Recruiting 1998: Tech Scores Big
by Will Stewart,, 2/2/98

Okay, so it ain't over yet.  We still have to sign everybody from this killer recruiting class that has verballed to us (signing day is February 4th).  But I had a little time to kill yesterday, and I wanted to pass on some thoughts about this year's class and recruiting in general.  Enjoy.

Recruiting, the Internet, and Jake

I often tell people that the single biggest surprise to me as the HokieCentral webmaster has been the hype and emotions that recruiting generates. Prior to the advent of the Internet, I didn't really follow recruiting all that closely, except to read and save the Hokie Huddler's yearly recruiting wrap-ups. For many Hokies, for many years, this was the only source of good recruiting information that we had.  And of course, it was always after signing day.

On the Internet, though, life is vastly different. The marriage between the Internet and college football recruiting is a perfect match, because recruiting is an obsession that feeds off of rumors and innuendo, and the Internet can propagate rumors and innuendo at the speed of light. In cyberspace, recruiting becomes a frenzy that feeds upon itself. In the end, recruiting "information" becomes an amalgam of all the rumors we've heard and the reliability of the sources of those rumors.

It is our responsibility as websurfers to ride above the swell of information, and to let its ebbs and flows determine what we decide to believe in. Rather than react to each and every rumor, it behooves us to watch for trends in the information to try to decide what the real truth is.

This never became more apparent to me than it did the last two weeks of Jake Houseright's recruitment. Two weeks ago, everything I heard, from both reliable and unreliable sources, indicated that Jake was favoring the Tennessee Volunteers. I had resigned myself to thinking that Jake was not Tech-bound, but I had so much respect for him and the way he handled the recruiting process that I found that it didn't trouble me very much. I was sure that he was making the best decision for him, and that's really what's important in these matters.

But a week ago, the buzz started to swing back in Tech's direction. The rumors that flowed through my email inbox had Jake going from 60/40, favoring Tennessee, to 50/50, and then over to Tech's side, all in just a few days. I started to get a good feeling about things, and when Vick and Suggs verballed earlier in the week, there was a sense of momentum that seemed to be leading up to Jake's announcement.

Then the news came that Jake had canceled an in-house visit with Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer and had taken leave of Gate City to seek refuge with friends and family in Blacksburg. That's when I knew almost certainly that Jake had made his mind up, and that Tech was the winner.

On Saturday, shortly after 1:00, Jake Houseright announced that he would be attending Virginia Tech, setting the finishing touches on a wild Hokie celebration that had started with the commitment of Vick and Suggs earlier in the week. Between the late-season slide of the football team and the losing streak that the men's basketball team is mired in, the Hokie sports family had been starved for months for good news.

The last week of recruiting delivered that good news. Last year, a Hokie recruiting year that had started off strong fizzled, limping to the finish line with a series of Tech targets committing to UVa instead. Although Tech had a good recruiting year in 1997, the poor finish left a bad taste in every Hokie's mouth and a sense of "what might have been."

This year, the beginning of the recruiting season was remarkably similar to last year, but the finish was the polar opposite. I personally expected us to land Vick, but not Suggs, and probably not Houseright. To bag all three was beyond my wildest dreams, but as long as the kids hang in there and all sign on Wednesday the 4th, my wildest dreams will actually become reality.

To add to the delirium, Tech received an unexpected bonus along the way, when Tech target Terrell Parham from Florida backed out of a verbal commitment to Maryland and verballed to the Hokies, instead, further adding to last week's excellent recruiting haul.

Defying the Odds, Hokies Bring Down the House

After last year's poor finish, I sat down and gave some thought and pondered the question of why the Hokies weren't recruiting better. One would think that after going to two straight Alliance Bowls, we would finally be able to recruit with the big boys, but it didn't appear that we could. We couldn't even beat out Virginia in our own state!

The answers to why we weren't recruiting better were many, and varied, … and good. I wrote a long article about where I thought Tech stood in the landscape of college recruiting, and the bottom line was that our facilities, our fan base, our conference situation, and the media coverage in this state were all working against us. When I was done with the piece, I was actually amazed that we were able to do as well as we did - never mind outrecruiting the big boys.

This year, I'm simply stunned. Very little has improved about our situation from last year, and some things have even gotten worse. Only our facilities have gotten better, boosted primarily by the skeleton of the Merryman Center, which is rising out of the ground between Cassell Coliseum and Lane Stadium, and is finally something that recruits can see with their own eyes and get their hands around and believe in.

