The Hokies may be hundreds of miles from Jacksonville, Florida, but they continue to land top targets from the area — this time, it's 2018 RB Caleb Steward joining the fold.
The Ed White HS product announced his commitment on July 4, Virginia Tech's first running back commitment of the 2018 cycle.
Steward is a 3-star prospect, according to the 247Sports Composite ranking, but his head coach at Ed White believes he has the versatility to play just about any role for the Hokies.
"He's got the skillset to play every down," Kevin Sullivan told The Key Play. "On that level, they're going to play a couple guys, but he's got the skillset to play every down. He's big and strong and he can block. He can run inside, he can run outside, he can catch the ball out of the backfield."
Steward narrowed down his choice between Tech and South Florida as things came down to the wire in his recruitment, a development that surprised Sullivan. At first, the head coach says USF "just hit for (Steward) offensively," though Sullivan says his running back slowly expanded his options a bit.
"He's been in Florida his whole life," Sullivan said. "And my thing is, in college, you want to get the whole experience. You want to deal with people you don't see every day or you don't deal with every day and different walks of life."
Sullivan might not have gotten to steer Steward towards Blacksburg had he not initially dealt with the Hokies back when he was at Atlantic Coast HS coaching TE Chris Cunningham, who signed with Tech back in 2015.
He says he formed a relationship with DL coach Charley Wiles, DC Bud Foster and director of player personnel Chuck Cantor over the last few years, making it no surprise when they called about Steward this January.
"I know those guys and they got to see him in spring and saw how he looked physically and it was a no-brainer for them," Sullivan said.
Sullivan notes that "in this day and age, people lie about size and everything," but that was never a problem for Steward. He says his RB always stood at every bit the 5'11", 209 pounds he was advertised at, and once he ran a 4.55-second 40-yard-dash, he was an easy choice for the Hokies to pursue.
"He's a big power runner, but he can also run away from you, and he can also catch the ball out of the backfield," Sullivan said.
As things heated up between Steward and the Hokies, Sullivan decided to give him a chance to see Blacksburg for himself. The pair made the long trek to Tech in June, giving Steward a chance to see what Cunningham and fellow Florida product Aundre Kearney made of the Hokie lifestyle.
"As we're leaving I looked at him and I was like, 'A little different than you thought it was gonna be?' and he was like, 'Yeah, coach, a lot different," Sullivan said. "And we're driving and we saw a black bear run across the road and I was like, 'You don't see that every day in Florida.'"
But Sullivan adds that Steward saw plenty of other things that helped Tech seem unique.
"I think the whole thing with Virginia Tech being the central point of Blacksburg and they're fanatical about their team and what they've done with Coach (Frank) Beamer there forever — tremendous coach, tremendous person — mattered to him," Sullivan said. "And I think Coach (Justin) Fuente is a really good fit for Caleb and he liked the homeliness of it, the family style thing of it, and I think he feels like he has an opportunity to get in there and play early."
Now, though he may be large in stature for a running back, Sullivan wants to see his top prospect improve a bit when it comes leadership before he arrives in Blacksburg.
"He's not a big rah-rah guy, he's not a big vocal leader," Sullivan said. "He needs to continue in reading what we're doing. He's got to get more comfortable in what we're doing and how we're blocking stuff."