The All-Stars: A Player's View
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #21
There are a number of people you can interview to find something out about a football recruit. You can talk to the recruit himself, you can talk to his coach, and you can talk to his family. But if you want to get truly unbiased commentary on a recruit, some of the best people to talk to are his opponents and the opponents' coaches. They have no allegiance to a player and will be likely to talk about a player's flaws, not just his positive traits.
With that in mind, we tapped into one of our favorite interview subjects, Alan Wheeling, a QB/safety formerly of Pulaski County High School. Alan was featured in TSL Extra issue #11 and was a straight shooter as an interview subject. Alan recently played for the West squad in the Virginia High School Coaches Association (VHSCA) All-Star game, a game that featured ten Virginia Tech recruits from the 2002 recruiting class.
The game was played Friday, July 12th at Darling Stadium in Hampton. Virginia Tech recruits who participated were Mike Imoh, Cary Wade, Chris Burnett, and Brian McPherson for the West squad, and Jimmy Williams (Bethel), Marcus Vick, Jonathan Lewis, Darryl Tapp, Noland Burchette, and Brandon Gore for the East squad.
The East beat the West 21-7, outgaining them 280-99 in total yardage (for a full report, see TSL's game recap by Chris Horne).
The two teams practiced at different venues during the week leading up to the game but often shared meals and bus rides. We called Alan Wheeling up and asked him for his opinions on the Hokies he practiced and played with for the West squad, and the ones he played against on the East squad.
What follows are Alan's comments from our interview, with an occasional clarifying note in brackets [ ]. Wheeling got to know Cary Wade (CB) and Brian McPherson (CB) the best, because like them, Wheeling is a defensive back, and he practiced all week long with them at the defensive back spot.
Here are Wheeling's comments.
Cary Wade (West)
As a person, he's kind of shy and quiet. At times he's shy, and there's a time when he can do his thing and knows how to have fun. He's got his head on straight and knows what he's doing. He's a funny guy, and everybody liked him. He's a well-liked guy.
[On reports that Wade hung out with UVa recruit Ahmad Brooks during the week] Well, everybody was getting along all week. All the guys were giving each other a hard time about going to UVa and going to Tech. There was talk every day about that. So everybody was getting along with everybody else. Everybody was getting along with Ahmad. He's a pretty cool guy.
During practice, he [Cary Wade] seemed pretty quiet. He's the kind of guy that likes to go first in drills and likes to be a leader. For the most part, he was pretty quiet. There was a time to have fun in practice, and he had fun, but he was mostly all business.
He's pretty quick, but he's probably more quick than fast. Cary has good technique, more than speed. I think he's gotten a lot bigger since I last saw him at Tech's camp [in summer 2001]. His quickness is good. It's not great, it's not excellent, but it's good, it's good enough to get done what he has to do. He's a pretty good football player. He's a better coverage corner than he is a run-support corner. He'll come up and make the tackle if he has to, but he's a better coverage corner.
Cary played a solid game and had some good coverage. He covered Marcus [Vick] most of the game and did a pretty good job. He got beat on a couple of plays, but Marcus is a great athlete, and Cary did pretty well against him.
Brian McPherson (West)
As a person, he's a real quiet guy, but also, when everybody's carrying on on the bus and having a good time, he's right in there with it. He and Cary are a lot alike as far as personality.
Athletically, he's a little step ahead of Cary, physically stronger and faster and bigger. I'm impressed with Brian, but I was more impressed with him in camp [in the summer of 2001]. I'm not sure why. I only got to see him one day at camp, and that's when they [VT] offered him. I saw him all week in All-Star practice, and I'm still impressed with him, just not as much. He's still a great athlete. He's one of those guys that I think will be a big-time player for Tech in a couple of years.
I think Coach set it up right. We had [UVa signee] Stefan [Orange] and Cary at coverage corner, and we needed two safeties. I was playing free safety, and Brian was playing strong safety. Really, we had four corners back there playing all four defensive back positions. We had to pick probably the two best run supporters at safety. Brian was the best at run support. Physically, he was able to bring down big running backs, which we needed to do. He's a strong guy, benches about 350. His coverage skills, I didn't really get to see them, because playing safety, you don't get to go one-on-one. But I know he's capable of doing it. He's a good all-around athlete.
I've seen Brian more running track than I have on the football field. He's really quick, like running the 100 [meters]. The main thing I'm impressed with with Brian is his transition. He's able to break on the ball, and his closing speed is great. That's probably one of his strongest points.
The intensity was definitely up this game. I've played in a lot of high school games, and I've seen some hits, but this was one of the most physical games I've been involved in. There was a lot of hitting going on, and a lot of talking, too.
