Inside Recruiting 2002
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #16
Every recruiting year brings with it more drama and intrigue than a John Grisham novel. For every public statement that the recruits make, ten more rumors are passed around about things that the recruits said to friends, family, and their recruiting coaches. Some of these rumors and tidbits make it to the message board, but surprisingly, many of them don't.
In this, the Internet Age, insiders to college and high school football programs are becoming more savvy about what to say, and when to say it -- in other words, what to let "get out." A well-timed statement on a message board or another public forum can excite the fans when they're down, or prepare them for bad news when they don't think it's coming.
I've never considered myself an insider to the Tech football program, and I have no real desire to be, at least not for the thrill of knowing the information. The only reason I desire "inside information" is to run the TechSideline.com site better: to distribute the correct information, quit chasing blind leads, and be prepared for what's coming.
For example, I like to know what a recruit is going to do before he does it, so I can either monitor the message boards for meltdowns (in the case of bad news) or get ready to release a TSLMail announcing a commitment (in the case of good news).
I've had the good fortune to have some good sources approach me the last couple of years and establish a good relationship, one where they pass on important information to me. I'm not sure why people do that, but I'm grateful for it, because it helps me keep my finger on the pulse of things. I rarely pass on most of the info given to me, because (a) it might compromise the source; and (b) it might be wrong -- it occasionally is -- which would make me look bad.
But now that this year's class is signed and recruiting 2002 is over, it's time to pass on some of the more juicy and interesting stuff that I heard. It will give you a look inside what was happening as it unfolded, and it might answer some questions that you have. I believe most of this information to be true, or at the very least, these are the things that were said to me by some of my best sources.
Let's talk about a few of the more interesting recruiting stories that unfolded this year, the ones that had twists and turns to them. We'll take them in the order that they committed, be it to Tech, or somewhere else.
Every VT source I talked to for months told me that Justin London was a lock to go to Virginia Tech. Never mind that he was visiting UCLA, Tennessee, and Maryland. Never mind that he had never publicly named VT as his leader. London was going to be a Hokie. Take it to the bank.
But the morning of London's announcement (January 31st), I got a phone call that said the Hokie coaches weren't feeling good about things. The reason? Bud Foster had called London the night before, and London was very standoffish and didn't want to talk. He wasn't very communicative and said something about having been awoken from a nap. The conversation was short and not particularly cordial, unusual for a kid the Tech coaches had been recruiting for a long time and were on good terms with.
"Foster doesn't feel good about it," the source told me, "and he's usually on the money with his feelings."
The next day, London dropped the bomb and said he was gong to UCLA. A source told me that night, after London made his announcement, the VT coaches discussed calling him, but Foster emphatically said, "I'm not calling him." Beamer considered calling him, but then decided, "I'm not calling him, either."
Virginia Tech worked Justin London hard for years. They were the first to offer him a scholarship, prior to his tenth grade year, and they never took him for granted. But at the last moment, he had spurned them to go to UCLA, and it upset the VT coaches. What hurt them the most was that he didn't tell them the night before, when he had Foster on the phone, that he was going to go to UCLA (and with his strange attitude during the phone call, it's a near-certainty that he had made up his mind by then). Instead, the VT coaches had to find out from his press conference. All this after they had worked so hard for two and a half years to establish such a good relationship with him.
It upset others outside of the coaching staff, as well, in Roanoke and Southwest Virginia. When a local boy decides to go elsewhere, particularly far away, he is taking a risk, because he's going from an area where everyone considers him to be a local hero of sorts, and he's going far away, where no one knows him, and no one will be there to catch him when he falls.
The Hokie coaches would have gladly taken Kai Parham (had he been interested in VT) and would have signed Justin London also. But the linebacker they really wanted, the "difference maker," was Ahmad Brooks, the USA Today Defensive Player of the Year.
Brooks was coy and hard to read with the media in the months leading up to his commitment date of February 4th. He was quiet, reserved, and almost impossible to pin down.
But I was hearing good things via email and in phone conversations.
I heard that during Brooks' official visit to Tech the weekend of December 14th, his parents were "blown away" by Virginia Tech -- the campus, the coaches, the facilities, the academic advisors, all of it. They had previously known little to nothing about VT but went away very impressed. I was told that when Brooks left after his visit, he told the VT coaches that Virginia Tech was his leader.
I heard from three different sources that Brooks was consistently telling D.J. Walton, his childhood friend, former high school teammate, and redshirt freshman football player at VT, that he (Brooks) was going to be a Hokie. People told me that when they talked to D.J. about Brooks, D.J. said every time, without hesitation, "Oh yeah, he's coming here."
I heard that on Thursday, January 31st, when Mike Imoh verbaled to Virginia Tech, that Brooks and his coach called Robinson High School, where Imoh's press conference was held. Imoh and Brooks, Imoh once told me, are friends. They hung out together on their official visit to Virginia Tech and talked on the phone a couple days prior to Imoh's verbal.
