Well friends, National Signing Day has come around again and this time, the Hokies put together their biggest and possibly best class ever. The 2003 Class really entrenched Virginia Tech as a nationally solid football program. '04/'05 were tiny steps in a positive direction. But the last three years of '06, '07 and now '08 have really been a quantum leap in talent/ranking for this program. And even more impressive is the total dominance in the in-state talent as compared to the hated Cavaliers. The Hokies scored 22 players from Virginia and 20 of them were rated as being in the top 30 players in the state. UVA received only 1 player rated in the top 30 in the state of Virginia!
Below you will find TSF's 2008 recruit-by-recruit breakdown on each player that has signed with the Hokies as of Wednesday, February 5. We'll start with the offense. The recruits are covered in alphabetical order. If you want just the measurables, let us refer you to our friends at scouts.com
Ben Barber - (ATH) - recruited by Bud Foster
One of the greatest free safeties in Hokie history was Willie Pile and Barber is his younger brother. We think his athletic credentials are covered. The film we watched showed Barber at QB mostly with some plays at receiver. But he is just another one of those guys that "gets it" on the football field. He will likely be a grayshirt and enroll in January '09 to count towards the 2009 recruiting class. Who knows what position he'll end up at, but players like Barber usually find their way onto the football field.
Nick Becton (OL/DL) - recruited by Charley Wiles
The coaches are going to start Becton at defensive tackle but honestly this is just wishful thinking by Coach Wiles. Becton has offensive line written all over him. He maintained a 4.0 GPA in high school and he's only been playing football for 2 years. At 6'7", 280lbs he will be at tackle or guard within 3 years and will excel at it. His footwork and athletic ability would fit nicely at tackle, but the Hokies are so crowded there, we could see him competing at guard as well if he puts on another 20-25 lbs or so. This is the type of offensive line depth that the Hokies have been lacking for the past two seasons and it could make a huge difference in the performance of the offense (if a certain offensive coordinator were to let's say - "step down").
Jarrett Boykin (WR) - recruited by Kevin Sherman
Well the WR Coach recruited him so he must be the type of player that Sherman is looking for. We weren't as floored by Boykin as some of the other receivers in this class, but he does have a big frame and his hands were outstanding. He made some very difficult catches his senior year. Boykin has the opportunity to be a great possession receiver and he does play and run extremely hard.
JuJu Clayton - (QB) - recruited by Jim Cavanaugh
The battle for backup QB and heir apparent to Tyrod Taylor should be a great one between JuJu Clayton and Marcus Davis. Davis is the more physically impressive player, but Clayton is a vastly more polished QB. He has a great release and threw some phenomenally accurate passes in his footage. Make no mistake, he has some wheels as well but he seems comfortable in the pocket. He reminds me of Bryan Randall. With good size and a strong arm, he is another one of those players that was just below everyone's radar until he started having a great senior season and by then Coach Cavanaugh already had him wrapped up. Clayton will likely take a grayshirt and enroll in January '09 to count towards the '09 class.
D.J. Coles (WR) - recruited by Jim Cavanaugh
The theme of this class is "playmaker". It's a word you'll see used over and over again and it's all about guys who can make things happen with the ball in their hands. You'll also see that most of them get recruited by Jim Cavanaugh. Coles is 6'3", 210 lbs and has track star speed. His game footage just shows him blowing past people. He can take it the distance from anywhere on the field. Let's all hope we see him in Orange & Maroon however, as it is very likely he will take a year of prep school first. Let's not forget Ladi Adjiboye who was a d-line recruit for the Hokies a few years back, had a monster year at Hargrave and ended up committing at South Carolina instead. If Coles does make it to Tech, he will be a powerful offensive weapon.
