Tech football staff happy with recruiting haul

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – The first day of the new December national signing period for prospective football prospects came and went, and the words “odd,” “different,” and “strange” were used to describe the day by many coaching staffs around the country, including Virginia Tech’s.

“I clicked over after our staff meeting on ESPN and ESPN2, and I didn’t see all the hype that you’ve seen in the past signing days,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “So it’s interesting … it was just different, when it’s all said and done.”

Despite the oddness of the day, Tech’s staff performed quite well, adding 24 prospects to the program, including six from Virginia, five from North Carolina and four from Florida in keeping with the program’s traditional recruiting bases. The coaches focused heavily on defensive backs, offensive linemen, receivers and those listed as “athletes,” as they primarily went about injecting speed and playmaking ability on both sides of the ball.

This well-rounded class, though, isn’t quite complete. Head coach Justin Fuente said that he and his staff plan to target roughly a handful of prospects to finish out the class and hopes that those prospects sign with the Hokies during the traditional signing period, which occurs in early February.

“We still have a couple spots, though not very many, that we are still trying to chip away at,” Fuente said. “So when it is finally wrapped up, we can sit back and evaluate where it is all at. Obviously, there was a large portion of it today, and I’m incredibly happy about it. I still think there are one or two things we will work on before heading into February.”

While the staff focused defensive backs, offensive linemen and receivers, it also addressed the most important position on the field – quarterback – signing two prospects to letters of intent. The two are DeJuan Ellis, a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder from Accokeek, Maryland and Quincy Patterson II, a 6-4, 230-pounder from Chicago. Ellis threw for more than 6,500 yards and accounted for 64 touchdowns in his career, while Patterson probably received more national attention because of his participation in the Elite 11, a quarterback competition in Beaverton, Oregon.

“Skill-wise, he has that unique skill type in my opinion to do both [run and pass],” Tech offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen said. “He’s a skilled, talented runner. He has the durability to be an inside and outside runner. He has those types of instincts, talent, and he has a big-time arm. He’s really technically sound and fundamental in the way that he throws the ball, and he just has a huge ceiling from that standpoint of being able to stand in the pocket and be a big-time thrower.”

Those two quarterbacks will be joined by three receivers – all of whom stand taller than 6-2. The contingent includes 6-3 Darryle Simmons from Philadelphia, 6-2 Kaleb Smith from Bumpass, Virginia; and 6-2 Tré Turner from Oak Ridge, North Carolina. Turner may be the most accomplished of the group, as he caught 123 passes for 2,614 yards and 31 touchdowns in his career at Northwest Guilford High.

Those three figure to help a receiving corps that has lacked depth the past two seasons. In 2016, the Hokies relied heavily on Bucky Hodges, Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips. This fall, with Hodges and Ford off to the NFL, Phillips assumed much of the load, while the staff broke in younger players like Sean Savoy, Hezekiah Grimsley and Eric Kumah.

But Phillips departs, which necessitated the need to add more speed and talent at the receiver spots – which was a theme at many positions.

“I just feel like we got a little bit faster last year, and this year, we took a large step forward,” Fuente said. “You start talking about the guys who have put up the track times, and then you watch them play live and see the explosiveness. Some of them are offensive guys, and some of them are defensive guys. It is very difficult or impossible to teach somebody to run fast, but we feel like we can teach them a whole lot of other things.”

The four offensive linemen – Walker Culver from Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee; Christian Darrisaw from Upper Marlboro, Maryland; John Harris from Hoschton, Georgia; and Luke Tenuta from Crozet, Virginia – comprise the front of the future. Tailback Caleb Steward from Jacksonville, Florida and tight end James Mitchell from Big Stone Gap, Virginia add to the skill haul. Mitchell was the state’s Class 2A Offensive Player of the Year.

On defense, the Hokies desperately needed defensive backs, as cornerbacks Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson graduate, and the program lacks depth behind them. Thus, the coaches brought in six defensive backs, and they all bring height and length.

The signees include 6-1 DJ Crossen from Greensboro, North Carolina; 6-0 Chamarri Conner of Jacksonville, Florida; 6-1 Jermaine Waller from Washington, D.C.; 5-10 Nadir Thompson from Elm City, North Carolina; 6-0 Nasir Peoples from Abington, Pennsylvania; and Jeremy Webb, a 6-3, 190-pounder from ASA College, a junior college in New York.

“You know I’m really excited about Jeremy for a couple of reasons,” Foster said. “No. 1 is his ability. No. 2 is his maturity. We’re losing two corners to graduation. We’re young there, [and] we’re bringing in some young guys along this winter. Being a guy that’s mature, knows how to work, knows how to compete … I know Coach [Brian] Mitchell went out to watch him practice and watch him play and was really impressed with his work ethic and his demeanor in practice and how he approached practice – and that’s what we’re going to need.”

“I feel a little bit the same way about defensive backs the way I do about our receivers situation in terms of this – particularly last year at wideout, we had some really good players, [but] we just didn’t have great depth,” Fuente said. “We’ve been really good in the secondary, just don’t have great depth.

“When you play with five guys in the secondary, essentially three safeties and two corners, I just think it is going to take some time to catch up on some depth. I think that is the biggest reason we signed so many guys. We are trying to have three-deep at each position in the secondary. I do feel good about the amount of defensive backs and the type of players that are coming in.”

The other defense signees include defensive lineman Eli Adams from Rock Hill, South Carolina; defensive lineman Joe Kane from Wake Forest, North Carolina; and linebacker Keshon Artis from Chesapeake, Virginia. Foster compared the 5-11, 236-pound Adams to former Tech great Corey Moore.

“Eli is the guy who is the closest thing I’ve really seen to that kind of guy as far as his explosiveness, his ability to make plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage, and as far as a guy that was tough to block one-on-one, a guy that played with tremendous effort and can bend his body and redirect and can be very disruptive,” Foster said. “He’s probably a little bigger, as far as his weight and that type of thing, but he has similar characteristics, and I hope that will continue to develop that way because Corey was pretty special.”

Last, but certainly not least, the staff signed three players listed as “athletes” – those versatile enough to play any number of positions. That group includes Blacksburg native Cole Beck; 6-0 Armani Chatman from Virginia Beach, Virginia; and 6-3 Alan Tisdale from Greensboro, North Carolina.

The 6-0, 185-pound Beck, also a standout athlete in track and field, rushed for 4,723 yards and 81 touchdowns in his career, while Chatman worked mostly at receiver at Bishop Sullivan Catholic. Tisdale played mostly defense at Page High, racking up 112 tackles, including 17.5 for a loss.

The final member of the class is Oscar Shadley, a long snapper from Naples, Florida. One service considered Shadley the best long snapper in the nation, and he figures to move into the starting lineup quickly considering Colton Taylor’s pending departure.

Tech’s staff will get to work with many of these young men right away, as several plan to enroll for the spring semester. That contingent includes Adams, Crossen, Darrisaw, Kane, Shadley, Steward, Tisdale, Turner, Smith and Waller.

Now, with the signing period essentially out of the way, the staff can focus totally on preparing the team for the Camping World Bowl and the matchup against Oklahoma State. Many questioned how much recruiting would be a distraction from bowl preparations, but Fuente didn’t feel that the December signing period was that big of a deal in that regard.

“You always have recruiting going on during bowl prep,” Fuente said. “I think the date of our bowl game certainly aids us. I think the teams that had to play on Dec. 16 might have … you would have to ask them how that all went down.

“But I don’t know if the early signing day has been a distraction. You are always dealing with finals, the holidays and bowl prep, so I don’t think it was a huge issue.”

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