One thing that amazed me about Brian McPherson was that he got into a lot of extracurricular stuff after plays. I don't know if it was people coming after him, or if it was him running his mouth, but I know he did run his mouth after plays. That surprised me.
Chris Burnett (West)
He played at defensive tackle. I was around him more so on the bus than on the field and in hotels.
He's crazy. He was enjoying his time down there. He's got a weird sense of humor, but he's a pretty cool guy. He hung with [Liberty High teammate and UVa signee] Damien Spradlin most of the time.
What I saw of him in practice, I wasn't too impressed, but I can compare DB's better than I can compare linemen. I don't know good defensive line technique from bad. Just from what I saw in practice, he didn't really stand out. From what I've seen from other defensive tackles size-wise and speed-wise, he didn't stand out.
In the game, I think he went all-out, but in practice, he wasn't going all-out all the time. Nobody did. We kind of took it easy a lot [in practice], because we knew it was an All-Star game.
Mike Imoh (West)
He's a well-liked guy. The thing I can say about him that sums it up is one day when we were practicing, and the offense wasn't doing very well. They were struggling, turning the ball over, and not doing very well, and not hitting the holes. I was looking for a leader on the offensive side to say something, and Mike did. He said, come on, get in gear, we're all-stars, let's do this. So he's a leader. He's going to be a good one.
They didn't want anybody getting hurt, so all week in practice, on the defensive side of the ball, we would run full speed to the ball but wouldn't hit the runner or tackle him. We would just touch him, or let him run by. So I didn't get a chance to hit him.
His strengths are definitely his speed and vision. He can hit the hole and find the hole. I wish we had had a better offensive line, because we didnít really have the offensive line to get him the holes in the game.
We were running C.D. Hylton's offense, and I wasn't impressed with it. I knew we were going to have trouble in the game, because we were running scout team defense against it and stopping it [the offense] every time. So I knew the offense was going to be hurting in the game.
I think one of the best plays we had was to hit him in the flat with a pass and just let him run with it, because he's got such great vision. He's very versatile, and he can make plays. We tried to get it to him [in the flat] in the game, but the second or third time we tried it, it got picked off, so we didn't try it again.
He's stocky, and he's real solid. His body's in proportion. His legs, neck, arms, and chest are all built. He's done a good job in the weight room.
Jimmy Williams (East)
Williams had a good game. I thought he played well, and he impressed me. I know he's a defensive back, but they played him a lot on offense, and I was impressed with his ability to do both. He made a couple big plays and missed the chance to make a couple others when he dropped balls. There was one third and 20 where A-Mart [UVa signee Anthony Martinez] threw him a pass, and I hit him and knocked it loose.
As an athlete, he's up there with the best of them, with his ability to play offense and defense, and he's got good speed and good height. He's got a good build on him.
He pretty much just played the game. He didn't do much trash-talking, from what I could tell.
Marcus Vick (East)
I covered him on two or three plays and defended him on the option when he was at quarterback. He played the whole first series at quarterback, and they scored on it. He did a good job, and they used his speed well by running the option and rolling him out.
He's a great athlete, more so than a great quarterback. He's just an outstanding athlete. If something were to come up, and he couldn't play quarterback at Tech, they could play him somewhere else. He's a good wideout, he could be a good defensive back, running back even.
One of our assistants here at Pulaski coached at Lake Taylor. He was Ronyell Whitaker's head coach, and I've seen a lot of highlight films with Ronyell, and Mike Vick, and Ron Curry, and all those guys in them. Right now, in high school, at that age, I think Marcus is ahead of Michael. As an athlete, I think Michael was a good athlete then, but I think Marcus has got him beat. Size-wise, Michael was a little more gifted. I just think he's got the build, and Marcus isn't quite up to date on that.
If Marcus were to progress as well as Michael did, and learn the offense as well as Michael did, and take the time and the effort, I think he'll be nasty. I think Marcus will be a good quarterback.
I didn't get to see him throw the deep ball. They put Anthony Martinez in there for that. I wasn't too impressed with his [Marcus'] throwing skills -- his first pass was about 6-7 feet over the guy's head, and he couldn't catch it. Of course, I didn't get to see him throw much, because they really spotlighted Anthony Martinez by putting him in the shotgun and letting him do his thing. With Marcus, they gave him the chance to roll out and either run or pass, and use his strengths. So I didn't really get a chance to see his throwing skills, and I don't know if he's really ready yet for the whole college atmosphere and the defenses.
I can just tell by watching him that he had great ability to get open [as a receiver]. He probably hasn't practiced at receiver much at all in his life, but he was able to get open against our corners.