Marcus Davis - (ATH) - recruited by Curt Newsome
In 2007 Curt Newsome went up against the big boys of college recruiting and landed Tyrod Taylor for Virginia Tech. In 2008, he did it again, battling Penn State and Tennessee to the wire to land an extremely exciting QB prospect in Marcus Davis. Davis just played one year at QB his senior season and was so impressive that he rocketed up the charts. His big moment was battling against fellow Virginia superstar QB E.J. Manuel in a great game between Ocean Lakes and Bayside where Davis outperformed the more highly recruited Manuel in a 28-14 win. It will be hard to keep Davis off the field for very long. It could be a great battle between Davis and JuJu Clayton to see who can take over the backup role to Tyrod Taylor and be the heir apparent when Taylor's days at Tech are over. Or if he can beat out some of the WR talent already on the team after a redshirt year, we could also see Davis at wide receiver. The kid goes 6'-5" 215. That's a match-up nightmare for most teams in the ACC and surely someone can help Springsteenstein figure out how to take advantage of it. Davis was a huge get for the staff very late in the recruiting game and his recruitment took lots of twists and turns. VT started out the hands down favorite to land him but as his senior year progressed, more and more of the big boys tried to step in. High Five to the coaches on this one. He is raw as a QB but you can't help but think that word playmaker again when you watch his footage.
Randall Dunn - (WR) - recruited by Curt Newsome
Dunn is behind only Dyrell Roberts and DJ Coles in this group of WR's recruited by the Hokies this year. He is 6'3" and has only played football for one full season. He has so much work to do on his route running but his speed and hands are outstanding and even more exciting was how badly he beat the defensive backs even without much development of his technique. The sky is truly the limit for Randall Dunn and he is another one of those players that the Hokies get that isn't on scouts' radar but ends up being a bigtime player at Virginia Tech. He's exactly the Kam Chancellor type of recruit that VT has built its program on and he could have a teriffic career for the Hokies. In general, between Dunn, Coles, Roberts, and Boykin, the speed and size of this group of receivers is phenomenal. All of them are (according to the scouting reports) 6'-2" or taller and run a 4.5 or faster in the forty yard dash. Fantastic job by the coaches in filling one of the biggest positions of need with a bunch of serious talent.
Tony Gregory (RB) - recruited by Curt Newsome
So the Hokies have reached the point where they can just recruit speed as a luxury. Wow. There's no way Tony Gregory will overtake Darren Evans, Josh Oglesby or Ryan Williams in the 2 RB system used at Tech. Frankly it's surprising he signed with the Hokies considering the stable of backs that are in front of him. And he will very likely be taking a year of prep school in order to re-evaluate his options next year. But the kid is a flat out speedster and he showed a great burst and some good running in traffic. It'll be interesting to see if the Hokies can find a way to utilize Gregory, potentially in the punt or kick return game if he ends up on campus in 2009 because with his speed, he could be a special teams deamon! That said, who knows? After a year of prep and maybe a redshirt year, things could look a lot different. If he can bulk up a bit over the next few years (which he no doubt will), he could factor in. As we know from watching Kenny Lewis, Jr. develop, it takes more than speed to succeed at RB at Virginia Tech.
Eric Martin (TE) - recruited by Bud Foster
Frankly this one was a bit of a headscratcher at first. But after thinking about it and watching some footage, Martin is basically your stereotypical Virginia Tech Hokie. He's a blue-collar athlete who is going to outwork the other guy. There really isn't any room at TE due to the quantity and talent at that position and Martin doesn't have the athleticism of any of those guys. But he is a likely candidate to end up on the offensive line somewhere down the line if his frame can handle the extra weight (he is 240 right now) and we certainly can see him starring on special teams as well. Of course, he might factor in at TE but it will be down the road a ways. There's just too much young talent on the team right now at TE for Martin to be a contributor in the near future. However, keep in mind that Martin is a guy that got an early offer from the coaches after they evaluated him up close at one of VT's camps. They usually don't miss when they get to evaluate a player in that setting and they obviously liked what they saw in Martin.
Vinston Painter - (OL) - recruited by Curt Newsome
Honestly, Painter is the jewel of this entire class and we can't wait to watch this kid play. The group has so much talent across the board, but just take a look at Painter's final top 5, ALL of whom relentlessly pursued him up until Wednesday morning - Florida, Penn State, Georgia, Miami and VT. Three of those schools finished in the top 5 in recruiting in 2008 and yet Painter came to Tech under the guidance of Coach Newsome. Wow. It is hilarious watching the poor defensive players that got obliterated by this kid on tape. His technique and leg strength will need improvement but he has the aggressive attitude and the size that you have to recruit. He moves well, he is enormous and he wants to smash your head into the grass. This is a prototype offensive tackle and landing Painter shows the elevation in commitment to landing major offensive line talent for the Hokies. The only question is, how will the offensive tackle position shake out in 09? DeChristopher, Wang, Alvarez, Painter, Aaron Brown? That's 5 tackles and only 4 tackle spots on the 2-deep. Good luck with that Coach Newsome.
