By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — By the time an anxious Mike London finally got to sleep, only hours from the start of national signing day, Tuesday night had given way to Wednesday morning.
“It was after 2,” London said.
UVa’s second-year football coach was up by 6:30 a.m., ready, if not rested, to see what Wednesday would bring for his program.
It brought a steady stream of good news. After the clock hit 7 a.m., the official starting time, faxes started arriving from the 22 players who had announced plans to sign with the Cavaliers.
Those were expected. What made the morning especially memorable for UVa’s coaching staff were the decisions of two coveted targets — Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell.
Jennings, The Baltimore Sun’s offensive player of the year and an Under Armour All-American in 2010, chose UVa over Ohio State and Wake Forest after previously eliminating such schools as Virginia Tech, Penn State, UCLA and Boston College.
Terrell, a senior at Osbourn High who was the Northwest Region’s offensive player of the year, picked Virginia over Miami (Fla.) and West Virginia.
Jennings and Terrell were high school quarterbacks who also excelled as return specialists. They’re expected to play wideout for the Cavaliers, and their myriad skills will give offensive coordinator Bill Lazor a variety of attractive options.
At Gilman, Jennings rushed for a school-record 4,338 yards (on 493 carries) during his career. At Osbourn, Terrell rushed 275 times for 2,070 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2010.
“When they touch the ball, they can go,” London said. “We might even put the wildcat offense in, because of the accomplishments of some of those guys. We gotta be creative in creating ways to get the ball [to playmakers].”
London felt good about UVa’s chances with Jennings and Terrell when he climbed into bed, but he’s been coaching long enough to expect the unexpected in recruiting.
“There’s a level of confidence, but it’s always tempered with a level of uncertainty,” London said in his McCue Center office Wednesday afternoon. “Because in today’s climate, you’re looking around and you see guys that have committed to places, then all of the sudden decommit. So you never know until you have the opportunity to have the national letter signed and faxed in, because that makes it binding.”
Had UVa added Curtis Grant in addition to Jennings and Terrell, London might have considered it a perfect day. At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, however, the Hermitage High linebacker announced that he would attend another one of his finalists, Ohio State.
Even without Grant, the Wahoos did extraordinarily well in this state, a priority for London, who grew up in Tidewater and also has strong ties to the Richmond area. In all, 17 of the 26 members of this class played their high school football in Virginia. That group includes cornerback Demetrious Nicholson of Virginia Beach’s Bayside High, the state Gatorade player of the year.
Four of the top 10 players in the state, as ranked by The Roanoke Times, signed with Virginia: No. 2 Nicholson, No. 7 Terrell, No. 8 Jay Whitmire, an offensive lineman from T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, and No. 10 Clifton Richardson, a tailback from Menchville High in Newport News.
Virginia Tech landed only one of the Roanoke paper’s top 10 prospects.
The in-roads UVa made in the state are “significant,” London said, “because when a player comes, a community comes. And the young man that’s growing up watching, he watches you go back and forth from home with that V-Sabre and that cap and that gear, and the TV coverage that the local people give you because you’re an in-state player. It becomes significant, and if you can do that throughout the state, it raises your profile.”
In four of the past five seasons, UVa has finished below .500, so the program desperately needed an infusion of talent. That the Wahoos landed a class that ranks among the ACC’s best speaks to the dedication and hard work of his staff, London said.
“My guys out there recruiting, they did a phenomenal job battling schools that we had been losing to [in recruiting],” London said.
“You try to do your best in represent the program and what your plans are for [players] academically, socially, athletically. And for a lot of these guys, it fit. It was a great fit for what they wanted.”
The recruiting class includes two players — quarterback David Watford (Hampton High) and linebacker Daquan Romero (Phoebus High) — who did not sign letters of intent Wednesday. Watford and Romero enrolled at the University last month, and they will count as part of the Cavaliers’ 2010 class.
Virginia was not only one state in which the ‘Hoos had tremendous success. Six of their signees played high school ball in Maryland, including safety Kyrrel Latimer, a former DeMatha High star.
Latimer, who’s from Laurel, Md., is spending this academic year in Fork Union Military Academy’s postgraduate program. Other Maryland residents in this class include two of the brightest stars in Baltimore, Jennings and defensive end Marco Jones; Damascus High’s Brandon Phelps, whose parents are UVa graduates; and Good Counsel’s Vincent Croce, The Washington Post’s defensive player of the year in 2010.
“To be able to do that with bordering states and attract those kind of young men, that’s huge for us,” London said.
In 2010, only three true freshmen played for the Cavaliers: offensive lineman Morgan Moses, quarterback Michael Rocco and cornerback Rijo Walker. Redshirting won’t be as prevalent with this group.
“Guys will be playing,” London said. “I purposely did that last year, tried to redshirt as many as I could. But this year, any of those young guys that are ready to play — and I anticipate many of the skill guys will be — then get ready.”
The thread running through this class, London said, is that the recruits were raised by parents who “valued education and wanted to have their sons surrounded by good men.” The players, meanwhile, “wanted to have a chance to play and wanted to have their parents see them play,” London said.
He figures to be exhausted by the time he crawls back into bed Wednesday night (or Thursday morning). London had a full schedule of speaking engagements on signing day, including an appearance on ESPNU.
And then it’s on to the next class. In fact, London said Wednesday afternoon, that’s “all I’m thinking about now, the 2012 guys. Putting together back-to-back classes is always important, because you’ve got to be able to sustain that.”