Noland Burchette (East)
He ran the ball. He's a pretty good running back, but he seemed to me to be one of those guys that's mouthy. I think it's just one of those game-time things, because in the dining hall and at dinner and lunch and stuff, he seemed quiet, like he's a good guy. He really didnít talk much. But during the game, things got heated and everybody else was talking, so I guess he felt like talking, too.
He's a good running back. He's pretty good size. He had a lot of good backs to share time with.
I think with his size, he's capable of playing tight end. He's going to have to beef up a little bit, though.
Jonathan Lewis (East)
We scrimmaged him for two years at Pulaski, and I played offense in high school, so I got to see first-hand what he was like. He definitely did a good job plugging up the middle in the All-Star game. Everything that we tried up the middle was stopped, and he was a big reason why. We couldn't get anything up the middle, and he forced us outside. We weren't able to get anything going, and for the most part, that was his doing. It was his birthday, and he played a good game.
At lunch, he was sitting with guys like Anthony Martinez, and he was being cool with everybody.
Darryl Tapp (East)
I heard good things about him all week. I heard he's the best athlete down here, and all that stuff. He didn't really stand out in the game, though.
Brandon Gore (East)
I didn't encounter him [during the game]. He may have leaked out on our corners or our linebackers, but he didn't make it into the secondary, so I didn't see him.
Size-wise, he's gifted, he's got a lot of size. He looks like he's got good strength. I don't know anything about his quickness or anything else about him.
He's a wild guy. We were out on a boat ride one night, and we were bored, and he wound up taking a dare and drinking his own dip spit for $65 [laughs]. It was one of those barbarian guy things. I guess he's like that. He seemed like a tough guy. He's a lineman. He's one of those guys.
Editor's Note: We also took the opportunity to ask Wheeling about UVa recruit Ahmad Brooks, who signed with the Cavaliers but will attend Fork Union this fall. Wheeling had some interesting -- and very complimentary things -- to say about Brooks.
On the bus and stuff, when everybody was talking about going to Fork Union, I know Ahmad Brooks said he doesn't know if he's going to go back to Virginia or not. People were asking him that all week, and he was just like, "I don't know." It was a sensitive subject with him, and he didn't want to talk about it much.
He didn't say anything more specific. He just said he wasn't really sure what he was going to do yet. He seems like one of those spontaneous guys, he just goes with the flow and he'll make the decision when he has to.
But I'm pretty sure that Keenan Carter and Robert Armstrong [also FUMA-bound] will both end up at UVa. They talked about taking visits [to other schools] and having fun and enjoying them, but I think they're still going to be UVa-bound.
I think Ahmad was by far one of the best people down there, not only as an athlete, but as a person. There's a lot of little things that I saw this week that I kind of looked down on people for. Like we were in lunch line, and me, I'm 5-10, 175 pounds, I'm not going to say anything to Keenan Carter, who's 330 pounds, passing me in lunch line. There were some guys that took advantage of being all-stars. They passed people and cut in line, and they kind of walked around, knowing that they were "it."
By "them," I mean pretty much the big guys, and I don't mean just Tech guys or UVa guys, it was some of both. Really a lot of people were showing a lot of attitude, but that was one thing Ahmad didn't do. He sat on the bus with me a lot, and we'd talk. He's a cool guy, and he'll talk with anybody. He didn't have anything against anybody. He didn't cut in line, and he didn't really act up.
Everybody else thinks highly of Ahmad, and they all think he's cool. I was really high on Ahmad, and especially as an athlete. He's the real deal.
In practice, he didn't say a word. He practiced hard. He was just working hard and getting better. He's one of those guys that doesn't have any friends on the field, but once he's off the field, he's like, "Hey, man, how you doing?" He's a real cool guy.
[On reports that Ahmad misled people during his recruiting] I can see that about Ahmad. I don't know if he was really doing it on purpose. That's just his way of doing things. He changes his mind really easy. Maybe he's really vulnerable in that way. He seemed like that kind of guy, to do whatever comes to him.
UVa Recruits Versus VT Recruits
I donít know that I could compare them as teams, but as individuals, I think Anthony Martinez Ö I'm really high on him after the game. He could pretty much pick our defense apart. So I think UVa might have an edge there at quarterback. Marcus is a great athlete, and I didn't get to see him much at QB, but as a pocket passer, UVa will be set with Martinez.
As plain athletes, with Cary and Brian and Tapp and Jimmy Williams, all of them such great athletes, Tech will be able to do some things with them.
I rate the classes pretty even, based on what they recruited. But I know that three of the UVa guys are going to Fork Union. [Ahmad Brooks, Keenan Carter, and Robert Armstrong].