Kendrick Pressley - (WR) - recruited by Charley Wiles
Pressley actually signed in the '07 class but had to take a year at prep school and is attempting to qualify for the Hokies this season. His footage frankly wasn't that impressive and with the great haul at WR for the Hokies this year, we aren't losing a lot of sleep about whether Pressley qualifies out of prep school. If he does make it to Tech, he will more likely compete for a DB spot as he's only 5'-10". He'll look like a midget compared to the other guys who've signed up at WR. Lots of speed though and he played QB in high school. We love having former QBs on the roster.
Dyrell Roberts - (WR) - recruited by Jim Cavanaugh
Playmaker. Put the ball in Roberts' hands and get out the popcorn. Roberts wins the award for most underrated recruit in the class. Think a taller Eddie Royal and you'll understand the potential Roberts has. Coming in to a WR corps losing 4 seniors, Roberts has the physical ability to play as a freshman in the 4 deep. Speed and size are 2 things you can't coach, and Roberts has lots of both. Coale, Terry, Luckett, and Dillard may play well enough to keep a redshirt on Roberts but it doesn't seem likely. Now, this will completely depend on his commitment and dedication to learning the offense and playing his hardest, but just watching his tape, he's breathtaking. He scored from the QB position, RB, WR, and kick returner. A kid like this is one that we hold up to make my annual mockery of the recruiting services that people rely on so greatly. Roberts is a 2 star recruit and Giselle Bundchen has a nice smile. Please.
Michael Via - (OL) - recruited by Mike O'Cain
After last year's early season troubles, leave it to the QB coach to recruit an offensive lineman. Becton and Painter will get all the headlines as offensive linemen in this recruiting class, but Via is an incredibly smart young man, who loves to run over people. Most of his footage is in run blocking and he just mowed over the defensive player in front of him. He'll need to work a lot on his pass blocking, but he has the mind and the athleticism for it. Oh and he will get to know Mr. Gentry a lot better than he can imagine, as he has a frame to add that muscle weight. We see him as a non-blind side tackle in the future.
Ryan Williams - (RB) - recruited by Torrian Gray
Ryan Williams could be the lightning to Darren Evans' thunder in the Hokies 2009 backfield. People said Elan Lewis was going to be the next big thing at RB a few years back, but at TSF we were never sold on Lewis. Darren Evans is a stud from the '07 class and still has the opportunity to do great things at Tech as a power back. But Ryan Williams is the prototype for RBs. He runs low with great balance, he has great vision, and in the open he can flat out fly. From a playmaking ability, he'd be ready to compete for the 2nd running back spot right away but we didn't see any film of him blocking and that's something all young RB's struggle with. The Hokies basically had to promise Williams playing time in order to land him so it's likely he'll be competing for a spot on kick/punt return in 2008. With Ore, Evans, Oglesby, Cheeseman, Lewis, Jr. and now Williams, we were trying to come up with just the sort of cheesy, yah-school-spirit thing you'd see in a high school yearbook or something. How about "the future looks BRIGHT at this position!"
Xavier Boyce (DB) - recruited by Curt Newsome
Barring something dramatic and unforeseen, "X" Boyce will be the starting rover in the 2010 Hokie secondary. There are not many 6'4" 210 lb players running a 4.4 forty yard dash in high school. Boyce's film was all on the offensive side of the ball but he played safety in high school as well. His time spent at QB will be valuable as the rover position requires good intelligence. He also has fantastic leaping ability and good hands which could lead to some Beamerball-type interceptions!
