Digging for the Root Causes of Virginia Tech’s 2018 Struggles

I’ve been sitting on this article for a couple of weeks now. I’ve been thinking of a way to explain Virginia Tech’s lack of depth and talent at key positions and I’ve started hinting at it in past articles and tweets.

I think it’s time to explain my point, which is that Virginia Tech’s roster problems originate from a familiar source, one that’s been blamed for many of the Hokies’ misfortunes in the Justin Fuente era.

Frank Beamer wasn’t a great recruiter at the end of his coaching tenure. For all of his achievements, Beamer’s recruiting prowess wasn’t one of them as things started to wind down.

Two of Beamer’s final classes, the 2014 and 2015 classes, both turned in impactful players. But both classes also included a lot of recruiting misses that have left the Hokies without many contributing upperclassmen on this year’s roster.

Let’s roll through each of these recruiting classes and see who Tech picked up and what impact they made.

Class of 2014 (23 enrollees)

  • Holland Fisher, DB — Signed with Hokies despite off-the-field issues in high school. Redshirted first season and then transferred.
  • Shai McKenzie, RB — Starred as a true freshman until tearing his ACL midway through the season. Off-the-field issues landed him on the bench and he transferred shortly after the 2016 season.
  • Raymon Minor, LB/DE — Minor never made an impact in his Tech career and ended up leaving the team prior to the 2016 season. He returned two weeks later as a walk-on and never cracked the two-deep. Minor is no longer on the team.
  • Travon McMillian, RB — Ran for 1,043 yards as a freshman in 2015 and failed to mesh with Justin Fuente’s offense. McMillian graduated and transferred after the 2017 season to Colorado. Through 10 games, McMillian has 910 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns.
  • Chris Durkin, QB — Never became a serious contender for the starting job and later moved to tight end. Durkin transferred after the 2016 season.
  • Ricky Walker, DT — Played in 47 career games for Virginia Tech, registering 6.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.
  • Isaiah Ford, WR — Immediately became a star player for Tech, starting 39 career games in three seasons. Ford finished his Tech career with two 1,000-yard seasons and 24 career touchdown receptions. Ford was drafted in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
  • Marshawn Williams, RB — Impacted the team as a true freshman until tearing his ACL midway through his freshman season. Multiple knee injuries prevented him from getting back onto the field until 2016. Williams tore his ACL again vs. Notre Dame, famously playing through the rest of the game. Williams retired from football after the season.
  • Melvin Keihn, DE — Transferred to Maryland prior to the 2015 season. After graduating, Keihn transferred to Richmond for his final year of eligibility.
  • Cam Phillips, WR — Impacted team immediately as a freshman and played in 49 career games for Virginia Tech. Phillips finished his career with 3,027 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s currently on the Buffalo Bills’ active roster.
  • Vinny Mihota, DT — Full-time starter from 2016-2017 before tearing his ACL towards the end of the 2017 season. Moved to defensive tackle prior to this season and has played in nine games.
  • CJ Reavis, DB — Transferred from Virginia Tech for unknown reasons after the 2014 season. After a year at the JUCO level, Reavis transferred to Marshall and played two seasons. Reavis is currently with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
  • Andrew Ford, QB — Ford transferred to Massachusetts and earned the starting quarterback role. Ford has 57 passing touchdowns in his career and is out for the rest of this season due to a knee injury.
  • Colt Pettit, TE — Enrolled as an offensive lineman but failed to earn a starting role. Moved to tight end in his final season and left the program with his degree as a redshirt junior.
  • Kendrick Holland, WR — Left the program after the 2014 season.
  • Eric Gallo, OL — Made 38 career starts at Virginia Tech and was named a captain as a senior.
  • DJ Reid, RB — Never earned consistent playing time and left the program prior to the 2017 season.
  • Billy Ray Mitchell, OL — Battled injuries throughout his career and retired from football prior to the 2017 season.
  • Terrell Edmunds, DB — Started consistently after redshirting his first season. Finished career with six career interceptions and was drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
  • Jaylen Bradshaw, WR — Failed to make an impact and left the the program after the 2016 season.
  • Greg Stroman, DB — Three-year starter at Tech, making nine career interceptions. Stroman also finished his career with four punt return touchdowns.
  • Shawn Payne, DB — Failed to make an impact and transferred prior to the 2015 season.
  • Steve Sobczak, DT — Poised to crack the two-deep for the 2017 season but left the program due to personal reasons.

