By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On the night before national signing day, Mike London says, he “slept like a baby.”
In football, the recruiting process has become so accelerated that signing day usually brings little drama. Most players around the country have long since committed, and 11th-hour reversals are rare.
“There’s not a lot of fanfare,” says London, who took over as UVa’s head coach in December. “No more watching the fax machine.”
The Cavaliers’ coaching staff woke Wednesday expecting to receive 16 letters of intent on signing day, and the required forms arrived as the morning wore on. Here’s a look at how things unfolded at the McCue Center:
6:50 a.m. – Most of the doors in the football office remain shut. The first staffer to arrive was assistant recruiting coordinator Matt Barnhart, for a simple reason: He never left. Not wanting to miss a moment of the signing-day excitement — and worried that the area’s latest snowfall might complicate his ride in — Barnhart slept on an air mattress in the spacious office of video coordinator Luke Goldstein.
Joining Barnhart in the office in which sits the day’s critical piece of equipment — a Brother fax machine — is another early riser, Bob Price, who was an assistant coach at UVa under George Welsh and then Al Groh, London’s predecessor.
Price, formerly recruiting coordinator, is now a recruiting administrator and the program’s liaison with high schools.
7 a.m. – We’re on the clock. Starting at 7, recruits are allowed to fax in or e-mail their letters of intent (and grant-in-aid forms). Barnhart stares at the fax machine, which responds with silence.
“It’s scary,” Barnhart says, half-kidding.
Price’s prediction: The day’s first fax will be from Ryan Cobb, whose family runs with military precision. Cobb is a fullback/linebacker from national power Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey.
7:02 a.m. – Sure enough, Cobb leads the pack. Little-known fact about this recruit, courtesy of Price: Cobb has bowled a 296.
7:04 a.m. – Cobb calls to make sure his fax arrived safely. Price takes the call.
“You be good and say hi to your folks for me,” Price tells Cobb.
7:06 a.m. – On the right side of the bulletin board in what Barnhart calls the War Room, there are cards with the names of 16 players, along with their biographical information.
On the left is the card of Michael Strauss, a quarterback who graduated from high school in December and enrolled at UVa last month.
With Cobb’s letter of intent in, his card joins Strauss’ on the left side.
7:20 a.m. – Letter of intent No. 2 arrives, this one from E.J. Scott, a wideout from Ellicott City, Md. One problem: His fax cuts off early and so isn’t acceptable under NCAA rules.
Neither Barnhart nor Price is allowed to call recruits, so Price leaves a message with Anthony Poindexter, telling him to contact Scott and ask Scott to re-fax the forms.
7:22 a.m. – Problem solved. Another fax arrives from Scott, and this one is clean.
Price leaves another message for Poindexter, telling him no call to Scott is necessary.
7:25 a.m. – London is now in the office, as are most of his assistants, including Scott Wachenheim, Vincent Brown, Jeff Hanson and Jim Reid. Goldstein and graduate assistant Gordie Sammis also are around, as is Steve Flippen, UVa’s assistant athletics director for compliance.
For London and his staff, this is essentially a regular work day. Occasionally an assistant coach wanders in for an update from Barnhart, but the scene is anything but frenzied.
“The war room’s kind of quiet,” Flippen notes.
7:36 a.m. – The fax machine comes to life. Conner Davis, an offensive tackle from Deep Run High in western Henrico County, is in.
7:47 a.m. – Another player from the Richmond area, Collegiate senior Jake McGee, officially joins London’s first recruiting class.
8:36 a.m. – The last player from whom UVa got an oral commitment, tight end Zachary Swanson of Katy, Texas, becomes the fifth recruit to fax in his letter of intent.
8:51 a.m. – London takes an important call in his office. He says he’ll disclose the details of said call later in the day.
9 a.m. – Two hours in, the class is up to seven players. The newest members are Miles Gooch, a quarterback from Decatur, Ga., and Rijo Walker, a cornerback from Bethel High in Hampton.
Bethel is already well-represented in the UVa athletics department. London is a Bethel graduate, as is Jontel Evans, a first-year point guard on the men’s basketball team.
Speaking of hoops, big game at John Paul Jones Arena tonight: UVa vs. N.C. State at 7 o’clock.
9:03 a.m. – For the second year in a row, Virginia receives a letter of intent from Cody Wallace. A center who grew up in New Jersey, Wallace took summer school at UVa last year before ending up at Fork Union Military Academy, where he’s a postgraduate student.
