Well, fellow Superfans, the 2009 class has been signed and below we will breakdown each player, their strengths and weaknesses, where they fit in and if we like the signing or not. This has been a tiring but fun several days watching tons of footage and talking to folks in the know to put together this info. After this review, we are calling 2009 the Year of the Hybrid. There are so many athletic players in this class that could figure into several positions and give the coaches flexibility to use them where the greatest need is. The exciting thing about this is that VT is at the front of the curve on this type of recruiting which seems to be where college football is headed (linebackers who can cover like safeties, athletes in the WildCat formation who can throw the ball, linemen who can play offense or defense, etc).
If you want the standard measurables (height, weight, 40 yard dash, etc) allow us to refer you to the good folks at rivals.com. If you want the detailed goods on each player, read on.
D.J. Coles (WR) - recruited by Jim Cavanaugh
Signed for the 2008 Class (so he was covered in last year's analysis) but will enroll this summer. The year at prep school was not wasted however. He's gotten stronger and faster and since he spent most of his former life taking hand-offs as a running back, he took the opportunity to better learn the WR position (which will be where he plays at Tech) against some bigtime DB's. Coles is expected to make an immediate impact and compete for playing time in the two-deep at WR.
Antone Exum (ATH) - recruited by Jim Cavanaugh
Will get his first shot at QB but in that position he's basically just a great athlete with a solid arm and a high football IQ. He's had very limited work in the passing game. Most of his QB footage was with him running the ball and Exum showed limited fundamentals in the passing game, including not keeping the ball high enough, not having sound footwork, etc. Hopefully Marcus Davis or Juju Clayton (we are higher on Clayton than most people) step-up at backup QB and Exum can make the transition to the defensive side of the ball where he belongs. He reminds us of Kam Chancellor, not necessarily size-wise, but he is a great athlete with high football IQ who can be a free safety and a QB of the defense. A perfect example of the hybrid-athlete player that this class is filled with, who could end up in several positions.
Kory Gough (OL) - recruited by Torrian Gray
This signing is way out of proportion with the quality of offensive linemen that the Hokies have been recruiting in past years (and even in this class). Gough is badly undersized, and while he seems to have pretty good footwork (he is a wrassler), and is a weight-room warrior, we just don't see the foundation of a player who can possibly compete against the likes of DeChristopher, Via, Painter and the other bigtime studs that the Hokies have at the tackle position for the next 3-4 years. The Hokies are talking about greyshirting Gough which makes sense to see if he can really grow into the position and maybe compete for a two-deep job as a redshirt junior years down the road. We always like signing offensive linemen, especially guys who grew up VT fans, have a bit of a mean streak and like slinging the steel around, but this one is still a bit of a headscratcher.
Tony Gregory (RB) - recruited by Curt Newsome
Just like DJ Coles, Gregory is from the '08 Class and was reviewed last year. We just don't see any way for Gregory to get on the field as a running back over the next 4 years. He doesn't show anything super fantastic in his footage (like say a Ryan Williams or David Wilson) but he is plenty fast and could potentially have an impact on special teams or maybe eventually at CB, although CB is pretty deep with talent right now as well.
Cody Journell (K) - recruited by Billy Hite
At first glance you look at this signing and say "HUH!?!? A kicker?!?!?!" But Journell fits in perfectly with the hybrid theme of this class. He is a kicker, who was also his team's leading rusher. In one game he ran 60-some yards for a touchdown, then kicked the extra point, then booted the subsequent kickoff out of the endzone! In watching his footage he is actually a good enough athlete to consider using on a fake FG attempt, but make no mistake, if Coach Beamer signed this kid to a scholarship as a kicker, then he is a WHALE of a kicker. He hit some clutch FG's in high school (including a 54 yarder to send a game to overtime). But he also used a 1" tee in high school and has to be able to kick off the grass at the collegiate level. If he can this could end up being a welcome youth movement at a position for the Hokies, who are coming off of three straight years having to replace a very successful senior kicker (Brandon Pace, Jud Dunlevy and Dustin Keys).
