the Ole Ball Coach. Ajiboye is from Georgia (more on that in a second).

Back to NC: the Hokies signed four players from the state, but two of them (FB Devven Sutton and DT Joey Hall) weren't ranked in the Top 30 by Rivals.com, and the other two, as noted above, just squeaked into the Top 30: ATH Devin Radford and WR Jacob Sykes. Sutton is a sleeper with impressive weight room credentials, traits shared by many good fullbacks, but Hall has a long hill to climb to contribute at VT. Hall's only other offer was from Elon, and we debated making Hall the first one-star recruit to sign with VT since Brandon Frye and – get this – James Anderson in 2001. In the end, we left him at two stars.

Obviously, the Hokies need better recruits from the state of North Carolina. In a year where in-state schools only landed roughly half of the top players in North Carolina, and NC State almost got shut out, you would hope that Tech would be doing some of that damage, but unfortunately, they didn't.

In Georgia, Tech got two of the five kids they targeted: Ajiboye (a decommit from USC-East) and safety Mario Edwards, who started out unheralded but rose to the 3-star level. The Hokies lost a trio of 4-star Georgia products, all of whom visited for the Tech/Miami game, to some storied programs: DE Jermaine Cunningham to Florida, LB Morrice Richardson to Notre Dame, and safety Marcus Ball to FSU. Georgia is in the heart of SEC country, and Tech's successes will be tough to come by there. In my opinion, snagging two recruits the quality of Edwards and Ajiboye is good work, and the losses of the other players are no surprise.

In other out of state recruiting, the Hokies got two solid OL pickups from Ohio in Aaron Brown (4 stars) and Clark Crum (3 stars). In South Carolina, the Hokies whiffed on OL Garrett Anderson to Steve Spurrier and LB Dekoda Watson to Florida State. In Florida, the Hokies thought they had a good one in DT Budd Thacker, but Thacker drew the attention of childhood favorite FSU with a great performance in the Florida/California All-Star Game, and Bobby Bowden swooped in and got Thacker to decommit. Bowden whipped Tech on the recruiting trail this year, grabbing Thacker, Ball, and Watson. Yeah, I know … I hate it, too.

Out of state recruiting sums up like this: recruiting in North Carolina and Maryland must improve. There were some good successes in Georgia and Ohio, but Ohio won't be a regular stomping ground for VT. The Hokies did very well in New Jersey, their best out of state effort, but with the loss of Kevin Rogers, don't expect that success to continue. Lastly, the Hokies need to have some success in South Carolina, but with Clemson's recruiting going strong and Spurrier coaching in the state, South Carolina is going to be as tough as Georgia, if not tougher.

Finishing Weak

The Hokies finished slowly this year. 4-star DE Jason Adjepong committed on January 6th, but after that, the news was mostly bad, with a number of highly-rated recruits going elsewhere, and one rising star (Thacker) decommitting. From January 6th onward, the Hokies lost more than ten players with whom they were in very good shape at one time or another.

As players went elsewhere, the Hokies started getting commitments from previously unknown targets, a development that drives fans nuts, because it leads to the feeling that the coaching staff is going with Plan B recruits.

Let's be blunt: This is a feeling that more often than not is rooted in fact. It's all part of recruiting: when your top targets go elsewhere, you fill in the holes with other players left on your board. Here at TSL, when Plan B recruits start committing, we quickly smack down any posts that talk about the Hokies "settling" or going with Plan B or C or D recruits, because our philosophy is this: prior to signing day, get out of the way and let the coaches do their jobs, then hash over things when the LOIs have been signed. Lots of those unheralded recruits go on to be valuable players, so while some guys may be perceived as being Plan B recruits, they are nonetheless players that the coaching staff feels can play at the D1-A level.

After Adjepong's commitment, the Hokies got verbals from six more recruits. Three of them were 3-star players by TSL rankings: Mario Edwards, LB Matt Wright, and Ajiboye. The other three commits were 2-star players who weren't even on the radar of the casual recruiting fan: WR Douglas McNeil, FB Devven Sutton, and DT Joey Hall (whom we nearly categorized as a 1-star, as discussed above).

