The Devyn Ford Decision and What It Means for Virginia Tech’s Future

Class of 2019 running back Devyn Ford announced his commitment to Penn State on Friday. (Photo via @TsunamiFord on Twitter)

May 18, 2018 has come and gone, and Class of 2019 running back Devyn Ford is not a Hokie. Instead, Ford is heading to Penn State.

The news isn’t good for Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ coaching staff put a ton of time into this recruitment. For the last several years, members of the Virginia Tech staff have been in contact and developing a relationship with Ford. But Ford won’t be driving to Blacksburg any time soon.

What does this mean for the Virginia Tech football program? Let’s look at this decision from a few different angles.

Where did this go wrong?

The answer is unclear. Ford seemed to be a “Virginia Tech lean” for most of his recruitment but after his official visit to Penn State on April 21, the landscape seemed to shift. Just a few weeks later, Ford announced his commitment to the Nittany Lions.

Virginia Tech poured their heart and soul into Ford’s recruitment. The Hokies likely spent an astonishing amount of money and time on recruiting Ford over the last few years, making countless trips to North Stafford High School and to Ford’s home.

Virginia Tech did not lose this recruitment due to a lack of effort. The Hokies made it clear to Ford that he was their prime target in the Class of 2019. Virginia Tech hasn’t recruited many running backs in this class prior to Ford’s decision and given the Hokies’ unimpressive depth chart at the position, Ford could have started right away.

Instead, Ford chose to sit behind former five-star recruit Miles Sanders and freshman five-star prospect Ricky Slade.

In-state recruiting issues

Speaking of Ricky Slade, Virginia Tech has a clear problem recruiting in the state of Virginia, particularly when it comes to the elite prospects in the state.

Starting with the Class of 2016, Virginia Tech has landed one top-five prospect from Virginia — defensive back Devon Hunter. Every other top-five prospect from the state has gone elsewhere.

A few of these prospects are more disappointing than others. In 2017, Virginia Tech missed out on running back Khalan Laborn (Florida State) and defensive end Jordan Williams (Clemson). In 2018, Tech missed out on running back Ricky Slade (Penn State), linebacker Teradja Mitchell (Ohio State) and offensive lineman Nana Asiedu (Penn State). Virginia Tech recruited each of these prospects heavily and failed to land any of them or in some cases, failed to even generate mutual interest.

The failures at running back have set the Hokies’ offense back in more ways than one. Virginia Tech doesn’t have a running back on the roster that can do multiple things well, or even a running back that does one thing really well. Sure, Virginia Tech’s rushing attack improved towards the end of last season but that doesn’t erase Tech’s 54th-best rushing attack in 2017.

Virginia Tech has prioritized three elite-level running backs in each of the last three recruiting cycles — Laborn, Slade and Ford — and has missed on all three of them. These failures on the recruiting trail have begun to affect the on-field product and will continue to affect the product for the next few seasons.

Devyn Ford took his official visit to Virginia Tech on April 14. (Photo via @TsumaniFord on Twitter)

Patience is needed

Recruiting at an elite level doesn’t usually happen overnight, especially when your campus is nestled in the mountains far away from a burgeoning area like Washington D.C. or Raleigh, N.C. The fact of the matter is that it takes a certain kind of person to want to spend four to five years in a town like Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech is in the process of a rebuild. Frank Beamer left talent in the cupboard but there were glaring problems with the program’s foundation. Just like repairing an old house, these things take time.

That said, the Class of 2019 was supposed to be the time where Virginia Tech’s long-term relationships with recruits would start to produce results. Justin Fuente and Co. have been recruiting Devyn Ford for a long time now and don’t have many excuses for why they were unable to secure Ford’s commitment. Make no mistake about it, this is a major setback for Virginia Tech.

However, one can’t paint the entire Virginia Tech picture with a gloomy color. The Hokies have had mild success on the recruiting trail since Fuente’s arrival in Blacksburg. In each of the last two recruiting cycles, the Hokies have hit on their top target. In the 2017 class, Virginia Tech signed Devon Hunter. In the 2018 class, the Hokies signed blue-chip linebacker Dax Hollifield. Virginia Tech placed just outside the top-25 recruiting classes in 2017, per the 247Sports Composite rating, and finished 24th in 2018. Progress is being made, even if it is slow progress.

