Recruiting is a fickle beast. One day, you’re up and the momentum is squarely on your side. The next day, you’re the short stack and the mob waits at the gates.
Virginia Tech and Justin Fuente have endured plenty of weeks like this, especially over the last two weeks. Since April 31, Tech has secured three commitments and pushed themselves into contention for a top-25 class nationally.
The positives started with a commitment from Will Johnson, a three-star linebacker from Maryland. Just a few days later, four-star receiver Latrell Neville committed and on Friday, three-star defensive tackle Tyas Martin jumped aboard.
In between the commitments, five-star cornerback Tony Grimes announced his top eight schools, leaving out the in-state Hokies. Grimes’ list caused plenty of consternation among fans, some reasonable and some extreme.
Go (Mid)west, Virginia Tech
An overwhelming majority of football programs are building their rosters on the backs of out-of-state commitments, a concept thought ludicrous in just 15 or 20 years ago.
Fuente and his staff, who hold deep ties to the Midwest, are starting to expand Virginia Tech’s map. The Hokies are becoming an increasingly relevant team in Texas, a state rich with talent.
Virginia Tech signed two Texas players in the 2020 class — defensive ends Alec Bryant and Robert Wooten. They just happened to be Tech’s highest-rated recruits in the class and if things continue as expected this year, another Texas player could top the list.
Creating a foothold in Texas opens up doors that weren’t even built five or six years ago. Texas’ population ensures that there’s plenty of Power 5 talent in the state and in a state with so much elite talent, some players often go overlooked. Their success in Texas may be spreading, as evidenced by Martin, an Arkansas native. Increasing your options to go sign players is a definite positive.
Consistent struggles in the Commonwealth
While Tech expands its reach into the Midwest, there’s no denying that struggles are continuing in the Commonwealth. These struggled predate the Grimes’ recruitment, which is just another data point in a growing set of data.
Devon Hunter’s signing was supposed to start a trend in Virginia of elite-level talent giving the Hokies a serious look and eventually, some of them signing with Virginia Tech. Hunter’s arrival hasn’t had the desired effect.
Since 2018, the year after Hunter’s signing, Virginia Tech has signed just three of the Commonwealth’s top-10 prospects and just one of Virginia’s top-5 prospects. The Hokies have repeatedly missed on their top targets in the state, whether it be Ricky Slade in 2018, Brandon Smith and Devyn Ford in 2019 or Chris Tyree and KeAndre Lambert in 2020.
Let’s be clear — no reasonable person is arguing that Virginia Tech should own the state’s elite talent and sign a majority of the top-10 every cycle. However, it’s vital to the program’s reputation and future success that the Hokies perform better in state and right now, it just isn’t happening.
These three recent commitments all represent positive developments. Johnson holds offers from several Power 5 schools and might be a bit better than his .8405 rating on 247Sports. Neville’s offer list is chock full of Power 5 programs, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Ohio State. Martin is a middle of the road prospect but at 6-foot-3 and 318 pounds, he gives an undersized defensive line plenty of beef.
As of April 10, Virginia Tech’s Class of 2021 is ranked 20th in the country and fourth in the ACC. Their average recruit rating of .8731 is .0233 points higher than Tech’s 2020 class. Tech’s headliner is four-star quarterback Dematrius Davis, the sixth-best dual-threat quarterback in the nation.
Virginia Tech’s Class of 2021 is certainly on pace to beat last year’s cycle, but nuance is needed when discussing the bigger picture. The Hokies’ average recruit rating of .8731 is below the four schools directly behind them in the rankings — California, LSU, Kansas State and Oklahoma. It’s also lower than Nebraska (27th), Florida State (29th), Auburn (31st), Texas A&M (32nd), Pittsburgh (42nd) and Washington (46th). Tech is head of these other programs in the overall rankings because they have more commitments.
The point is this — if schools take the same amount of kids and you base the rankings strictly on average recruit rating, Tech would fall outside the top-20 and perhaps outside the top-30.
That doesn’t mean the Hokies won’t improve that average recruit rating. Virginia Tech is considered a serious contender for four-star prospects Kelvin Gilliam and Naquan Brown, both prospects from Virginia. Four-star prospects Tyleik Williams and Anthony Beavers are also possibilities. Even if Tech were to sign just two of these four prospects, it would go a long way towards boosting the overall quality of the class.