Andrew Miller (OL) - recruited by Bryan Stinespring
Now HERE is the type of offensive lineman the Hokies have been getting recently. Like Gough, Miller is a wrassler, (and we really like mean wrasslers on our offensive line), but Miller has the frame to easily put on another 10-15 lbs by summer, which would put him at 290. He projects at center/guard, and his footage supports that. He was taking some snaps at defensive tackle, but the breathtaking footage was when he was at guard. He gets low for a 6'5" man, has those quick wrassler hands and he just overpowers whomever he's lined up against. He also has the aggressive mentality and nice footwork that you can't coach. Could very easily be the starting center in 2011 as a redshirt sophomore if he lives up to his potential. We love this get and have to credit Coach Stinespring for landing him.
Nubian Peak (RB) - recruited by Billy Hite
TSF annually picks three players as the Most Underrated and this year Nubian Peak is one of those players. Just go here and you'll have a smile on your face for the next 6 minutes. He is probably the fastest player in the entire class (as recruitnik D said while watching Peak's footage "He runs like a cheetah, I love cheetahs!") and is another perfect example of a hybrid. A good offensive coordinator - oh what we would give for one of those - would move Peak all over the field, similar to what LSU does with Trindon Holliday and WVU does with Noel Devine. If Peak can catch the ball and block, he could make a splash in the slot, or line-up next to the QB on 3rd downs or return kicks or maybe do all three. We love his balance, the sharpness of his cuts and, of course, that eye-opening football speed. The recruiting services made a fool of themselves rating him a 3-star recruit.
Logan Thomas (Everything) - recruited by Bryan Stinespring
You have to watch Logan Thomas' film two or three times to really fully appreciate what you are seeing. While watching it the past several days, sometimes we would just bust out laughing as the ridiculousness of this kid's ability sank in. Have you ever seen a 6'6", 233 lb player returning punts and kickoffs??? How about SUCCESSFULLY returning punts and kickoffs??? How about RETURNING THEM FOR FRIKKIN' TOUCHDOWNS!?!?!?!? Thomas doesn't have a burst per se (his 40 yard dash time is "only" a 4.55) but he is such a long strider that once he gets up to full speed, we doubt there's anyone in the football program faster. Then consider that this guy has a phenomenal arm (in one clip he throws the ball 70 yards on the fly and hits a man in stride) and decent fundamentals as a QB. He exhibits soft hands and then there's the aforementioned open-field running ability. This size, strength and speed all in one player is the very definition of hybrid. Only a coordinator as bad as Stinespring could possibly find a way NOT to utilize a player with Thomas' combination of talents, and that might even be a challenge for Coach Stinespring to screw up. We drool at the thought of a Wild Turkey package in 2010 that features Thomas at least once or twice every offensive series, and frankly it's expected that Thomas will see some gametime in 2009 as well. If Thomas lives up to his potential, he could essentially become the type of made-for-TV, highlight-reel player that defenses would have to completely gameplan around. He's too fast for a linebacker to stay with and too tall and strong for a corner or safety. Just a scary talent and certainly the best player in a strong class.
David Wilson (RB) - recruited by Bryan Stinespring
Seriously, what is Wilson doing coming to Virginia Tech? We watched the footage of the top 5 running backs in the nation (Wilson was rated #4 by Rivals) and truthfully, we'd take Wilson over the rest without a second thought. As a complete player who is physical in the blocking game, has good hands out of the backfield and possesses a lethal combination of balance, power and speed, Wilson is very similar to Darren Evans with a bit more natural fluidity in his running than Evans. But the problem is that Darren Evans is the starter - and deservedly so after the season he had - and Billy Hite is famous for granting playing time based on seniority (although if he started Kenny Lewis returning from injury over Evans next year I'm going to have a conniption fit). So we ask again, why did Wilson come to Tech? He could have literally gone anywhere as the Gatorade player of the year in Virginia. We think the answer seems to be that the Hokies sold Wilson on a philosophy that the USC Trojans have successfully implemented in their recruiting - namely, competition. USC recruits All-Americans at every position and always send a ton of players to the NFL and so their mantra is "Come to USC, compete against the best, and if you earn playing time, it's very likely you'll be drafted". But what is often not as well-known nationally is how many players Tech also has drafted into the NFL every year. The Hokies sold Wilson on an opportunity to compete for playing time and if successful, he also will almost certainly get a shot at the The League. We hope that Evans, Ryan Williams, Josh Oglesby and David Wilson all find a way to stay at Tech throughout their careers, but it seems likely that there will be a transfer somewhere in that group of extremely talented players. What's neat for Superfans is that whoever wins those battles, the backfield at Tech will be amazing for the next several years.