Austin Fuller (DB) - recruited by Billy Hite
Fuller was recruited as a WR, but there is no way he will stack up to the other players recruited at that position in the '08 Class, so we were really trying to figure this one out. Then we heard that he was going to get put at safety to begin with and when we watched the game tape, we got it. Fuller is another one of those guys that's just simply a "football player". He makes SPECTACULAR plays on the ball and he shows enough speed to play rover if he puts on some weight without losing any speed, or maybe he will end up at free safety if he gets even faster. This scholarship probably could have been saved since Fuller would have likely walked-on anyway, but he may develop into a decent player for the Hokies down the line.
Lyndell Gibson - (LB) - recruited by Curt Newsome
For some reason, scouts are convinced that you have to be 6'0" or taller to be a linebacker in Div I-A. How many times does a player have to have success at an inch or two less than that before people will change their mind about this (see Zach Thomas, Dat Nguyen,etc)? Last year it was Barquell Rivers who was just a tackling monster despite being a little short. This year it's Lyndell Gibson. I mean I can watch Gibson highlights for days. Great hitter, great nose for the ball, and he's practiced his Lawrence Taylor ball swipe causing fumbles as well. He'll need to be Gentrified some to work on his speed but his strength and physical tackling are really impressive.
Jeron Gouveia - (Rover) - recruited by Torrian Gray
This is why being a Hokie is so fun. The ELITE schools would never sign a player like Jeron Gouveia. 6'-2", 185 lbs and he runs a 4.6 40 yard dash. But watch his tape and he's simply a football player. Like Ben Taylor and Pierson Prioleau before him, Gouveia doesn't pass the "eye" test. But those players became NFL players because they just understood the game of football. It comes naturally to them. Gouveia is all over the place in his game tape - making picks, catching passes, delivering hits, breaking tackles on INT returns. You can't coach his defensive instincts and hopefully with some Gentrification, this young man will improve that speed and strength and fit the Rover mold that this program is famous for.
Isaiah Hamlette (DL) - recruited by Bud Foster
Watching Isaiah Hamlette's video tape reminded me of watching a young Jim Davis or Chris Ellis. We don't know whether he will become what those players were, but he is a lanky fast guy off the edge who just pursues the football with great instinct. Whereas Joe Jones (another end recruited in this class) blows past players like he has been shot out of a cannon, Hamlette is more like an incoming tide. He just keeps coming over, around or through whoever is in front of him. He needs improvement in his technique without question, but he appears to have the right mindset for that as well.
Antoine Hopkins (DL) - recruited by Jim Cavanaugh
It has gotten to the point where if you see a player was recruited by Jim Cavanaugh, you can take it to the bank that you're talking about a special football player. Hopkins is fast and he has great body lean. The hits on his tape are textbook maulings. He has a nose for the ball as well whether he was playing off the edge or down at tackle and we love his attitude on the football field - very violent. He probably needs to get stronger but the coaches are already saying he reminds them of Jonathan Lewis and Lewis was an NFL caliber tackle. High praise indeed.
Jake Johnson (LB) - recruited by Bud Foster
We bet Jake Johnson reminds Bud Foster of himself when he was younger. This kid is all intensity and he brings a pile of bricks to the football. Fundamentally, however he needs a lot of work. He reaches a lot and makes horse collar and jersey tackles and sometimes on his monster hits he doesn't wrap up. Now in high school that about knocks the RB or QB out, but in college you need to be sound in your tackling. The super-exciting thing about it is that Johnson has the things you can't coach - size, intensity, football instincts. And to address his fundamentals he merely has the best linebacker coach in the country (and we make no reservations about saying that) in Foster to guide that talent into a tackling machine at Virginia Tech. It should be interesting to see where Johnson ends up on the defense. You will hear us say this a lot during this recruiting analysis - sorting out the immense LB talent in this class and the '07 class and getting them into the right positions is a great problem that Coach Foster has.
Joe Jones - (DL) - recruited by Curt Newsome
Kwamaine Battle was Mad Jay's pick as most underrated recruit in the '07 class. Sure enough, Battle was in the battle for the 2-deep on the d-line coming out of spring practice but he had to undergo shoulder surgery and took a redshirt year. Joe Jones reminds us of Battle. Jones flew under the radar because of how late he started playing football, but he is a natural at defensive end. His jump on the snap is literally incredible to watch, reminding some of the coaches (and us) of Corey Moore. Jones is fast and goes full bore. He certainly needs to improve his upper body strength (which was the knock on Battle) but watch for him as a redshirt freshman in '09 to make noise at defensive end.