9:31 a.m. – After a lull, letter of intent No. 9 arrives, and Faragalli can relax.
It’s from Christopher Brathwaite, a defensive end from Brooklyn, N.Y., whose fax Faragalli had been anxiously awaiting.
Brathwaite is a senior at Holy Cross High in Queens, which UVa fans will recognize as the school from which Willie Dersch, Kevin Ogletree and Sylven Landesberg graduated.
9:34 a.m. – The class is filling up. Its 10th member is Stephen Lawe, a lineman from Maury High in Norfolk. At UVa, Lawe will be reunited with LaRoy Reynolds, with whom he played at Maury. Reynolds will be a sophomore for the ‘Hoos this fall.
10 a.m. – Three hours in, the wait continues for the final letters of intent. In the meantime, the homemade chocolate chip cookies just delivered to the War Room, courtesy of student worker Carrie Doughty, make the waiting infinitely more enjoyable. In short order, Barnhart consumes seven cookies: the breakfast of champions.
10:05 a.m. – Pablo Alvarez, a defensive back from Coral Gables, Fla., is riding the wave of the future. He’s the first recruit to e-mail in his letter of intent. He’s the 11th to officially join the 2010 class.
10:28 a.m. – Roxann Markey, UVa’s administrative assistant for recruiting, arrives with donut holes for Barnhart, whose appetite for sweets is apparently insatiable.
10:35 a.m. – No. 12 is … Mike Rocco, a quarterback from Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg.
If the name sounds familiar, there’s a reason. His uncle Danny Rocco, now the ultra-successful head coach at Liberty University, is a former UVa assistant.
10:40 a.m. — Counting Strauss, this is expected to be a 17-member recruiting class. Of those players, 11 committed to UVa when Groh was coach.
London was able to keep any of those recruits from straying and added six more: Strauss, Gooch, Lawe, McGee, Rocco and Swanson. Much of London’s time over the past six weeks, however, has been spent evaluating and recruiting prospects in the Class of 2011. Virginia is likely to have at least 15 scholarships available in ’11.
10:57 a.m. – Add Khalek Shepherd’s name to the list of signees. He’s a 5-9, 175-pound speedster from Gwynn Park High in Maryland and the son of former Redskins wideout Leslie Shepherd.
11:12 a.m. – Three-plus hours in, only three letters of intent remain out. The coaches are confident all will arrive eventually, and they head into a previously scheduled meeting.
11:45 a.m. – Several timely reminders from Jim Daves in athletic media relations:
London will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. at JPJ, and the transcript will be posted later on VirginiaSports.com. At 5:15 p.m., on Comcast SportsNet, London will appear via satellite on the Washington Post Live show.
Finally, at 6:40 p.m., he’ll be Dave Koehn‘s guest on the pregame radio show for UVa basketball.
12:14 p.m. – The end is in sight. The 14th recruit to sign with UVa today is K.P. Parks, whom many consider the gem of the class. The Salisbury, N.C., resident ranks among the most productive tailbacks ever to play high school football.
Virginia’s coaches knew not to expect Parks’ letter of intent in early today, but in cyberspace, rumors circuluated and fans grew uneasy as the minutes ticked by with no confirmation from the University.
It’s been a week to remember for Parks, as this article from his hometown paper illustrates.
12:18 p.m. – Another big-time recruit joins the class. Morgan Moses, who as a Meadowbrook High senior in 2008 was a Parade All-American, is back in the Cavaliers’ fold, as expected. He called this morning to give London the good news.
Moses, a 6-6, 336-pound offensive tackle, originally signed with Virginia last year but failed to meet NCAA eligibility standards. He played for Fork Union’s postgraduate team during the 2009 season and plans to enroll at UVa this summer.
The arrival of Moses’ letter of intent leaves only one outstanding …
1:03 p.m. – And then there were 16 recruits. (Seventeen, counting Michael Strauss.)
The last of the expected letters of intent arrives, about six hours after the official start of signing day. It’s from linebacker Henry Coley, a senior at Virginia Beach’s Bayside High.
London will talk about the class this afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena, and I’ll be there. Check VirginiaSports.com tonight for my report on his press conference.
See you at the hoops game. I’d offer you a cookie or a donut hole, but they’re all gone.