Our football schedule has improved, thanks to Mr. Weaver, and yes, that matters to recruits. A lot. Jake Houseright even mentioned it in his commitment speech, saying that our schedule was good enough that if we were to run the table, we could win the national championship. Stick around, Jake - if Jim Weaver has his way, it'll get even better.

On the down side, the Big East has still left us out in the cold on all-sports membership, and if anything, the conference situation has gotten worse, given the pathetic Big East performance on the field this year (the Hokies included). The Big East continues to be a poorly run, poorly marketed conference. The ACC still dominates coverage in this area of the country, rightfully so, and on the national scene, CBS has all but abandoned the Big East conference, showing only 10 games this past season, in favor of their SEC package.

UVa continues to be the favored school of the state media, except perhaps in Roanoke, where the coverage is a draw, at best. In the eastern and northern parts of the state, the Hokies play second fiddle, and perhaps we always will.

In light of all this, the Tech football staff still somehow managed to pull off the best recruiting year in Tech history, landing five or six high school All-Americans, depending upon how you slice it. I can't begin to imagine how they did it, given all they have to work against, and every Hokie fan should take their hat off to Beamer and his staff. Then again, Virginia Tech has a lot to offer, and some recruits are bright kids who can see that for themselves, despite the factors that work against us.

A recruiting year that began with the triple-commitment of Hampton High products Ronald Curry, Darnell Hollier, and Bobby Blizzard to UVa on national television has ended with the Hokies storming from behind and (hopefully) signing a whopping 11 out of the top 25 in the state of Virginia.

In Charlottesville, the recruiting landslide that was expected to follow the Hampton trifecta never materialized. In fact, Blizzard immediately backed out and later committed to Kentucky, while Curry won't sign for at least another month, not until he takes visits to (gulp) Florida State and UNC.

While Tech was barnstorming the state last week, landing three of the top 10 players, things were eerily quiet in Charlottesville, where they await Ronald Curry's final decision. The Cavaliers have put together a decent recruiting year, but the whipping that the Hokies were expected to receive in in-state recruiting didn’t happen, and it won't.

Don't cry for the Cavaliers, though. The list of top juniors compiled recently by Doug Doughty includes a laundry list of UVa legacies, cousins, and brothers, all last names that you'll recognize: Matt Farrior (#2), Julius Jones (#5), Almondo Curry (#6), Antwan Stukes (#9), and Tony Womack (#11). When the Hokie coaches start trying to recruit those kids next year, they'll be knocking on the doors of houses full of UVa fans.

What I Learned This Year About "Commitments"

Hokie fans, me included, were left with egg on our face this past week after a kid who had verballed to another school, Terrell Parham of Bartow, Florida, backed out of his commitment to Maryland and decided to join the Hokies.

For all our posturing and raging over the Richard Rodgers decommitment, Tech fans were suddenly left to explain why George Welsh was a criminal for stealing Richard Rodgers, but Frank Beamer is still a man of virtue, even though he got Parham to switch.

I'm not going to sit here and try to convince anybody that the two situations were different, and that Welsh was somehow wrong, and Beamer was somehow right. That would mean getting bogged down in details that I chose to ignore in the Rodgers case, and I would wind up looking like even more of a hypocrite than I really am.

But since I don't believe in mending fences with or giving quarter to Wahoos, and I would never admit I was wrong for bashing UVa, I'm kind of stuck without much to say about the matter.

(upon reading that, Hokie fans will notice my wry sense of humor, while UVa fans will go nuts and think even less of me than they already do. Um … so what?)

So let's skirt the specific issue and talk about something else instead. Let's talk about what I learned this year about verbal commitments.

First of all, from now on, I'm just going to call them "verbals" and leave the word "commitment" out of it. For some kids, like Jake Houseright and Lee Suggs, the word "commitment" is appropriate. But for some kids - like Antwoine Womack, Richard Rodgers, and Terrell Parham, who all made rash decisions and then changed them - the word "commitment" is not appropriate. So I'm not using the word anymore. I'm just going to call them "verbals" from here on.

Secondly, if a kid verbals to Tech but still visits other schools and allows them to recruit him, then take that for what it's worth - which is to say, not much. Some kids commit and then stop the recruiting process. Camm Jackson, David Pugh, and Lamar Cobb quickly come to mind.

