For most people, a flight delay can become one of the most infuriating parts of any trip out of town — but not for 2019 DT Mario Kendricks.
When the rising senior out of Kissimmee, Florida's Osceola HS made his first visit to Blacksburg last month, the weather wasn't especially kind as he tried to head home. But more time at Virginia Tech, even under less than ideal circumstances, didn't exactly strike Kendricks as a bad thing.
"His flight got delayed coming back and I called to check on him and he was like, 'Coach, don't worry about me, it's not gonna bother me to stay another day, I love it here,'" Doug Nichols, Osceola's head coach, told The Key Play. "They just blew him away."
Nichols, a West Virginia native, says he once played football with Frank Beamer's nephew, so he's no stranger to Blacksburg himself. He frequently urged Kendricks to get down to Southwest Virginia after the Hokies offered him in May, but Nichols wasn't prepared for just how much the DT would enjoy the trip.
"I remember texting him getting off the plane, saying, 'This place is beautiful, the trees, the mountains, the whole deal,'" Nichols said. "He took one official to Indiana right afterward, and he was like two days into that one so I texted him and he said, 'It's ok, but it's not like Blacksburg...I don't know what they did, but they knocked it out of the park with that kid."
Kendricks says part of the Hokies' strategy was simply to give him a players-eye view of Blacksburg, pairing him up with DE Zion Debose to stay with for the trip. He says that made him feel "like I was in college already," which certainly didn't hurt Tech's chances.
But he stresses that the real deciding factor in his decision to take the plunge and commit to Tech was the strength of his relationship with DL coach Charley Wiles, who's spent years recruiting Kendricks' Florida stomping grounds for Tech.
"He's like a father to me," Kendricks said. "He's very understanding."
Certainly, Kendricks says he's impressed by Justin Fuente as well, praising his "very straightforward" demeanor. But he adds that he chose to reveal his decision to Wiles, rather than the head Hokie himself, before he left Blacksburg, even though he wouldn't announce his decision publicly until June 30.
That hardly surprised Nichols, who views Wiles' courtship of Kendricks as the "number one reason" the Hokies landed the DT.
"We've got a great defensive line coach, and he's a lot like Coach Wiles," Nichols said. "He's gonna coach your ass off of you and get after you, but he's also gonna love you on the side too, and I think Mario gets that same sense from Coach Wiles...He told me he felt like Coach Wiles was a guy he wanted to play for."
But Kendricks adds that it wasn't simply Wiles' familiar demeanor that earned him high marks. His long history in Blacksburg alongside Bud Foster was awfully relevant as well.
"It played a lot into it, because I just have more trust with coaches like that, instead of coaches that spend time with me and then leave," Kendricks said.
Whatever the reasons Kendricks picked Tech, Nichols believes the Hokies are getting a "steal of kid." Kendricks is rated a 3-star (0.8560) prospect by the 247Sports Composite ranking, and had chosen programs like NC State, Iowa State and Louisville as his finalists, but Nichols says even programs as prominent as Clemson and Michigan had started "dabbling around" with Kendricks before he committed.
"You hate to brag on a kid, but he's a freaking four-year starter for a very good program," Nichols said. "The kid doesn't miss workouts, he doesn't miss practice, he doesn't take plays off."
Kendricks, who stands at about 6'1" and 280 pounds, says the Hokies envision him fitting in at defensive tackle when he gets to Tech, even though he's spent the bulk of his time at DE in high school. But Nichols says that was more a factor of the quality of Osceola's other players at tackle — '18 UVA signee Jordan Redmon and '18 Wake Forest signee Dion Bergan — than it was Kendricks' own shortcomings.
"He's a quick enough guy to play out on the edge, but now you're going to stick his butt inside with that quick first step, he's gonna cause some havoc," Nichols said. "He still probably got 10 to 15 snaps per game on the inside, but those last couple years his primary position was an edge guy, and he'll be inside strictly for us this year."
Perhaps most importantly, however, Nichols suspects Kendricks' work ethic will set him apart at Tech.
"He told us he would commit on the 30th, which is a Saturday," Nichols said. "What kind of kid is he? He showed up at my house at 8 o'clock on a Saturday to help wash the roof of my house. That's the type of kid he is. A lot of kids would be sitting around saying, 'I'm gonna sign today, I'm big, I'm all this,' but not him. He's just a very modest, humble kid.'"
Kendricks says he's looking forward to getting back to Blacksburg for an official visit, likely for the Notre Dame game. In the meantime, he says he has a group text going to stay in touch with fellow Floridian Norell Pollard and the other members of Tech's rapidly growing 2019 class.
"It seems like we have a bright future," Kendricks said.