On February 2nd, Knox Kadum verbally committed to Virginia Tech. It was less than two weeks after his original commitment to play at James Madison.
"I thought when I committed to JMU like, 'hey that's it, I'm done,' and next thing I know Virginia Tech's calling," said Kadum.
"I took an official visit to JMU, I guess on the 26th or 27th. I committed on that Sunday, then that Tuesday morning the following week, coach [Brad] Cornelsen hit me up and said they were losing their second QB, and they needed somebody. They'd talked to me for about the past year and a half about how I was atop of their board, but they never needed a 2019 guy. So, when he called and said he wanted to come watch me do a workout on Wednesday, I knew there was a high possibility of that offer coming. So, we did it; he offered right away, and we already had a pretty good relationship, but we built a stronger one over the week. The whole staff, I really started to connect with them. I went there on my official visit the next weekend, and it just felt like home. They really made me feel like family, like I was already part of the program. And ya know, that's a big thing for me, me being 6 hours away. I wanna be around what feels like family because I'm not gonna have my family around there every day."
His path to Virginia Tech is unique, and actually quite surprising to those around the Rome (Georgia) football program, where Kadum was a four-year starter. Count offensive coordinator Chris Boden among those surprised at his pupil's offer list, or lack thereof.
"We've had many people come to practice," said Boden. "Georgia's OC spent an entire practice with us evaluating just Knox. He left and pulled [head] coach [John] Reid and myself aside and said, 'that kid can play in the SEC, no question 'bout it. It's just I got two young QB's, so we're not gonna pull the trigger. But, I can't believe some of the other SEC teams haven't. I know right now that I can win games in the SEC with that kid.'"
Those other SEC teams never pulled the trigger though. Kadum's only two Power Five offers came from the Hokies and Rutgers.
"I didn't pay too much attention to recruiting," said Kadum. "But at the same time, it was bit of a shocker to me. I just thought with the things I'd done in high school, that that was gonna attract and bring me Power Five offers. But ya know, I trusted what I had and trusted my coaches and that the Lord would put me where I needed to be."
According to Boden, Kadum's rise to QB1 over a career that included back-to-back 5A state championships (2016-17) is an interesting one.
"We got here in January of Knox's 8th grade year," said Boden. "I started in March, and just started working with the guys who were varsity football players. Knox was not one of them. And then, as time went on, we're about to start spring practice. We have this quarterback school where we just teach them how to be quarterbacks. I just started looking, and I was thinking 'hey this young kid is pretty good.' I was focused on a couple older guys we had, and I would just noticed him and work with him a little bit, but nothing big. Well, when we got to spring practice, Knox wasn't involved. So I went to coach Reid one day and said, 'hey coach, why don't we bring this rising 9th grader up here with us and just let him practice, and if he can't do it, we'll move him back to 9th grade ball,' and he was so busy he was just like 'eh whatever.'
"So we brought him up and went through the rest of spring. That summer leading into his 9th grade year, we go away to a padded camp. I'm rotating quarterbacks, and we're playing a school that has a D1 defensive end. Well someone had set a big camera tower right behind our offense. Well this guy drills Knox, Knox goes flying into this camera tower. Knox is just 14, and he comes back to me and he's a little teary eyed and I go 'Hey! You get back out there, you're the toughest kid out there you understand me!' and he just says 'yes sir,' and in the back of my head i'm thinking, 'oh my goodness what am I doing to this poor kid he's gonna get killed out there.'
"It came to the first game, I said 'Okay guys, I'm gonna rotate all of y'all. All of y'all are doing some good, some bad. I want a look at all of you.' And I said first drive, 'Come here Knox you're going in,' and he started, went down the field, threw a touchdown pass. I thought, 'hey that's pretty good'. First game ever, he's 14, and I'm thinking 'Holy mackerel, he doesn't even know he's 14.' Then I rotated a couple of the other guys, and it went like that for a bit. At the end of the game, we needed a two minute drive to win the game, and i put Knox in. He took us down the field, threw a fade for a touchdown right at the end of the game for us to win it. So, that's his first game ever. The next game we kept rotating between three guys. The third game he started and it became apparently clear that he was the guy. And after that we just said, hey we're just playing this guy."
