February 8, 2010
    Tech's quarterback position gets an infusion of bodies and talent

    Last spring, Virginia Tech quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain had the unusually small – and somewhat alarming – grand total of two quarterbacks to work with for the Hokies’ spring drills. Returning starter Tyrod Taylor and green freshman Ju-Ju Clayton were the lone true quarterbacks in the program.

    But O’Cain will have six quarterbacks in the fold when the Hokies open the 2010 spring practice in a few weeks, with a seventh set to join the team this summer.

    “It’s quite a change,” O’Cain said. “We had a depth issue last year at quarterback with just Tyrod and Ju-Ju. It was imperative for us to recruit several good quarterbacks and now we have a number of very talented throwers in the program.”

    Last year’s signee, Logan Thomas, impressed the coaches as a quarterback last year, and the Hokies landed two highly touted quarterbacks with their recent recruiting class: Ricardo Young of Washington, D.C., who has already enrolled at Tech for this semester, and Delray Beach, Fla., product Mark Leal, who will join the program this summer.

    Blacksburg High School product Trey Gresh and Bluefield’s Will Cole will also join the program as walk-ons, giving the Hokies the most depth at quarterback in the Frank Beamer era at Tech.

    “We’ve got a lot of bodies, and we’ll evaluate this spring what we’ve got and who can fill what roles,” O’Cain said. “Clearly, Tyrod is our starter, and we’ll have to see who is No. 2 and No. 3. There are clearly opportunities for each of these young men and the competition will be good for them, and good for our program. There are a lot of smart guys with good arms in the mix.”

    Young, who was recruited to Tech by receivers coach Kevin Sherman, was first-team All-Met by The Washington Post after throwing for 2,461 yards and 21 touchdowns last season for Woodson High School in D.C. He was named the D.C. Player of the Year. He is currently enrolled at Tech and will go through spring practice, which starts on March 31.

    Leal, the latest in a continuing line of Hokies from Atlantic High School in Delray Beach, threw for 2,255 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. He was recruited to Tech by defensive line coach Charley Wiles and joins David Clowney, Brandon Flowers and Jayron Hosley as former Atlantic Eagles who have come to Tech.

    Ricardo Young
    “What you say about Ricardo, you can say about Mark,” O’Cain said. “Both kids are very athletic and can move around in the pocket, and both throw it well. They are very similar in that regard and both played in highly sophisticated passing offenses in high school. This isn’t a situation were the offense was based on them running around. They played on teams that threw the ball a lot.

    “They both can run, but I’m impressed with how each guy throws it. Ricardo is taller and thinner. Mark is a little thicker. That’s the physical difference, but they both have leadership intangibles and are excellent throwers.”

    Young became familiar with Tech through Theo Miller and Josh Morgan, two other former Hokies from the Woodson pipeline. He said he picked Tech over offers from West Virginia, Maryland, Louisville, Clemson, Nebraska, Rutgers, Illinois and New Mexico.

    “Everything about Tech just felt right,” Young said. “The coaching. The system. Coach Beamer. The ability to produce good quarterbacks. Tech just had it all.”

    Eager to get a head start on his college career, Young enrolled at Tech for the spring semester and is taking classes now. He’ll be on the field when the Hokies open spring drills in a few weeks.

    “I wanted to get a leg up, put on some weight and develop my game,” Young said of coming to Tech early. “Everyone knows that Tyrod is going into his senior year and nobody’s going to beat him out this year. But I’d like to compete in 2011 for the job and this will give me a bit of head start.”

    Young says he weighs 174 pounds today. He’s like to get up to 190 or 195.

    “He’s frail-looking right now,” O’Cain said. “You worry about his ability to hold up, and that’s why it’s important for him to get in here, get some weight on and develop his body.”

    As for his game, Young said he prides himself on his leadership skills and his ability as a playmaker.

    “I like to make big plays and move the ball. I’m a pass-first quarterback and we ran the same offense as Virginia Tech. We ran some spread, and were about 50-50 run-pass,” he said.

    As for Leal (pronounced “Lee-al”), the competition at quarterback is something that excites him.

