For a brief moment, I want to take off my hat as a Thekeyplay.com columnist and speak casually, as someone who has been a fan of the Virginia Tech program since 1993. This National Signing Day has not been as peachy as the Virginia Tech Sports Information Department will characterize it. It has not been as disastrous as the doom and gloom crowd will make it out to be.
I am as frustrated as any Virginia Tech fan. For the Hokies to be a true NATIONAL power, they have to not only own the Commonwealth of Virginia in recruiting, but they have to compliment those recruits with critical need players outside of the Commonwealth. This year, the Hokies pilfered the Maryland player of the year (Cam Phillips), Pennsylvania's Gatorade Player of the Year (Andrew Ford), one of the best running backs from the Keystone state in the last decade (Shai McKenzie), and need players at linebacker, wide receiver, offensive line, and defensive line. Over the last decade, rarely has the Hokies recruiting footprint been stronger outside of the Commonwealth. And, I am convinced that this class has more READY TO PLAY TOMORROW players than any class in recent memory. In my opinion, Shai McKenzie, Marshawn Williams, Holland Fisher, and C.J. Reavis all have every physical tool to be All-ACC players early in their careers. Many more have the ability to be All-ACC talents if they stay healthy and are developed properly by the end of their careers.
At the same time, nobody understands the impact of missing out on Derrick Nnadi and Javon Harrison on signing day, especially when coupled with not being in the mix on Andrew Brown and Da'Shawn Hand (especially after Hand lauded his relationship with Foster). Signing those players would have addressed critical areas of need on the depth chart. Playing time was available to each on day one. The Hokies may beat the crap out of the University of Virginia year in and year out, but somewhere along the road, they are losing a battle of perception. And, that stinks.
But, before we light the torches and grab our pitchforks, we need to take a moment and analyze why. Why are these top flight recruits choosing not play play for a defensive genius like Bud Foster? Why would a kid from Virginia who has only seen the Hokies beat up UVa over most of their lifetime pick UVa? I want those answers before I lose my cool with the state of the program, and its detractors.
If Tech's exhausting every resource at their disposal to sign players, and they're still going elsewhere, then the program has to look internally at processes and fix issues that will allow them to be more competitive. However, if every asset and advantage was leveraged within the NCAA rules this cycle, and the player didn't bite, there isn't much more that can be done. That's my two cents at least.
A step was taken in the right direction. The younger offensive staff was brought in to reinvigorate the program, and if you look at the recruits targeted by Shane Beamer, Scot Loeffler, Aaron Moorehead, and the recently departed Jeff Grimes, they had a tremendous amount of success recruiting. In the span of an offseason, the Hokies significantly overhauled their offensive talent pool, with the only major misses being Javon Harrison, Ryan Izzo, Coleman Thomas, and elite QB prospects David Cornwell and Jacob Park. Both Cornwell and Park have chances to compete immediately for a starting job at SEC powers, and that is tough to compete with. Everywhere else, the young staff chopped wood. Shane Beamer also had a major hand in landing Holland Fisher, Raymon Minor, and C.J. Reavis, and all three I believe will be major contributors on defense sooner rather than later.
At the same time, Beamer Co. didn't sell Da'Shawn Hand enough to stay out of the clutches of Nick Saban; the opportunity to make an immediate impact at receiver couldn't sway Harrison away from Florida State's championship spotlight and the attraction of staying close to home; and the staff couldn't convey to Derrick Nnadi that he would be the perfect fit in Bud Foster's gap fit defense on day one. In some cases, there is a clear rational reason for why the Hokies couldn't close the deal. Although, others are inconclusive based on what I know.
I read Mark Giannotto's article about the Thoroughbreds and the 757 Sports Academy. If you are telling me that the price of winning the ACC is entering a gray area, or even stepping out of bounds, as far as NCAA rules go, then count me as happy with 9-4. It's playing with fire and in my opinion would only be a matter of time before the NCAA's axe falls in some form or fashion.
The moaning over the guys who signed elsewhere and will not be in the program is hurtful and dismissive of the young men who chose to become Hokies and will give their blood, sweat, and tears to the program. We got an outstanding class of players, and while sometimes we don't always get every present on Santa's wish list (I am still waiting on my X-Wing fighter), the gifts we did get can be pretty badass. Just like with the X's, O's and execution on Saturdays, as a fan base it helps the program to become educated. Everyone knows if a play didn't work. Understanding why is the only way to improve.
Raging on social media for coaches to be fired, or hiding underneath a forum because the sky is falling in Blacksburg is counter productive and irrational. Recruits are reading it, and it is only hurting the perception issue. If you want to go to a Hokie Club recruit night and ask Bryan Stinespring drill down questions about some of these misses, go for it. As ticket holders, donors, and fans, you have a right to understand the thought process on how a product that you have a choice to invest in does or doesn't improve. You are a customer, and they are the support. But, congratulate the players who spurned the Hokies on starting down the road to success and higher education. Support and encourage the new Hokies to work their tails off and make those recruits who took different paths regret their decision with losses every time they play the Fighting Gobblers. And, educate ourselves about the game, and take actionable steps that we can take to make the program better.