Eight players from this class (McMillian, Walker, Isaiah Ford, Phillips, Mihota, Gallo, Edmunds and Stroman) made significant impacts while at Virginia Tech.

Three of those players left early (McMillian, Ford, Edmunds), but only two of them would be eligible to play in 2018 (McMillian and Edmunds).

Fifteen players (Fisher, McKenzie, Minor, Durkin, Williams, Keihn, Reavis, Andrew Ford, Pettit, Reid, Payne, Sobczak, Holland, Bradshaw, Mitchell) from this class never made a serious impact at Virginia Tech and all of them left the program early.

Class of 2015 (21 enrollees)

  • Tim Settle, DT — Started one full season, left school early and was taken in fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
  • Austin Clark, OL — Failed to make an impact and left the program in 2016.
  • Dwayne Lawson, QB — Redshirted as a freshman and transferred prior to the 2016 season.
  • Yosuah Nijman, OL — Played in 12 games as a freshman and has made 31 career starts.
  • Xavier Burke, DT — Recruited as a tight end, later switched to defensive end and then defensive tackle. Has played in 20 games but has made zero career starts.
  • Mook Reynolds, DB — Played 34 career games for Tech, starting both at safety and whip linebacker. Dismissed from team prior to 2018 season due to off-the-field issues.
  • Trevon Hill, DE — Totaled 11.5 career sacks in 29 games for the Hokies. Dismissed from program during 2018 season after “not upholding the high standards that we have for our student-athletes at Virginia Tech.”
  • Tremaine Edmunds, LB — Played 35 career games for the Hokies, totaling 33 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Left school early and was drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
  • Deshawn McClease, RB — Played in 21 career games for Hokies.
  • Darius Fullwood, DT — Played in 23 career games but has failed to make an on-field impact.
  • Jahque Alleyne, DB — Transferred from Virginia Tech after 2017 season.
  • DuWayne Johnson, DB — Transferred from Virginia Tech after 2017 season.
  • Harry Lewis, DT — Transferred from Virginia Tech prior to the 2016 season.
  • Carson Lydon, LB — Transferred from Virginia Tech prior to the 2016 season.
  • Adonis Alexander, DB — Played in 32 career games for Hokies, recording seven interceptions. Declared ineligible prior to 2018 season and taken in the NFL Supplemental Draft.
  • Houshun Gaines, DE — Took over starting role late in 2017 season. Started all eight games in 2018 and has eight career sacks. Poised to start as a senior in 2019.
  • Tyrell Smith, OL — Played in 35 career games but has yet to make a start.
  • Chris Cunningham, TE — Played in 33 career games, catching 18 passes for six touchdowns.
  • D’Andre Plantin, OL — Looked poised to make an impact in 2018 but failed to do so. Announced plans to transfer in October 2018 and is set to enroll at North Texas.
  • Coleman Fox, RB — Played in 17 career games but has yet to crack the starting rotation.
  • Zacariah Hoyt, OL — Played in 11 career games, making five starts.

By my count, that’s nine recruits from this class (Settle, Nijman, Reynolds, Hill, Edmunds, McClease, Alexander, Gaines, Cunningham) that made a significant impact while at Virginia Tech.

Of those nine, three left Tech early for the NFL (Settle, Edmunds and Alexander). Two of them, Reynolds and Hill, were dismissed from the team for off-the-field issues.

Of the 2015 class, five players (Burke, Fullwood, Smith, Fox, Hoyt) have yet to make an impact at Virginia Tech.

Seven of Virginia Tech’s Class of 2015 members transferred from Virginia Tech.

The impact

Between the 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes, Virginia Tech signed 17 recruits that went on to make a significant impact at Virginia Tech.

Of those 17, seven left the program early for various reasons and would be eligible to play this season. This number does not include Isaiah Ford.