Brooks ended an in-home visit with Coach Beamer on January 31st by telling him that it was down to Tennessee and Tech, that UVa was out of it.
And I was told by one source that Brooks told D.J. Walton, just ten to twenty minutes before he verbally committed to Virginia, that he was going to Virginia Tech.
Brooks was quoted in a Washington Post story the day of his commitment: "I kind of made my decision a couple months ago, I just didn't tell anybody. Everybody asked me where I was going to go, and I just basically told them a different school. I had to take all my visits to know that was really where I wanted to go."
I will leave it to you to decide what you think of a young man who strings out his friends and recruiting coaches in that fashion. It's one thing to have your fun with the 15 million dot-commers that cover recruiting, but to lead on one of your best friends, making him look like a fool to everyone he talked to? "D.J. was very hurt," a source told me.
The odd thing is, if Brooks doesn't qualify (he currently doesn't have the SAT score he needs) and winds up at a prep school, it appears that the Tech coaches will recruit him again. "We'll make that call," one VT coach said at the Recruiting Rally at Boomer's on February 9th, indicating that the coaches will contact Brooks and see if he wants Virginia Tech to recruit him.
Fine, coach, just don't believe anything he tells you.
"Just FYI: Marcus did say, word for word, that there is no chance he'll go to Va Tech. Says it's not a consideration. (To be honest, I don't even think the Tech coaches are trying to go after him.) And I spent two days with the kid--and of course talked to Mike about it, too -- so I feel confident about what I reported."
Angie Watts of the Washington Post told me that in an email last August, a day or two after a feature she wrote on Marcus appeared in the newspaper. In that article, Angie wrote, "One school Marcus has eliminated is Michael's alma mater, Virginia Tech. Though he has speed and quickness similar to his brother and doesn't hesitate to run, Marcus said he will look for a team that is more pass-oriented than the Hokies."
So what happened to cause Marcus Vick to do a complete 180-degree turn and sign with the Hokies? Publicly, Marcus has said it was the hiring of QB Coach Kevin Rogers, and the promise of a more wide-open offense for him to run.
Marcus became "a strong Tech lean" at some point in December, and after a while, it was widely perceived that he would commit to and sign with the Hokies. But on February 4th, the night before Vick was supposed to commit, this post appeared on the TechSideline.com recruiting message board:
Suddenly, the message board trembled, but only for one reason: the night before Justin London had committed, HokieCop2B had nailed it, saying that London would "follow his boyhood dream" and go to UCLA. Those were almost the exact words that London used when he committed to the Bruins on January 31st, so when HokieCop2B posted that about Vick, people got worried.
Unfortunately, one message board reader who knows the VT coaches got really worried and called two of Tech's coaches that night, pulling them away from their families and setting off a round of phone calls among the Tech coaches, along with a lot of worrying.
The worrying was compounded by the fact that many of UVa's recruiting "gurus" were saying on TheSabre.com message boards that Vick was indeed going to go to UVa. This rumor had more momentum than just one stray poster on the TSL board.
The morning of Vick's commitment, all the evidence seemed to be pointing to "Vick to UVa." But one source finally contacted me late that morning and said, "Supposedly, one of (Warwick High coach) Tommy Reamon's staff said that to the UVa staff, but Reamon's staff denies it (to the VT coaches)."
You know the rest: Vick verbaled to Tech that afternoon, at 3 o'clock. And by some accounts, many insiders in UVa's camp were surprised. They really did think Vick was going to UVa.
One UVa friend (yes, I've got them) emailed me and said, "There is definitely a story in the MV2 decision somewhere, since everyone who tells me things regarding UVa -- some of whom are very well connected and right more often than not -- were universally stunned (by Vick's decision to attend Tech). Your similar thoughts and e-mails suggest somebody was getting played."
Very interesting. Was something truly said to the UVa staff with regards to Vick going to Virginia? If so, what was it, and who said it? I don't know the answer to those questions, but it sure added drama to the proceedings in the eleventh hour, and yes, someone was left feeling "played."
And it wasn't the Hokies.
Tidbits and Outrageous Comments
Most Likely to Play Soon
Sources say that both Jimmy Williams the ATH and Jimmy Williams the DT, along with DT Jonathan Lewis and OL Jimmy Martin, are the most likely to play soon, and in the case of Big Jimmy Williams and Lewis, it's more like "they will play soon."
And of course, Marcus Vick will get a shot.
Sleepers of the Class
Noland Burchette, DT Chris Burnett, LB Aaron Rouse, and Jimmy Williams the ATH, with a nod to WR Robert Parker (but if the Roanoke Times names him the "Sleeper of the Year," is he really a sleeper?).