Telvion Clark (LB) - recruited by Curt Newsome
Here is the third Most Underrated prospect in the '09 Class (Nubian Peak was second most underrated and wait until you see who was #1). Clark has some seriously droolworthy footage to watch. He is a guided missile at the linebacker position. Again for reference, we watched the footage of other top outside linebackers in the 2009 class and Clark stacks up with almost any of them (Jelani Jenkins aside, that kid is insane). The coaches are going to give Clark a shot at backer because, frankly, that's what he wants to try but he may not be able to add 20 pounds to his current weight of 210 lbs and maintain his speed. As a result we believe (and the coaches also believe this) that Clark will end up at whip. He's just so damned fast, has excellent vision and seems to play well in space. At 210-215 lbs he'd be right-sized for whip and dangerous at the position. This is an excellent get for Coach Newsome and Clark stayed under the recruiting radar until the end when he was beginning to generate some serious interest from West Virginia who went after him hard. Just another treasure to add to the incredible riches at linebacker. We guess it might help that the best defensive coordinator in college football the past 5 years also happens to be the linebackers coach. Heheh.
J.R. Collins (DE) - recruited by Bud Foster
Collins was a stunning last-minute get by Coach Foster (taken away from Penn State and Virginia). With the "defection" by Leon Mackey to South Carolina, Collins was also an incredibly important signing. He looks like he's the closest of the four defensive ends the Hokies recruited in this class to being ready to play. As you can probably tell from the fact that four defensive ends were signed, this is an area that needs a lot more depth and Collins is already 235 lbs and passes the "eye-test". His footage shows explosive strength and a nice ability to read the play, though he could use better body bend as he's coming off the corner. The coaches think if he can put on 10-15 lbs with some "Gentrification" without losing any speed he has a legitimate shot at the two-deep in 2010. He reminds us of Orion Martin and that's a major compliment because Martin was one of our favorite players who made big plays from defensive end in every game.
Tariq Edwards (LB) - recruited by Charley Wiles
In a true testament to how far Hokie football recruiting has come in the last 5 years, watching Tariq Edwards footage is rather ho-hum. He looks like a sound, athletic linebacker, who, in 1998 would have had all of us whooping and hollering for landing him at Tech. Now he will simply slot into the competition for a linebacker spot. He showed good instincts and closing speed but doesn't look like a homerun at this point and again that is just in relation to the simply jaw-dropping talent that the Hokies have landed at LB in recent years (and even this year with Telvion Clark). Again, Edwards is another very solid player who comes from a football background - his father Bo Campbell is a former Hokie - and TSF is happy he is going to be a Hokie. But the best part about Edwards (and his twin brother) is that that can both take a greyshirt and count towards the 2010 class while continuing to develop size and strength.
Tyrell Edwards (TE/ATH) - recruited by Charley Wiles
Tyrell is very similar in body type and athletic ability to his brother Tariq, but the coaches project Tyrell on the offensive side of the ball. His footage was also nothing to write home about, but that's directly related to the phenomenal depth the Hokies now have at tight end. Edwards did show some strong blocking at the point of attack. One advantage the Edwardss brothers have is they were brought up in football households and seem to have a good feel for the game. That's hard to coach and if they can take their greyshirt year seriously and develop further athletically, it is possible that both Edwards' brothers can become contributors to this program in the future.
James Gayle (DE) - recruited by Jim Cavanaugh
And now we come to the #1 Most Underrated prospect in the 2009 Class. Gayle was not even covered by most of the recruiting services at all (although Rivals to their credit gave him 3 stars). We hope the recruiting services never notice that if Jim Cavanaugh is recruiting a defensive player, then that player is something special. We said earlier that J.R. Collins is the most ready to take the field at defensive end right now, but James Gayle has the most upside of any of the ends in the '09 class. If Collins reminds us of the solid, productive Orion Martin, Gayle reminds us of the explosive, playmaking Corey Moore and down the road he could be that type of difference maker. Gayle is shot out of a cannon when the ball is snapped, he plays the position violently and with purpose and he demonstrates an uncanny ability to know where the football is going. His speed looks breathtaking, although at 215 lbs he'll need to put on a good 25-30 lbs or more without losing much of that quickness, which sounds like a tough Mike Gentry project. However, if he is able to do so, expect to know James Gayles' name by 2011 at the latest.