Down the stretch, after Adjepong's commitment on January 6th, here's how recruiting went for VT:

VT Recruiting After 1/6/06
Non-VT Commitment VT Commitment
Jarrell Miller

UNC – 1/7/06
  Mario Edwards

  Douglas McNeil

Budd Thacker

FSU – 1/19/06
Brent Vinson

Tennessee – 1/19/06
Brandon Minor

Michigan – 1/20/06
  Matt Wright

  Devven Sutton

Hutch Eckerson

S. Carolina – 1/25/06
  Olufemi Ajiboye

Billy Cuffee

UVA – 1/30/06
Dekoda Watson

FSU – 1/30/06
  Joey Hall

Marcus Ball

FSU – 1/31/06
Knowshon Moreno

Georgia – 2/1/06
Dennis Godfrey

Wake Forest – 2/1/06
LeSean McCoy

Miami – 2/1/06

For fans who follow recruiting and base their feelings on how many stars their favorite team racks up and how many recruiting battles they win, that's an unsavory finish.

Contrast this with 1998, when the Hokies landed Michael Vick, Lee Suggs and Jake Houseright in the last week of recruiting – Vick and Suggs on the same day. Or 2003, when the Hokies landed four 4-star recruits in the last week of recruiting: Vince Hall, Michael Hinton, Xavier Adibi, and Chris Ellis. Tech also picked up 3-star Cory Holt and 2-star David Clowney in that last week of 2003.

That's what recruiting fans want: they want that high of snaring a bunch of big-time recruits in the last week. It's like charging to the conference championship and winning your bowl game, instead of dropping your last two, going to a lousy bowl, and losing it.

The obvious point here is that in-state recruiting usually contributes to a strong finish for the Hokies, and as we've pointed out, in-state recruiting was weak this year. Thus, VT's prospects for a strong finish were grim, and sure enough, that's the way it played out.

This year is reminiscent of the 2000 recruiting class, when the Hokies only got four commitments in the month of January. Shortly after the 1999 Sugar Bowl, on January 6th, 2000, the Hokies received a verbal from Jason Lallis from DeMatha High School, and at the time, Lallis was perceived as the first of a likely flood of January commitments that the Hokies would receive from players who were basking in the glow of Tech’s Sugar Bowl appearance.

Instead, after the Lallis commitment, the Hokies suddenly had a hard time getting players to commit. One by one, the names dropped off the board, as targets committed elsewhere. The expected flood of commitments never materialized, and in the last four weeks of recruiting, the Hokies landed only three more players: FUMA DL James Davis, WVU decommit Eric Green (who fell into Tech’s lap), and Channing Reed, a second-team JUCO All-American defensive tackle from Montgomery Community College in Rockville, Md.

Davis was an A-list recruit for Tech and a great catch, but Eric Green was a surprise, and Reed wasn’t even on the radar screen of those who followed Hokies’ recruiting. Sound familiar? And just like this year, 2000 was a year in which the Hokies faired poorly in-state.

I said at the beginning of this article that the poor in-state haul and the slow finish were coloring fans' perceptions of this recruiting class, and it's understandable why.

Summing It Up and Looking Ahead

The efforts of Kevin Rogers in New Jersey, plus a couple of recruits grabbed out of Ohio (by Bryan Stinespring and Charley Wiles) and two out of Georgia (by Lorenzo Ward), kept a poor in-state showing from turning the overall class into a disaster. The Hokies ended up with a solid class that we'll break down in more detail in the days to come.

For 2007, Tech needs a return to prominence in the state of Virginia, coupled with more and better signees from the states of Maryland (where they'll clash with PSU and the Terps) and North Carolina. A critical eye might be cast towards tight ends coach Danny Pearman, who splits recruiting duties in NC with Charley Wiles. Pearman signed just one recruit, Joey Hall, out of the state of NC.

The Hokies would also like to pick up a few players from South Carolina and continue to grab solid recruits from Georgia, where Whammy Ward is proving to be a valuable recruiter.

Looking north, the departure of Kevin Rogers will damage the Hokies' recruiting efforts in New Jersey, where Tech doesn't appear to have a strong replacement for Rogers in the works. Kurt Newsome out of JMU will reportedly join the Tech staff as the new O-line coach, but Newsome's recruiting ties are in Tidewater, not the north.

I don't typically follow recruiting very closely until the last month or so, when I feel like a college student cramming for an exam, but that might change with the upcoming class of 2007. Studying this class of 2006 – where they come from and the dynamics that played out when the Hokies were forced to look out of state for the bulk of their signing-day class – is pretty interesting stuff.

As I said, we'll have much more analysis and commentary in the coming days. Thanks for being here, and stay tuned as we continue to break things down and put them in context.