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Early Offers Mark Strong In-State Class, Changing Times
by Chris Horne, 5/21/04

It didn’t take long for the state of Virginia’s rising senior football prospects to make their mark on the 2005 recruiting class. Before the beginning of the May evaluation period (April 15 – May 31), 25 in-state prospects had received Division I-A scholarship offers. The number is now up to 32 players who have at least one Division I-A offer, and that number is likely to grow in the ensuing months.

Leading the way are five players who have received at least ten scholarship offers – Highland Springs RB/CB Victor "Macho" Harris with over 20 offers, Landstown LB/DB Deveon Simmons with 17 offers, Centreville OL/DL Pat Sheil with 13 offers, Hermitage DE Jeffrey Fitzgerald with 12 offers, and Oscar Smith QB/JATH Greg Boone with ten offers. Included on these lists are offers from perennial top programs such as Miami, Oklahoma, and Michigan among others.

Following the five prospects mentioned above, six more players have received at least five official scholarship offers. Just from looking at the amount of offers, one can tell the top crop of in-state talent is extremely strong. According to VirginiaPreps.com Publisher Zirkle Blakey, this class has the potential to rival the 2002 recruiting class, regarded as one of the strongest in state of Virginia history.

"I think this class will compare favorably to the 2002 class - but I doubt that it will surpass it," Blakey said.  "Remember the 2002 Class had Ahmad Brooks, Kai Parham, Marcus Vick - consensus 5 star guys, and Michael Johnson and Anthony Martinez that made most Top 100 lists. This year the state boasts at least two top 100 players in Elan Lewis and Victor Harris."

The versatility of this year’s class stands out as well. The top prospects include a solid mix of skill players, jumbo athletes, and line prospects.

"Two things I like about this year's class is that it appears to have good depth and a number of athletes with tremendous 'up side' - there are a number of ones that have not really gathered a tremendous amount of national attention that are not just 'big' kids, but they have a lot of athleticism - like Jason Fuller, Alex Field, Ed Wang, John Phillips, etc," Blakey continued. "These kids can all run, jump, and appear to have the work ethic to make their futures very bright. You mix in the top athletes like Lewis, Harris, Chris Cook, Vic Hall, Cameron Martin and others, whose futures are perhaps easier to project and you have the makings of a super class. Of course you don't want to leave out the defensive studs or 'high motor' guys like Jeffrey Fitzgerald or Antonio Appleby or other defensive 'difference makers' like a Darryl Gresham or Deveon Simmons who will be in high demand."

In 2002, the state boasted 47 Division I-A signees, including four five-star (by Rivals.com), eight four-star, and 15 three-star prospects. This class may not have the five-star talents of 2002, however the depth could equal or even surpass the talent that year.

What’s striking even more than the amount of offers out there is the timing of these offers. While the influx of early offers is a testament to the talent of the class, it appears at the same time to be an indicator of the movement of college football recruiting. Football coaches are seemingly more and more prepared each year, dishing out offers earlier and earlier to potential recruits.

Highland Springs Head Coach Scott Burton has seen this ‘movement’ first-hand. Victor Harris was one of the first players to receive scholarship offers in the 2005 recruiting class, and it appears one of his teammates will be the first to receive offers in the 2006 recruiting class.

"I have noticed that things have become much more expedited than in the recent past," Burton said.  "Macho is the first recruit we've ever had that has received scholarship offers before his junior year is complete.  And as you look around the state you see kids getting offers earlier and earlier each year.  Not to take anything away from these kids who are getting early offers, but I think it's more of a sign of the times.

"Just to show you how crazy these early offers have become, our rising junior LB/FB Jarrell Miller has received verbal offers from Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Michigan.  (He cannot, according to NCAA rules, receive a written offer until Sept. 1 of his junior year.)  Jarrell is a great player and is a heck of a recruit, but is it really necessary to offer a kid before he finishes his sophomore year?"

Western Branch Head Coach Lew Johnston believes early offers are indeed a sign of the times, however is unsure just how accurate early evaluations can be. Last season, Western Branch had several very solid prospects who were just below the line Division I-A coaches were looking for.

"This thing with early offers to juniors has baffled me for some time," Johnston said. "How the D-1 schools can put so much stock in a kid's junior year performance is beyond me.  But yes... it is a sign of the times.  But it's been going on for seven-to-eight years.  The best explanation for it all that I've heard came from a Division-2 Head Coach. From his perspective as a D-2 level coach, the 1A guys want 'superior ability' and they want to see it in a player in his junior year.  The 1AA are willing to go more on 'potential.'

"Our kids this year seem to have fallen in the same category.  Devin Fentress, although he has D1A speed (4.35-4.40 in the Peninsula Combine), he is only 5'11, 165.  I know that he can play Division 1 football, but he will probably fall to 1AA because it's the middle of May and the big schools already have 90% of their offers out on the table!  It's interesting too. Once one school makes that initial offer - it's like a house of cards.  Then everyone jumps on the bandwagon."

In addition to sharper preparation by college coaches, Hermitage Head Coach Patrick Kane believes the success of UVa and Virginia Tech and the ACC expansion have helped give the state more exposure than in previous years.

"I think with the success of the state colleges and the expansion of the ACC the other schools have taken notice and are recognizing the talent that we have in the Richmond area and the state," Kane said.

Recruiting fans should enjoy following the 2005 recruiting class, which could turn out to be one of the best in the state’s history. Coaches, while focusing on landing some of these top prospects, will also be looking towards 2006 and the next possible scholarship offer.

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