    “I knew (Tech) was going to sign two quarterbacks and I wanted to be part of it,” Leal said. “Brandon Flowers was always here [in Florida] in the offseason talking about how great Tech is and I always watched their games on TV. Plus, I have a great relationship with Jayron Hosley.”

    As for the other quarterbacks already on the roster? “Competition is good,” he said. “I know what it’s all about.”

    Leal committed before even taking a visit to Blacksburg. He had offers from Rutgers, West Virginia, Oregon, Miami, Pitt, Minnesota, Kansas, Vanderbilt and FIU.

    “Virginia Tech was my only visit,” Leal said. “It’s the place I wanted to go from the start. I did the research. I checked out the academics, and depth chart and who else they were recruiting. It was just the perfect fit for me.”

    A product of a military family, Leal was born in Germany and lived in Arizona and Texas before moving to Florida for the ninth grade. As a 9-year-old, Leal won the NFL’s Punt-Pass-and-Kick National Championship.

    “They flew me to Pittsburgh for a Steelers’ playoff game at Heinz Field and that was a big thrill,” he said. The oldest of four siblings, Leal maintains a 3.5 grade-point average and will graduate this June.

    Asked to describe himself as a player, Leal said he is a “hard-working quarterback who stays in the pocket and distributes the football. We run the spread with four wide receivers on every play.”

    Leal moved into the starting lineup for Atlantic in the eighth game of his sophomore year and had been the Eagles’ starting quarterback since.

    “The one thing we have to see about Mark is his height,” O’Cain said. “But when you look at both Mark and Ricardo on film, you can’t help but be really impressed with their tapes. They both throw the ball well. These guys are good athletes who can run, but both are products of high schools that throw the ball a lot and that puts them ahead of some other quarterbacks we’ve had coming in.”

    YouTube Highlights Of Tech's Quarterback Class
    Highlights of Young

    Highlights of Leal

    Highlights of Gresh

    And a year after having depth concerns at quarterback, O’Cain now has perhaps too many quarterbacks.

    “The key thing for us now is how do we evaluate these guys properly?” O’Cain said. “This spring, to be fair to Ricardo and the two walk-ons, we have to give them a shot. Give them a good look and get them reps so they know
    they’re at the right place and know where they fit.”

    The luxury O’Cain has now is quarterbacks in different classes, a first in his five years as Tech’s quarterbacks coach.

    “This is what you’d like in terms of having guys who can learn from each other and have an older guy around the practice field and in the meeting rooms,” he said. “We have Tyrod in his fourth year, Ju-Ju in his third, Logan will be in his second year, with Ricardo, Mark, Will and Trey in their first.”

    Other than Taylor, there isn’t much experience there, but looking back over the years, it’s rare to find that much depth and this many good arms in the Hokies’ program at the same time.

    Good arms in the program means good times ahead for the Hokies and their offense.

    Dear Bill,

    With national signing day having come and gone this year, can you talk about why VT is practically never in the top 10 in recruiting? I know recruiting doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have a good football team, but we have had 10-win seasons the past six years, and yet we never have great-ranking national recruiting classes. As a huge VT football fan, I hate not being able to brag or feel proud about our blue-chip recruits we NEVER get! David Dickenson, Wilmington, Del.

    David,

    Teams with the most top-10 finishes since 2000
    Texas 7
    Ohio St. 7
    Oklahoma 7
    USC 7
    Virginia Tech 5
    LSU 5
    Georgia 5
    Florida 5

    Recruiting rankings are very subjective, and I think you need to pay more attention to the rankings at the end of the season and not what some magazine publisher says in February. Also, there are plenty of ‘blue chip’ recruits in our program right now whom you can brag about to anyone in the country. These are national recruits who could have gone anywhere in the country.

    I’m not going to slam or endorse recruiting services in this space, but in the effort to make a point, here are some numbers to ponder: In the past 10 years, only 36 teams have been ranked in the final AP top 10. Think about those numbers and let them digest. Only 36 teams in the entire country have finished the season in the top 10 once during the past 10 years (2000-2009). That means it’s a pretty exclusive club. It’s the high-rent district. Virginia Tech has finished in the top 10 five times during that period. To the right is a list of teams with the most top-10 finishes since 2000.