Summing it all up

Devyn Ford’s commitment to Penn State is a blow to Virginia Tech. The Hokies put most of their eggs into the Ford basket and lost. Ford’s decision to go to Penn State also highlights an even bigger problem for the Hokies — the constant draining of Virginia talent by other schools. Virginia Tech is struggling to sign the top recruits in the state and this will prevent Tech from taking the next step as a program.

The solution is to win. Tech’s juggernaut program of the late 1990’s and 2000’s wasn’t built on consistently signing four and five-star prospects. It was built on three-star prospects who were developed into productive players. This is the path that Fuente and the Hokies must take. Just like Beamer, Fuente must figure out how to do more with less for the time being.

If Fuente can build a consistent winner in Blacksburg, he’ll gain more credibility on the recruiting trail. Fuente needs to hover around the 10-win mark each season and pick up some marquee wins, starting with Florida State this season. Virginia Tech will never be a flashy, sexy program. But neither is Wisconsin, and the Badgers are one of the best programs in the country.

In the immortal words of the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, “Just win, baby!”

8 thoughts on “The Devyn Ford Decision and What It Means for Virginia Tech’s Future”

  1. Excellent article, but does not go deep enough into the reason we are unsuccessful in the State of Virginia! Virginia Tech has not had a consistent running game since David Wilson left for the NFL. The current offense is supposed to be fast paced with a focus on passing with the running game in support of the pass; I won’t go into what I think is the problem, but when the offense takes a consistent slow down approach and then hands off to a flat footed running back it does not set the running game up for much success.
    We need to be blatantly honest; Frank Beamer became complacent over the last few years. It happened around the time he had a quarterback controversy with Sean Glennon, Frank did not handle it properly. Did you notice after that point in time he could not recruit a top notch quarterback, the best in Virginia left for out of state schools?
    Frank Beamer left the in state recruiting funnel in a shambles. At the time of his departure or forced retirement, Frank regressed the recruiting process back to the time when he inherited Bill Dooley’s problems/issues in the late 1980’s.
    Justin Fuente inherited a mess that he is starting to clean up and make inroads again in the State of Virginia. It is all good, remember over a year ago he flipped Dylan Rivers from Penn State and I hope he can do it again.
    Go Hokies!

    1. Ah, another lets blame it on Frank – good thing he did so well for Tech or we wouldn’t be complaining when Tech doesn’t. Anytime a great coach like Frank gets up in age you know other teams are using that as an excuse. Also, he was old school and did not use the flashy approach used by other schools. That said it is pathetic that you have decided to take it out on him. There will never again be the level of success that he was able to produce.

  2. State College is an older Blacksburg. Otherwise the towns are very similar…..located in the mountains away from any major city. Don’t think this has anything to do with it. True the stadium is bigger and the fan numbers are higher but I believe the success of Barkley is a major reason for Slade and Ford ending up at Penn State. They both think they can be the next guy. And I’m sure Franklin is playing that card.

  3. Live by the pass, die by the pass.
    Simple… VT isn’t a run-first team anymore.
    RBs will go elsewhere (and have).
    Focus on QBs and WRs.

  4. It stings, yes. But it should also teach us to not get so caught up in a 17 or 18 year-old’s thinking process. Until they actually commit, I’ll let the professionals (recruiters) do their thing leading up to a commitment and save myself from frantically picking petals off a daisy – will he, won’t he?

  5. WOW !
    What’s all of the recruiting ‘tears’ all about ? Penn State has been an elite college football school almost forever; Virginia Tech no where near the same ! If Mr. Vick can’t do the job of ‘swaying’, then who the hell can ? What are the chances of the Hokies regularly beating out Penn State, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan and
    Clemson for recruits ? Just about ZERO ! I know it ! You know it ! It appears that the Tech football staff is the only group of people that didn’t get the memo ! How many more ‘setbacks’ are in the future before the recruiting news gets better ? A LOT ?

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