Leon Mackey - (DL) - recruited by Bryan Stinespring
In a stunner on signing day, Leon Mackey committed to the Hokies when the southeast was sure he was going to join Butch Davis and company at UNC. But the Hokies had put together such an amazing class, and are losing so many players on the d-line to the NFL, that Mackey changed his mind to the benefit of Hokies everywhere. Quite simply he is a physical specimen and is ready to play on the line right now. He played through double teams, he played some defensive end in a 2 and 3 point stance, he has GREAT lateral pursuit, and wherever he ends up, he is going to compete for the 2 deep starting this summer. Based on need, he is one of, if not the most important get on the defensive side of the ball this year.
Derrick McCoy (LB) - recruited by Bryan Stinespring
Hmmm a 6'3" 230 lb linebacker who doubles as a wide receiver on offense? Sounds like the perfect storm for a Whip Linebacker at Virginia Tech. McCoy isn't very quick, but he has a great stride and runs fast. As a whip you have to be able to play in space and McCoy will have to demonstrate the ability to read plays, but he certainly has the physical size and tools to excel as a whip. There will be a ton of competition for the whip position after Cam Martin graduates and expect McCoy to be right in the mix. He will very likely take a year of prep school to get his academics in order and "gain" another year of eligibility by not enrolling at Tech yet.
Quillie Odom - (LB) - recruited by Torrian Gray
One of our favorite players out of the 2007 class, Odom took a year at Hargrave and wow did things change. He became a VERY highly rated recruit due to a stellar campaign at Hargrave and the Hokies are fortunate that Odom has re-commited to Tech because there were some other school pursuing him in the background. We're going to have to use that word again - playmaker. Slightly undersized, Odom is a holy terror with a bloodhound's nose for the ball and the speed and agility to get there quickly. Nothing is surefire in recruiting because of the other off-the-field variables that can affect whether a kid gets the playing time, but Odom looks just about surefire to be in the 2 deep for the Hokies in '09. Coach Bud Foster - who is not known for sending a lot of sunshine up people's tailpipes - offered this tidbit when reviewing Odom's highlight reel - "he's got some of the most impressive tape I've ever seen." Um.... we don't need any further info. Do you?
Peter Rose - (ATH) - recruited by Bryan Stinespring
Rose is one of the mysteries of this class. He is obviously an athletically gifted young man. He has great quickness and his highlights showed him running the ball very well and throwing the ball decently. But we look at Marcus Davis and JuJu Clayton as much more complete dual-threat QB's at this time. Fortunately the coaches love the thought of Rose at free safety because he just has a nose for the ball. We'll keep an eye on young Peter and see how things turn out. One way or the other he's yet another playmaker who will find a way to contribute to this football team.
Bruce Taylor - (LB) - recruited by Charley Wiles
I get so damn fired up watching Bruce Taylor's footage that I'm just about ready to hit somebody myself. Unfortunately, unlike him, I'm not 6'4" 235 lbs and I would get broken into pieces. But you may as well engrave this in granite - Taylor is going to be a monster for the Hokies. We hear he has already beefed up a little and the coaches may be planning on moving him up to defensive end. You can almost hear the "oooohs" when you watch his hits and he reads plays so well. He plays a little too tall which didn't affect him going up against physically outmatched players, but he'll have to adjust to that at the college level. Still, this is yet another playmaker, this time on the defensive side of the ball and he is one of the best players in this outstanding recruiting class.
