February 7, 2013
College football's national signing day dawned with the consensus No. 1 prospect choosing Ole Miss over two more acclaimed Southeastern Conference programs. ESPN later reported that the mother of a mega-star running back from Florida had confiscated the letter-of-intent he planned to sign with Arkansas.
No such commotion in our little corner of Bowl Subdivision paradise Wednesday. Virginia Tech, Virginia and neophyte Old Dominion signed precisely those they expected to sign, with nary a paperwork kidnapping.
Per the coaching manual, Frank Beamer, Mike London and Bobby Wilder professed elation with their hauls, and indeed, each has reason for encouragement.
Recruiting services ranked the Hokies' 18-player class among the nation's top 20 and third in the ACC behind Florida State and Clemson. Developing undervalued prospects has been a staple of Beamer's Hall-of-Fame-caliber career, but in cornerback Kendall Fuller, safety Holland Fisher and defensive end Wyatt Teller, to name three, Tech landed players coveted by the likes of Clemson, Alabama, Oregon and Michigan.
Though not as heralded as last season, Virginia's 22-member group included late additions at a position of need — offensive linemen George Adeosun and Eric Tetlow — plus All-America running back Taquan Mizzell from Virginia Beach. Ohio State and Notre Dame were among the schools that offered Mizzell a grant-in-aid, and in-state advantage notwithstanding, besting the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish (combined 24-1 last season) is notable.
The Cavaliers and Hokies retained committed recruits despite a host of staff changes. Five of London's nine assistant coaches have changed since season's end, three of Beamer's.
Tech experimented with a two-hour mid-day webcast hosted by radio voice Bill Roth and featuring Beamer, staff members, interviews with January enrollees and highlights of all signees. Depending on the show's Nielsen ratings — wink — bank on other schools following suit.
The show's highlight was a conversation with Brandon Facyson, a defensive back from Georgia who hopes to become a heart surgeon. Facyson also holds the distinction of being the nation's only prospect to turn down Ole Miss and second-year coach Hugh Freeze.
Or so it seemed. Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, everyone's No. 1 and originally a Clemson pledge, chose the Rebels Wednesday over Florida and LSU. Ole Miss also signed, according to ESPN ratings, the nation's top receiver and offensive lineman.
Nkemdiche hails from Georgia and is merely the latest example that college football is no different than most worlds. There are few, if any, borders. Such is life in this Internet, games-by-the-hundreds-on-TV age.
So just as Stanford, Alabama and Michigan can raid our fair commonwealth for the likes of quarterback Ryan Burns, defensive end Jonathan Allen and running back Derrick Green, Ole Miss can swipe the nation's most acclaimed prospect from Georgia.
"I think that's just the way it's going to be," Beamer said.
Indeed, of colleague Norm Wood's Fab 15 Virginia prospects, seven are headed across state lines, to Alabama, Stanford (two), Penn State, Florida State, South Carolina and Michigan.
That said, Tech, Virginia and ODU landed 12, 10 and seven recruits, respectively from the state. And with the Monarchs upgrading to the Bowl Subdivision and Conference, Wilder vowed to mine Virginia more aggressively than ever.
"Old Dominion is here, and we're here to stay," he said of his message to state high school coaches.
Comrade Fairbank informs that the Monarchs' highest-rated signee is defensive tackle Cullen Casey from Rochester, N.Y., who drew interest from the likes of Duke, Syracuse and Rutgers. Whether Wilder and his staff can lure such prospects in greater numbers will be intriguing to monitor as ODU starts playing the likes of Maryland and North Carolina next season.
Two years ago on signing day, Virginia received last-minute good news from coveted recruits Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell. Last year, Virginia Tech did so from Joel Caleb, Ken Ekanem and Trey Edmunds, while losing Korren Kirven to Alabama.
Then there was the wild saga of Ja Wand Blue, a linebacker from Florida who had committed to Tech. He flipped to Miami on signing day, and his subsequent phone conversation with Hokies assistant coach Charley Wiles, understandably tense, was live-tweeted by a Palm Beach Post reporter permitted by the high school coach to listen.
Except the reporter believed he was listening to Beamer, creating quite the Twitter uproar.
Wednesday's comparable tale was that of Arkansas pledge Alex Collins of South Florida, whose mother wants him to stay closer to home and reportedly took his letter-of-intent.
As deadline loomed, the family squabble had not been resolved.
Virginia Tech football's official Twitter account summarized our day: "No drama and just the way we like it."