Other kids, such as Richard Rodgers, give a verbal and then continue to make visits and entertain other schools. In this case, in my opinion, the race for the kid is still wide open, and all bets are off.

I have heard that if a recruit verbals to another school, Frank Beamer pays the recruit a courtesy phone call and asks the question, "Do you want me to stop calling?" If the answer is yes, then Tech stops recruiting the kid. If the answer is no, then Tech will continue to recruit the kid. If this is truly Frank's modus operandi, then I like it, and that's the way it ought to be. I just wish I could believe that George Welsh feels the same way.

Lastly, I'm not going to let a verbal from a kid make me feel as if the kid's "ours." Nobody is "ours" until they sign on the dotted line, and even then, as Tyrone Robertson demonstrated last year, a letter of intent can be wriggled out of … if you're willing to tank your high school career and not even graduate.

So, my advice is, don't put too much stock in a verbal, and don't get all upset anymore if a recruit switches. It's just not worth it, and if a kid backs out of a commitment to Tech, then we don't want him, anyway. Especially if he decides to go to UVa.

But this doesn't mean that I'm letting UVa off the hook. I'm still steamed about a comment made by Tech verbal Ronyell Whitaker a few months back, when he casually said something like, "Yeah, UVa keeps calling. I just tell them I'm not interested." And recently, the Cavaliers also impulsively threw a scholarship offer at Tech verbal Willie Pile, whom they hadn't shown much interest in until he committed to Tech. From what I hear, Pile pretty much laughed at UVa and said no thanks.

I don’t like Wahoos, folks. I never have, and I never will. If that sounds a little bit like Captain Kirk talking about the Klingons, then you get the idea. I lived in Charlottesville for many years, as most of you know, and I find that since I moved back to the NRV four years ago, that my dislike of them has actually intensified. This is remarkable, because as any Hokie will tell you, it's closeness to the Cavaliers that breeds contempt of them. But surprisingly, I like them even less now that I'm further away from them.

And I'm young. My dislike of UVa still has many years to fester and grow.

This all boils over when recruiting season comes to a head, because in the in-state wars, it's all about Tech vs. UVa. It comes down to kids expressing a simple preference for us or them, and that will drive even the most gentlemanly Hokie fan into a lather. I've gotten to where I will jettison message board passwords in a heartbeat during the month of January without batting an eyelash, if a visitor to my board doesn't behave. Recruiting season makes me cranky. Don't look for that to change.

There's Still a Long Way to Go, but Enjoy it Anyway

The funny thing is, recruiting a kid is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to having that kid produce. After recruiting the kid, the following still has to happen:

  1. The kid has to sign on national signing day.
  2. The kid has to qualify academically
  3. The kid has to show up at Tech and stay - not get homesick and leave (anyone remember Adrian Pressey?)
  4. The kid has to avoid injury
  5. The kid has to work hard in the classroom, weight room, and practice fields.
  6. The kid has to produce on the field.

In light of all those "has to's," it seems silly that we put so much emotional investment into recruiting. But it's not silly to get excited about recruiting.

Recruiting is a badge of honor. It's a measure of where your program has been, and where it's going. It's a promise for the future, or a debt, depending upon how it goes. It's a way of inviting new kids into the Hokie family, kids that you never knew before but who will always be part of our Tech landscape, now and forever.

Most recruiting classes suffer a fifty percent attrition rate over the years, and this is why it's important to recruit a lot of good kids. Some of them won't make it. If you land 10 SuperPrep All-Americans, you can rest assured that four or five of them will contribute to your program. Some of them will be difference-makers. For Tech, who will it be from this year's class? Lamar Cobb? T.J. Jackson? Jake Houseright? Lee Suggs? Michael Vick? Marlon Hicks? Anthony Nelson? Ronyell Whitaker? All of them? None of them? Will it instead be the kids that I didn't even mention? Who knows?

As I post this, it's February 2nd. There are still two more days until signing day. Cross your fingers, Hokies. Hope all the new kids sign with Tech, then hope that they all qualify academically. After that, we'll watch them learn and grow, and we'll see where it goes from there.

In any event, to Hokie fans everywhere, I say this: enjoy this. It has been a heck of a year in recruiting, and we should bask in it for a while.

To the new recruits, I say: welcome to the Hokie family. Whatever happens from here on, you'll always be part of the Tech family, and as you'll come to find out, that counts for a lot.


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