The Hokies are set to put the finishing touches on their most talented recruiting class in years when the 2018 cycle wraps up next month — but if Tech's latest junior day is any indication, the 2019 class won't be too shabby either.
Justin Fuente managed to convince all manner of top 2019ers to head to Blacksburg for the Jan. 14 event, and 4-star prospects from DB Tayvion "Tank" Land to OL Bryan Hudson made the trip for the big day.
And to hear attendees tell it, the star power was pretty noticeable.
"I felt like I was around all elite dudes," said 2019 OG Jesse Hanson of Daleville's Lord Botetourt HS. "Pretty much everyone there had some other elite offer or had another impressive school coming after them."
But even with so many top prospects in attendance, the recruits who swung through Blacksburg for the day don't remember anyone on the coaching staff playing favorites. In fact, many of them couldn't help but notice just how even-handed Fuente proved to be, working to make every recruit on campus feel welcome, no matter their star rating.
"It doesn't matter who you are, he'll always talk to you," said OG Riley Simonds out of Buford (Ga.) HS. "Whether it's a little five-year-old kid or a five-star recruit, it doesn't matter. He'll always be right there and talk to you."
It would seem Fuente and the rest of the coaches put a premium on spending some one-on-one time with the 2019ers on hand to try and showcase that sort of egalitarian attitude — as S Khalid Martin out of Kernersville, N.C.'s East Forsyth HS put it, the day's structure "just let the coaches pick our brains and we picked theirs as well."
That's not to say that the day lacked for some of the usual trappings of a Virginia Tech junior day. The recruits got a full campus tour, tried on some jerseys in the locker room and got to eat lunch in a Lane Stadium box — Hanson is sure to note that meal was "awesome," as the Hokies opted for catering "from a barbeque place, but they had three different meats."
After lunch wrapped up, Hanson added that visitors also got to meet new strength coach Kody Cooke and got a little motivation to burn some of those calories.
"He was showing us pictures of guys he's coached, like 'this is a guy after six months,' and it's ridiculous, and here's a guy after three years, and it's a whole new dude," Hanson said. "They showed us one lineman who was just crazy. I want a before and after picture like that. It was insane."
Yet the recruits say the bulk of the event was dominated by small group meetings with various members of the coaching staff. The visitors gathered for meetings with their would-be position coaches, and Hanson says OL coach Vance Vice covered every inch of what life is like as a Hokie.
"He was talking about what happens in the position meeting, what they talk about, what he likes in a football player and how they work," Hanson said. "He was talking about their different hard weeks that they have in practice, so he brought us through a whole week in Tech football. On Mondays they have off, then Tuesday is a super-long practice, really hard, and it gets gradually easier and easier. And then he talked about how each period (of practice) goes, and what's it like to be one of his guys."
Simonds, who's rated a 3-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite ranking, remembers Vice making his philosophy as a coach perfectly clear during the gathering as well.
"He just said that whoever works hardest and does the best will start," Simonds said. "He'll put the best five guys out there whether they've been there for five years, five days or five minutes. It doesn't matter."
DE Adarious Jones out of Virginia Beach's Bishop Sullivan Catholic HS said Charley Wiles and Bud Foster lent a bit more of a historical perspective to their meeting, given their wealth of experience in Blacksburg, "showing us the way the program is headed in the right direction, telling us about the history of the program itself and just telling us what you can do here."
And Martin, a 3-star prospect according to the 247Sports Composite, came away from his position meeting so impressed with safeties coach Galen Scott that he already feels like they "look at the game through the same eyes."
"He's the ideal DB coach," Martin said. "His knack for the game, his IQ for the game, the way he looks at the game. I love Coach Scott."
As the position-specific meetings wrapped up, Fuente made a point to invite the recruits and their families to his office for some one-on-one time. Hanson guesses he and his parents spent about an hour chatting with the head Hokie, the sort of lengthy personal interaction he's only had with one other head coach: Iowa State's Matt Campbell.
"That was probably the highlight of the day," said Hanson, a 3-star prospect according to the 247Sports Composite ranking. "I got to talk to him about why I should come to Virginia Tech, what they have to offer, the whole thing. Talked about his family, talked about my family, talked about what I want to get out of college, pretty much everything."
Jones, another 3-star prospect per the 247 Composite, remembers hearing from Fuente that he's "one of their top guys in the class of 2019."
"They just let me know that they were 100 percent invested in me," Jones said.
Fuente chose to use his meeting with OG Jakai Moore out of Nokesville's Patriot HS to deliver an especially big piece of news; the Hokies were offering him.
"Coach Fuente asked me to come into his office, and then he was talking to me for a little bit and he said he'd like to offer me," said Moore, who's not ranked by the 247Sports Composite but stands at 6'6" and weighs 295 pounds. "I was kind of shocked. I felt like it was gonna happen, but I was shocked at the same time. It was weird."
The meeting was a bit less shocking for repeat Blacksburg visitors like Martin.
"He just gives off a good vibe when you're talking with him," Martin said. "A genuine vibe really, that was a big thing. Every time I get the same genuine vibe."
Simonds, who was making his third trip to Tech, was similarly struck by Fuente's consistency across his visits.
"He's always the same person every time you see him," Simonds said. "Every single interaction I've had and seen him, he's always been the same person all the time."
That's part of why Simonds is itching to get back to Blacksburg "as soon as I can." While he has a visit to Alabama coming up later this month, he's aiming to get back to Tech for either a spring practice or a spring game to spend more time around Fuente as he takes a hard look at the Hokies.
"If I did have [a list of favorite schools], they'd be at the top," Simonds said.
Hanson feels the Hokies will end up "at the top" of his list too, as he narrows things down. He plans to visit UVA this coming weekend, but he expects he'll return to Blacksburg before too long.
Moore says he's similarly unsure of when exactly he'll get back to campus, with a South Carolina visit on tap this weekend, but he's also quite certain that he'll be back sometime soon.
"I actually plan on going back to Blacksburg soon, because I like Virginia Tech a lot," Moore said. "Everyone talks good about the school. Everyone I talk to loves Virginia Tech."
Jones is hoping to visit everywhere from Alabama to Clemson to LSU in the coming months, but he too foresees a return trip to Tech in the near future, perhaps for a basketball game "just so I can have some time on campus and be around and see how it really is day to day."
Martin is more definitive on his plans: "If I don't get back for the spring game, I'm definitely going to a game this year."
"Virginia Tech is definitely one of the top programs in my list," Martin said. "I always found Virginia Tech to be an amazing program. Growing up, watching Michael Vick play there, watching a lot of ballers come in and out of Virginia Tech. That tradition of dogs coming in and out of the program, and the way the program has been throughout the years, Virginia Tech is definitely a top program on my list."