James Hopper (CB) - recruited by Charley Wiles
This one is a stunner in a bad way. We have no idea what a school that is becoming known for NFL-caliber defensive backs is doing recruiting this player. Hopper is small and from his footage, not as fast as his 40-yard dash time would indicate. Yes he was pretty productive at running back but that was against 2A competition. There was nothing in Hopper's footage that would remotely suggest being able to compete for playing time in the secondary at Virginia Tech. The coaches must have seen something we did not with this player.
Jayron Hosley (CB) - recruited by Charley Wiles
Now THIS is the type of cornerback we expect the Hokies to be recruiting. Hosley's footage shows a special athlete who was recruited by every big name program east of the Mississippi (including Ohio State and several SEC schools) and he looked to be signing with South Florida over all of them until literally the morning of Signing Day when he faxed over his Letter of Intent to the Hokies. Hosley shows fluid speed, great ball skills, he seems to enjoy contact, (though he needs to get bigger) and reminds us of another recent stud cornerback the Hokies recruited named Eddie Whitley. Hosley is the level of defensive back that the Hokies used to only rarely compete for but following the success of players like DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Flowers and Macho Harris, is now always at least considering Tech. Hosley also demonstrated amazing "Beamerball" skills in his ability to get into the end zone on a special teams or defensive return. We'll leave the final word on Hosley to a guy who knows something about playing corner (and is also Hosley's cousin), Brandon Flowers, who said - "This kid plays like me but he's faster."
Theron Norman (ATH) - recruited by Jim Cavanaugh
Returning to the hybrid athlete theme, Theron Norman exhibits great playmaking ability at safety, wide receiver and quarterback. He is coming off of some hamstring injuries his senior year which impacted the speed he played with on film (although his junior year highlights still showcase some impressive quickness). Had he not been injured, Norman would have ranked substantially higher in the recruiting rankings. Even with them, we love his headhunting at the safety position and nice form in his open-field tackling. Norman has the tools but needs to recover his speed when he rehabilitates his hamstrings. We have a feeling this young man is going to get to know the whirlpool and ice packs VERY well over the next 8 months.
Duan Perez-Means (DE) - recruited by Jim Cavanaugh
Perez-Means was a teammate of Theron Norman's at Hermitage High School and with those two on the field that must have been a very tough defense to move the ball against. Perez-Means moves very smoothly and has quick hands, but even though the coaches project him at defensive end, he didn't look very natural there. It could be because he was all over the field at Hermitage (there's that hybrid concept again), including some time at wide receiver (!) so there's no doubt about his athletic ability. Once he gets some quality time in with Coach Wiles to better learn the position and gains some much needed strength he could certainly become a disruptive force at end. With all of the recruits at the defensive end position in the '08/'09 classes, the competition for the two-deep at defensive end in 2010 and 2011 should be very fierce, indeed.
DeAntre Rhodes (DT) - recruited by Jim Cavanaugh
Watching Rhodes on film is like watching a man among boys. Rhodes was essentially unblockable at the high school level when he wasn't double teamed. Once he got his strong hands on the offensive lineman it was all over and he would shed the block and make the tackle. He moved with a good short burst and changed direction impossibly well for a 270 lb man. Rhodes was coached by former Hokie defensive tackle Kevin Lewis and his fundamentals at the position are apparent. You know, come to think of it we can't really ever recall watching the game film on a signed recruit who was recruited by Jim Cavanaugh and thinking "this was a miss". Cavanaugh consistently lands studs for the Hokie football program and has been doing it better than anyone the past 5 years. This latest one, Rhodes, will add 15 lbs and be plugging gaps and taking up double-teams for the Hokies by 2011 at the latest.
David Wang (DT) - recruited by Torrian Gray
If Coach Wiles can land a defensive back like Jayron Hosley, the least that Coach Gray can do is get a defensive tackle for Wiles in return. In fairness, Wang was one of the earliest commits to the 2009 class thanks in large part to being the younger brother of Hokie left tackle Ed Wang. Being huge and athletic apparently runs in the Wang family. David fits the definition of hybrid in that he has the size, ability and game experience to play any position on the offensive or defensive line except for center. This gives the staff great flexibility to see where they need him most but right now he projects as a defensive tackle, though we think he could be a force at guard later in his career. In fact, TSF thinks David will end up having an even more successful career than his brother simply because Ed showed up as a lighter tight end and had to grow into the tackle position, while David is already big and strong enough to play on the line at the collegiate level. He also has the second best highlight footage (behind Logan Thomas) because it's laughable how fast he is for a 300 lb lineman. And in terms of strength, he actually tackled a ball carrier by driving his outmatched blocker right through the running back. Whether he ends up on the offensive or defensive line, there is little doubt that in 2011, David Wang will be a starter for the Hokies.