Allen Stephens - (LB) - recruited by Bryan Stinespring
If Bruce Taylor is the "Monster" at LB in this recruiting class, Allen Stephens is the heat-seeking missile. Cut from the same physical mold as Ray Lewis, Stephens is 6'1", 240 lbs of mean. In every clip we saw of Stephens' he was simply going at full speed toward the ball carrier. Anyone that tried to get a hold of him or slow him down appeared to have no effect. Taylor has the frame to be able to move to defensive end if he and the coaches so desire, but Stephens was born to play linebacker. In fact, there is an EMBARRASSMENT of riches at Whip, Mike and Backer for the Hokies right now and frankly the competition over the next 3-4 years is going to fierce to the point where we expect a transfer or two. Hunter Ovens, Quillie Odom, Barquell Rivers, Allen Stephens, Jake Johnson, Lyndell Gibson, Derrick McCoy, Bruce Taylor and that doesn't count any of the CURRENT PROJECTED STARTERS. That's too much talent for 3 positions and it's why Taylor could end up moving to defensive end and Stephens may take a year at prep school. We've said it before and we'll say it again - it's a good problem for Coach Foster to have because he's just lost the two best linebackers to ever play the position at VT to the NFL.
Dwight Tucker (DL) - recruited by Torrian Gray
Tucker was one of the lowest rated recruits in the class and when you watch his tape and learn about him that should give you an indication of the amazing potential of this '08 class. The reason Tucker scored so lowly as a dlineman is because he played a lot of linebacker until his senior year. In fact he had an 80 yard INT for a TD!! He bulked up to 280 lbs but his athleticism is still amazing (at 6-2, 285 he can dunk a basketball). He will have to learn the proper hand and footwork adjustments for life down in the trenches but he's a smart kid with a 3.5 GPA and honestly, can you think of anyone better than Coach Charley Wiles to teach him?
Eddie Whitley - (CB) - recruited by Kevin Sherman
This player's career is going to be at one extreme or the other. He has astonishing ability at corner for a high school player. He showed great hands and ball hawking skills. He was very solid in run support and delivered some big hits. And at 6'1" he has the size to handle bigger ACC receivers. Based on his footage and measureables, he looks like a shoo-in to be a future star. The X-factor is that he tore his ACL before his senior year. That's an injury that can be devastating for a CB where you need agility almost as much as speed. Fortunately we've heard from initial prognosis that the injury isn't that severe. Still, Whitley's ability to return from that injury will determine whether he becomes a starter in the 2010 Hokie secondary or he fades into obscurity.
Lorenzo Williams - (DB) - recruited by Charley Wiles
Coming out of a small high school in North Carolina, Williams is the first player from that school to go to the Shrine Bowl. Here's why - he's a 6'3" cornerback who can run a 4.43 forty yard dash (pre-Gentry), has a 37" vertical and hits like a truck. I'll go ahead and say it now - with Lorenzo Williams the Hokies have the next recruit in what is becoming a pipeline for DB's making it into the NFL. We like the other cornerback in this class (Eddie Whitley) as well, but Williams really looks like he could be something special.
In summary, this class is just a big win across the board. The Hokies went head-to-head against top schools from around the nation and controlled nearly all of the in-state talent. Areas of bigtime need in this class were receiver, defensive line and linebacker and the Hokies landed multiple players at all three position groups that can compete right away for the 2-deep.
The Hokies cherry-picked some phenomenal size to add depth to the offensive line including probably the best player in the class, Vinston Painter. The running back stable is overflowing with All-Everything players like Darren Evans and Ryan Williams. Two athletic QB's were selected to battle it out as TT's backup for a few years, and the defensive backfield landed literally 8 top athletes that will be competing for spots in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The recruiter of the year for 2008 is Curt Newsome. Jim Cavanaugh brought in his usual landslide of phenomenal players but this year Newsome really scored some huge players for Tech - Painter, Boyce, Jones, Davis, Gibson. It seemed every time we identified a player as one of the top of the class he was recruited by Newsome. Great job coach!
Overall our favorite thing as we watched footage and read about these players was their football IQ. These guys understand the game, it comes natural to them and they just know how (to use a favorite term of Beamer's) to play "fast". Sure the SEC schools land tons of physical specimens, but how many of those receivers are track guys trying to play football? How many big huge linebackers can't read a play, or overpursue? My favorite example of this is Jerry Rice. He was a guy who didn't have the best combine workout and didn't have the top measureables, but he just understood how to play wide receiver and he was willing to work harder than anyone else. I'm not saying the Hokies landed the next Jerry Rice, but many of these players seem like they come from great backgrounds, and when they put the pads on, they just make plays. That's why we are calling the '08 class the Year of the Playmaker.