The Hokies normally hold a big cookout in late July to try and solidify a few big commitments heading into the season, but this year's "Blacksburg Bash" had a slightly different purpose.
Tech has been off to a hot start for the 2018 class, so rather than closing big-time prospects, the July 22 edition of a summer BBQ was more about building a bond between the members of the ever-growing contingent of rising seniors committed to enroll next year.
"This is the biggest and earliest recruiting class that I've seen," 2018 DT commit Cam Goode told The Key Play. "Normally, they have like five commits by now...So for me to already have my teammates locked and loaded, it feels pretty good. It was really special to meet them."
Goode's certainly correct that Tech's 19-commit class is a bit larger than average for late July — by the same point last year, the Hokies had 10 members of the 2017 class lined up, and nine members of the 2016 class committed the year before.
So while last year's "Blacksburg Bash" infamously helped the Hokies earn four commitments in one weekend, this year's gathering was bit more focused on the athletes that have already announced their intentions. That's not to say Tech's staff didn't manage to convince any prospects to pull the trigger after the visit — 2018 CB Jermaine Waller announced his commitment just a few days after the trip — but the day was certainly a prime opportunity for the players already on board to get to know each other a bit more.
"We'd been talking back and forth over texts, but meeting them in person was really cool," said 2018 OL commit John Harris. "There were so many defensive players that have committed so far, so just meeting all those guys that I'm gonna end up going against in practice, like (DE) Joe Kane and (CB) D.J. Crossen and other guys like that, was cool."
But the team did play host to some top prospects who have yet to join the class as well — 2018 CB Kalon Gervin returned to Blacksburg the day before the cookout for a personal tour of campus with CBs coach Brian Mitchell and safeties coach Galen Scott. Gervin, who's rated a 4-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite ranking, had originally planned to visit Ohio State last weekend before reversing course and making his first return trip to Blacksburg since this spring.
"It was very chill, everything I expected, so it was nice to get back down there," Gervin said.
He also stuck around for the next day, which he says began with an opening gathering of the dozens of recruits in attendance around Justin Fuente.
"He was just saying VT could be the place for you, and how it's a special place," Gervin said. "He talked about how he picked VT, and how he knew it was the right fit for him."
But until Fuente stood up to address the group, 2019 DL Adarious Jones says he wasn't even sure he could pick the head Hokie out of a crowd (a sentiment previously expressed by other recruits).
"I actually didn't notice it was him at first," Jones said. "He's not like one of those, some college coaches they think they're above everyone, but he's a people person. The way I saw him interact with the other players and recruits, it was good."
Goode says the day started with some golf cart-powered tours of campus and the team's facilities, including a trip down to the locker room to try on some orange and maroon gear. From there, Harris says the group took a detour to basketball practice facility, where Goode says the group spread out across the various courts for everything from "knock out to one-on- one, three-on-three, even five-on-five."
"It was kind of cool because the current players were there, they were doing dunks and dunk contests," Harris said. "Some of the bigger guys couldn't really dunk all that well. We just watched all them, it was crazy."
The day ended with some Mission BBQ up in the Lane Stadium press box. Goode, no stranger to the quality of the food available at Virginia Tech, confesses that he's "not really into barbeque," but one part of the meal still stood out.
"The banana pudding was fantastic," Goode said.
Harris says the group then separated to talk to specific position coaches, and he got some quality time to chat with both Fuente and OL coach Vance Vice.
"Coach Vice gave us a breakdown of what the depth chart should look like when we're coming in, showing us the spots that are gonna be open and how we can potentially start as freshman, because there are so many guys they're losing after this year," Harris said. "And having conversations with Coach Fuente and Coach Vice, they're saying that when I come in I'm gonna have to play older than I am. I think they're looking at me coming in and playing earlier than I expected, so that's exciting."
Fuente also sat Gervin down for a one-on-one chat, "telling me that I'm wanted, I'm a top, top priority for them, and that I could help win a national championship." But Gervin added that Bud Foster was a constant presence with him throughout the trip, and he gave him quite the sales pitch after lunch.
"He was just saying, 'Come help change the culture, man,'" Gervin said. "Just stuff in my ear, so it was nice, kicking it with him."
He even got to break down film with Mitchell, who would be his position coach if he came to Tech, and is currently the coach (with Fuente) he says is currently spearheading his recruitment.
"He's a great guy, man," Gervin said. "Somebody I would really look up to if I were to go to Virginia Tech. He's someone I can relate to, and your position coach, you've got to pay attention to that stuff."
Jones, a 6'3"-prospect who's yet unranked by the 247Sports Composite, sat down with the defensive staff as well. He says RBs coach Zohn Burden told him the Hokies would be interested in having him play any position along the defensive line when he offered him earlier in July, and the staff affirmed that interest last weekend.
"I tend to lose like 20 pounds during the season, and right now I'm 275 to 280, I tend to stay within that," Jones said. "But I know at the college level, you tend to put on 10 pounds within the first few weeks, so I'll most likely be a defensive tackle, that's the reality."
Harris says the team finished off the afternoon with a final speech from Fuente on the field at Lane, as well as a few group photos.
"It was really crazy because that picture we took was only half the recruits, because a good majority had to leave early," Goode said. "So it was kind of crazy to think I have a lot more teammates coming in with me."
Goode says those recruits who did stick around afterward got to spend some quality time with some current players. Harris remembers seeing Terrell Edmunds and Tremaine Edmunds around throughout the whole day, and Gervin says he spent time with Adonis Alexander and fellow Michigan product Kalil Pimpleton too.
"Pimp, he already knew I liked VT," Gervin said. "It was really the other dudes I didn't know, Terrell, Adonis, they were just talking to me like, 'You like it here, man? I know you've got other big offers, but what you think about us? Come here and play, man.' So it was cool, just vibing, seeing how I like it."
Gervin has a simple answer as to whether or not he's taking that talk from Edmunds and Alexander seriously: "It's DBU, man, they're definitely part of that DBU talk."
Accordingly, Gervin is planning on taking an official visit to Blacksburg sometime this fall, either for the Clemson game or homecoming against UNC, depending on his family's schedule.
If he does make the trip for the Clemson game, it sounds like he'll hardly be the only one.
"A lot of my teammates are gonna take an official to that game," Goode said. "But it's an easy four or five hour drive for me, so they're gonna take an official, and I'll just drive down there and we'll hang out during the game and after the game."
Jones wants to make it for a game, but he isn't quite sure on a date yet. Harris plans to join in the fun on Sept. 30 with the rest of his fellow commits, though he notes that his family had to get a hotel "an hour and a half away from Blacksburg" because of the intense interest in the defending champs coming to town.
"That's going to be a crazy game," Harris said.