That freshman season, Kadum completed 142 of 226 passes (62.8%) for 1,910 yards and 16 touchdowns. Over his four-year career, Kadum completed 477 of 739 (64.5%) for 7,402 yards, 78 touchdowns, and only 15 interceptions (he threw no interceptions his senior year). Although the 247Sports Composite ranks Kadum as a 3-star (0.8315) pro-style quarterback, Kadum ran for 2,414 yards and 37 touchdowns over his 49-6 career.
"I'm listed as a PRO, but everyone here around Rome thinks of me as a dual threat," said Kadum. "I just kinda run whatever play is called. I think the offense [Justin Fuente] runs up there and the offense we run down here are very similar. In my official this past weekend, we sat down for about 45 minutes and just wrote down plays, schemes, concepts, things like that. And it's all very relative and similar, mostly just different wording on the plays that I'm already running. The biggest thing for me is just gonna silly be learning all the calls and the speed of the game. And like I said, that just takes time with reps."
And the learning process for Kadum has already started even though he won't be on campus until the summer.
"Coach Cornelsen's already sending me plays, he's already got me on a 20-week plan up until I get there, stuff I need to do every day to increase my abilities. I've already talked to my current OC here in high school and we're gonna do these drills together. He's gonna push me. So, I'm just gonna work like I'm already up there. Cornelsen's already set up about 4 days where he's gone come down here and visit and quiz me on the plays, so I think I'll be as ready as possible when I get up there."
Cornelsen sent the playbook the second Kadum signed on February 6th. The aforementioned plan also came with an offseason workout and conditioning program. Footwork, as well as overall strength and body mass, will be a major area focus for Kadum. On film, you can see that Kadum has a tendency to throw off his front foot, diminishing the velocity on his throws. Tech's passing game is vastly reliant on timing routes and quick throws, many of which take some serious arm strength (10-yard slant, 8-yard out to opposite sideline, etc...). Kadum's film doesn't really show elite "arm strength" consistently, which is actually a product of not generating power through his legs and/or core when he throws. However, there are clips in which he does step into throws and puts a bit more zip on the ball.
Kadum's top attribute is his efficiency. A 78-15 touchdown to interception ratio speaks for itself. And he's didn't exactly play against cupcakes.
"He's just a gamer," said Boden. "It's hard to find a better competitor. He just does a great job understanding the offense and handling the pressure. He's played in some unbelievable big games over the past few years. He's beaten some teams that I don't know if we had the right to beat 'em, but we did."
That big-game experience is coupled with the weight of expectations that come with playing at a southern powerhouse.
"Just having the expectations to win it every year, to never lose a game and all that kind stuff, it really built me as a QB in the aspect of how i perform and what I bring every week to practice and to the games," said Kadum. "That really drove me. I think being in this program and playing in it for 4 years is gonna help me tremendously to compete, because at this level, at this high school, we're getting the best shot. Whether it's a team that's 0-10 or 10-0, we're getting their best every week. So, we had to compete no matter who our opponent was. I think that's really gonna help me in this quarterback competition and at the next level as a whole."
Kadum's handled those expectations for years. The big moments under Georgia's Friday night lights only seemed to enhance his game.
"His freshman year we finished 4th ranked in the region, we're 8-4 that year, and we had to go to number one in the state Stevenson, who is a powerhouse," said Boden. "They sign fifteen D1 kids every year over in Atlanta. We go over to their place for a first round game his freshman year, and their d-line is incredible. I mean Knox is getting hit really for the first time all year a lot. But, their offense isn't great so our defense is really holding the score close. So it's 6-0 and we need a one minute and something left drive, no time on the clock and he throws a back shoulder throw for touchdown to tie it. We kick the extra point and win."
Kadum is joining a Hokies program that, after an optically tumultuous offseason, is rallying around the influx of young talent over the last two recruiting classes.
"I love that," Kadum said. "That gets me excited. To be a part of this program, just seeing the guys they're bringing in, where they're coming from. All these guys are coming in with the same mentality: to get to ACC championships and push for the big time NY6 bowl game or college football playoff. I think we're all gonna be on the same page coming in to work towards that. And there's that strong aspect of winning at Virginia Tech and wanting to take over the ACC, so I'm fired up to play with these guys."