Over these two years, Virginia Tech signed 27 prospects that either failed to make an impact in Blacksburg or have yet to do so. Most of those 27 players ended up transferring.

The 2018 Virginia Tech Hokies are in desperate need of experience and veteran leadership. Unfortunately, many of the players who were meant to play those roles left the program early. Those departures have left this team devoid of any senior leadership outside of a couple guys like Ricky Walker.

Imagine how different this team would look with these players still on the roster — Travon McMillian, Terrell Edmunds, Tim Settle and Tremaine Edmunds. That doesn’t even include Trevon Hill and Mook Reynolds, who were dismissed for disciplinary reasons.

Having those four players would completely transform this year’s team. Instead, Virginia Tech is left trying to fill massive holes in their roster with young talent that simply isn’t ready to contribute.

What we have here is a perfect storm. Poor evaluation and recruiting, chronic injury problems, early defections for the NFL and off-the-field issues have created this year’s version of Virginia Tech football. Even if Justin Fuente recruited a ton of guys over the last two years who could play right away, this year’s team was hamstrung from the start.

Those of us who began the season with abounding optimism (that’s me) owe Virginia Tech fans an apology. I’m sorry. We should have known that this year’s team would take five steps back. The writing was on the wall.

Do these things explain every problem and absolve the current coaching staff of blame? No, but they provide perspective and demonstrate why Virginia Tech’s roster isn’t where it needs to be. Fixing this will take time. Early returns on Fuente’s first two recruiting classes are relatively good, which bodes well for Virginia Tech’s future.

But the present? That’s a different story.

8 thoughts on “Digging for the Root Causes of Virginia Tech’s 2018 Struggles”

  1. Two of the biggest impacts: CJ Reavis, SObczak…. Sobczak would at least provide depth at DT. Settle leaving after 1 year of starting hurt. Alot of new coaches experience turnover from old guard. SOme of these left prior to the start of Fuente’s actual first year but not surprised.

  2. Development is also an issue. Outside of Jerrod Evans, all of Fuente’s best/most impactful players were recruited by Beamer or Moorhead (Hazelton). Where is the development from this staff for guys like Watts, McClease, Patterson, Grimsley, etc. That’s also an issue.

  3. This 2 year group of players are very typical of college football players in general. 1/3 are contributors, 1/3 stick around and play a little, and 1/3 leave the program for various reasons including injuries. Nothing unusual here.

  4. Great article, young man. I hope a lot of disgruntled Hokie fans who think Bud has lost it and Fuente never had it take the time to think your logic over. Thank you.

  5. Like other Hokie fans i’m disappointed after a loss. But come on folks open your eyes! We have had more than our share of injuries, transfers and some dismissals. The Hokies have gone 25 years without a losing season, sure a lot of other schools would like to say that! We have beaten our in-state rivals 14 straight years, again how many schools can say that. Ricky, maybe you should do a piece on what the two-deep looked like at the end of spring practice and what the two-deep was for the Pitt game. Sure there are quite a few changes. I feel sure if you had told fans 25 years ago that we would go to 25 straight bowl games, beat Texas in the Sugar Bowl after Lee Corso said we didn’t belong on the same field, thanks Lee, have the lead starting the 4th quarter in the National Championship, beating “The Ohio State” at the Horseshoe no less. Some of our players seeing the field this year playing in front of 60,000+ fans were on a high school field playing in front of 3,000, that might take some adjustment! I’m excited about the Miami and the game against that other team from Virginia! With all of that being said I think Hokie fans are very fortunate to have the coaches, players and the facilities that Tech has. I guess like other teams we have our share of bandwagon fans, maybe you should ask for some Alabama gear for Christmas. As always i’ll be cheering win or lose till the clock reads 0:00. Hokies show our team “HOKIE PRIDE” and give them a shot of energy to finish this season. GO HOKIES!!!!

  6. What also worries me is that U.Va.’s recruiting in the state has picked up. If Fuente decides to make the Commonwealth of Virginia a priority again we will have more competition as C’ville is closer to them than Blacksburg. The lack of success this season is only going to make it harder. Its like we’ve been kicked 2/3 of the way down the hill and have to climb back up.

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