Jerrodd Williams (CB) - recruited by Torrian Gray
It must just get scarier and scarier to be an offensive coordinator in the ACC trying to figure out how they are going to throw the ball on the Hokies. Eddie Whitley and Stephan Virgil look like the next big things at cornerback (Virgil has really already arrived) and in this 2009 class, Williams and Jayron Hosley look to carry on what is fast becoming a direct line to the NFL. Torrian Gray is red-hot right now, both on the recruiting trail and in coaching the secondary and he's the one who landed Williams. So many top corners in high school just get by on being great athletes. Williams is a great athlete who also has a nose for the football. He always seems to be in the right position to make a play on the ball and then he usually does so. Like Hosley, once he has the ball in his hands he has a way of finding the end zone. It's fun to see athletes this talented choosing Virginia Tech over ACC programs like Clemson and UNC.
Tyrel Wilson (LB/DE) - recruited by Curt Newsome
It's fitting to end on another hybrid player - Tyrel Wilson. Fast for one's size is a formula that Bud Foster has been using on his defense for years and as recruiting has improved, the players that Tech is landing these days are bigger than in years past but just as fast. Wilson would have started at defensive end 10 years ago, almost immediately, but not he'll have to add some weight first and not lose any speed because the bar has been raised. Wilson played linebacker his senior season, but we think he's a defensive end because he didn't show the type of instincts that one needs to play linebacker for the Hokies. Wilson unquestionably has the athletic ability to make plays from the end position, and if he can get stronger and keep his speed he will figure in to the defensive end competition. And on one last recruiting note, this was a heads-up battle that the Hokies won against Tennessee, showing yet again who VT now - often successfully if it's in the Commonwealth - does battle with for recruits.
Mad Jay's Closing Thoughts
Up until two weeks ago, I was already happy with the 2009 recruiting class. Defensive end was a significant need and had several talented prospects in the class and stars like Logan Thomas, Jerrodd Williams and David Wilson were all players that could have gone anywhere and chose Tech. It didn't stack up to the 2008 class, but it was respectable and I was happy with it. Then in the final week, J.R. Collins committed to Tech, Andrew Miller was able to join the team on a football scholarship instead of having to take a year off to wrestle and Jayron Hosley pulled a shocker on Signing Day and inked with Tech. The class went from good to great that quick and now I'm even more FIRED UP THAN USUAL.
As far as QB goes, I hear that from nearly every fan - "How did we miss on Tajh Boyd AND Kevin Newsome". Frankly, that wasn't our biggest miss. Not getting Bryn Renner and letting him go to UNC was the biggest whiff at QB because I was more impressed with him than any of the other prospects the Hokies tried to land late and they could have had Renner early. That kid is going to be a real challenge in a few years when he goes against the Hokie defense as a Tarheel because he's the real deal.
But as far as Tech's QB position I really am not worried for 2009. JuJu Clayton is more than just "serviceable", he's a solid talent. And if Marcus Davis is able to beat him out for the back-up position then that means he's going to have to be pretty damn special which would be fine with me. Antone Exum is simply there for emergency insurance and Logan Thomas will be taking some QB snaps from the Wild Turkey by 2010. What concerns me is the Hokies' ability to land a gamechanger at QB going forward. With the preposterous amount of talent and playmakers on the offensive side of the ball in 2009, if the Hokies don't elevate their offensive performance, then how can they possibly recruit another top-shelf QB to come play in an offense run by Bryan Stinespring? What QB would risk their NFL future to languish in offensive rankings in the 90's or worse? The answer is apparent - none.
2009 is a critical year in several ways. The Hokies have really landed some strong classes the past several years and in order to keep that momentum going, not only does the team need to do well (i.e. compete for another ACC title) but the offense needs to show something. There will be enormous expectations with the number of people returning from the '08 ACC champs and a good performance on offense can send a message to that next star QB that yes he can succeed at VT, not only because the talent's there, but because the offensive system will allow him to be successful.
So I am really PUMPED about the 2009 class and I'm already chomping at the bit to see the Spring Game in April. Ok, now it's time to go meditate for a few minutes before the the tip-off of the VT-NC State basketball game. As always