    I’m with you in that I like top-10 rankings, but being ranked among Coswell Cogs’ top-10 recruiting classes doesn’t do much for me. Final AP poll top-10 rankings? That’s something to brag about.

    Bill,

    Once again, the top quarterback in the state has gone away to an out-of-state program. Why can’t Tech ever sign the TOP quarterback? You know what I mean (Taj Boyd, E.J. Manuel, Mike Glennon, Kevin Newsome, Phillip Sims). We need to get those guys! Ken Martinez, Blacksburg.

    Ken,

    First of all, the Hokies have some very good quarterbacks in their program now and each of those prospects you mentioned who went elsewhere has his own story. The issue of having a freshman starting quarterback (as Tech did with Tyrod Taylor) is that he’s likely to be a long-term starter and that makes it hard to recruit a major prospect. That’s true at any school because kids want to play and not sit for three years. Also, Taylor (2007), Sean Glennon (2004), Marcus Vick (2002), and even Bryan Randall (2001) were tremendous ‘gets’ for the Hokies and were considered the ‘top quarterback’ in the Commonwealth of Virginia in their respective classes. As noted above, the Hokies appear to have terrific prospects in their system right now in a bunch of highly recruited, talented guys.

    Of the five you mentioned, Newsome (who went to Penn State and may start for the Lions this fall) might be the one you’d like to see most in orange and maroon, but after watching Taylor’s emergence in 2009 and then seeing the ability of the young quarterbacks in our program, notably Thomas, talent at quarterback doesn’t seem to be an issue.

    Hi Bill,

    A buddy of mine took me to the Tech vs. UVa game at JPJ last night. At one point, we looked at each other and commented on the basketball goals. It sounded as though they were hooked up to microphones. Were they? Is this a common practice? It made our early game misses all the more prominent to the fans in the upper part of the stadium. Just curious, Josh Eye, Harrisonburg, Va., VT Class of ‘02.

    Josh,

    Excellent ears! You are correct. The goals at John Paul Jones Arena do have microphones and are amplified through the house PA system. That’s a common technique used in NBA arenas, too. It helps the fans hear the ball rip through the net or clang off the rim even if they’re seated in the last row of the upper deck. Some ACC schools, such as Miami, even do this with their bands to help add ambience. It’s all about enhancing the fan experience.

    Dear Bill,

    I believe that both VT and Boise should politely inform ESPN that their 2010 football game already has a scheduled date –Oct. 2. I don’t feel that they should reschedule it. With two top-10 teams playing, someone will televise it. I don’t see any advantage to VT to reschedule and neither school should have to play another game less than five days later. Rob Beyma, Pocomoke, Md.

    Rob,

    Thanks for your note. In today’s world, TV calls the shots and both schools were eager for the exposure in playing in the “Monday Night Football” window. It’s a great opportunity for both programs and should be an exciting season opener for both teams. The ratings for that game, and the exposure for both programs, is invaluable. That’s a tremendous advantage, Rob. Also, ESPN owns the rights to that game, thus nobody else can televise it.

    Hey Bill,

    You’ve been the radio voice of the Hokies for as long as I’ve been listening. When I tuned in late to the Raycom telecast Saturday, I immediately recognized your voice and was excited that you were also the TV personality! How often do you get this opportunity? You were awesome and I didn’t have to sync my radio to the TV this time! You represented Raycom well, impartially announcing the UNC-Duke match-up even though the Hokies would be playing the same night on a different channel. Great job! Travis Bost, Summerville, S.C.

    Travis,

    Thanks for your kind words and to others who wrote similar notes. This was a situation where the heavy snow prevented Mike Hogewood, the scheduled Raycom play-by-play announcer, from getting from College Park, Md., (where he was doing an ACC women’s game) to Blacksburg the next day for the Tech men’s game. I was asked to fill in for Mike and enjoyed working the game on TV with Dan Bonner.

    As it turns out, Mike had to dog-sled his way to Charlottesville for the Wake Forest-Virginia game. The reason: Tim Brando, the scheduled announcer for that game, was unable to get to UVa because of the same weather issues. So everyone adjusted schedules at the last minute, and thanks to the teamwork of Raycom, ISP, Jim Weaver and his staff, we were able to make the switch.

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