By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The sun has yet to rise on this unseasonably warm February day, but in the McCue Center’s weight room UVa football players are lifting under the direction of strength-and-conditioning coach Evan Marcus.
A floor above them, head coach Mike London is working on practice schedules for the spring. Assistant coaches Jim Reid, Jeff Hanson and Scott Wachenheim are in their offices too, and the rest of the staff is soon to arrive.
“Business as usual,” London tells a visitor.
In some ways, yes. But this is no ordinary day for college football programs across the country. Today is the first day that recruits, many of whom committed months ago, are able to sign binding letters of intent.
A year ago, two highly regarded prospects — wide receivers Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell — waited until signing day to announce they would attend UVa. Today isn’t likely to be as tense for the Wahoos. The coaching staff woke up this morning expecting to receive 25 national letters of intent today, all from players who already have committed to UVa. (Another recruit, quarterback Greyson Lambert, enrolled at the University last month.)
“No surprises,” says Reid, Virginia’s defensive coordinator. “As long as there’s no surprises, we’re good.”
Even so, London admits, he didn’t sleep much last night. “Not as much nerves as anticipation,” he says.
Here’s a look at how things are unfolding at the McCue Center:
7 a.m. – We’re on the clock. Recruits are now allowed to fax their letters of intent to schools. Who will be the first in at UVa?
Assistant recruiting coordinator Blanda Wolfe’s prediction: quarterback Matt Johns.
Nope. It’s Mark Hall, a linebacker from Virginia Beach. His fax arrives at 7:04, and Dawn Best, UVa’s administrative assistant for recruiting, takes it off the machine. A minute later, the letter of intent for C.J. Moore, a cornerback from Georgia, arrives.
7:28 a.m. — At this rate, all the letters of intent may be in by 10 a.m. Four more recruits, all from out of state, have officially joined the class: Max Valles and Kye Morgan from New Jersey, and Johns and Mike Mooney from Pennsylvania.
7:30 a.m. — Maurice Canady, a dynamic athlete from Varina High School in Henrico County, is in, bringing the total to seven. Michael Moore — one of three recruits in this class with that last name — makes eight. Moore, a defensive lineman from DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Md., has impeccable bloodlines. His father is Shawn Moore, probably the greatest quarterback in UVa history. The elder Moore now coaches Virginia’s wide receivers.
7:32 a.m. — Mike Faragalli, UVa’s running backs coach, is on the phone with Sean Karl, an offensive lineman from Manorville, N.Y., who has just signed. Faragalli passes the phone to London, who congratulates Karl on his decision and tells him to continue working hard this semester.
“It’s a good day,” Faragalli says.
London feels the same way. He’ll be asked to discuss his recruiting class with media members and fans at various events today, but he doesn’t mind. The reigning ACC coach of the year is coming off an 8-5 season that ended with UVa’s first bowl appearance in four years, and he’s happy to do what he can to continue building interest in his program.
“It’s all good,” London says.
8 a.m. — We’re only an hour into signing day, but the ‘Hoos are at 16 letters of intent and counting. In a span of about 20 minutes, seven have arrived. Six are from players who live in the 7-5-7, the state’s talent-rich Tidewater region: Kwontie Moore, Mario Nixon, Wil Wahee, Courtnye Wynn, Anthony Cooper and Jamall Brown.
Moore, Nixon, Wahee and Wynn are from the same school: Norfolk Christian. Cooper is a senior at Virginia Beach’s Bayside High and Brown at Hampton High.
Rounding out this group of signees is Demeitre Brim, an outstanding athlete from Dundee, Fla., who’s likely to end up at safety or linebacker in college.
8:15 a.m. — Assuming every player who committed ends up signing with the ‘Hoos, this class will include 15 recruits listed at 6-3 or taller.
“Sometimes you go into a recruiting season,” London says, “and you’re like, ‘All right, we’re just going to get speed. That’s all we want. Don’t care about the size. Just want speed.’ Sometimes you go in with other thought processes.”
The goal with this class, London says, was to stockpile “tall, athletic, skilled” players. That said, London stressed, “you don’t want to turn away dynamic. Dynamic can come in all sizes. [UVa tailback] Perry Jones is dynamic, so you never want to turn away a player like that.”
8:21 a.m. — Add three more names to the official list: wide receiver Canaan Severin from Massachusetts, cornerback/tailback Divante Walker from Virginia Beach, and cornerback Kelvin Rainey from Houston. That brings the total to 19.
8:40 a.m. — No. 20 is a familiar name: Adrian Gamble. A wideout from Charlotte, N.C., Gamble first signed with UVa last February. He’s spending this school year at Fork Union Military Academy, where he played for legendary coach John Shuman’s postgraduate team in the fall.
8:45 a.m. — Twenty-one in, four to go. The latest NLI to come across the fax machine is from Andre Miles-Redmond, a lineman from Henrico County’s Hermitage High, where coach Patrick Kane leads one of the state’s premier programs.
8:50 a.m. — Michael Moore committed to UVa in June. Until his son’s letter of intent arrived this morning, however, Shawn Moore was not allowed, under NCAA rules, to discuss Michael’s status as a Virginia recruit.
“I’m just happy to have it over,” the elder Moore says in his McCue Center office. “He’s excited, so I’m excited.”
Michael, who also had scholarship offers from such schools as Florida, Notre Dame, Penn State and Florida State, is one of the most heralded recruits in UVa’s class. That his son will bolster the Cavaliers’ defensive line pleases Shawn Moore. That he’ll be able to see his son every day pleases him more.
“That’s the part that I’m really excited about,” Shawn says.
8:52 a.m. — Eli Harold, welcome to UVa. The 22nd player to return his NLI to Virginia this morning, Harold is widely considered the No. 1 prospect in the state’s Class of 2012. He’s a 6-4, 215-pound defensive end from Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach.
9:45 a.m. — While they wait for the final few letters of intent to come in, London and his staff are not sitting around staring at the fax machine. There’s work to be done today.
“We’re watching tape of the 2013s,” London says, “deciding on offer candidates, deciding on who’s in the holding category because of grades or because we don’t have enough film, deciding on who has to come to camp to get an offer. We’re starting all over again.”
9:55 a.m. — The 7-5-7 portion of this class is complete with the signing of Kyle Dockins, a 6-3 wide receiver from Landstown High in Virginia Beach. He’s the 10th and final player from the Tidewater area to sign with Virginia today. Small wonder that UVa assistant Chip West, whose territory includes South Hampton Roads, is considered one of the nation’s better recruiters.
10:52 a.m. — Central Region power Varina High School has a second representative in this class: defensive tackle Tyrell Chavis, whose letter of intent was the 24th to arrive at the McCue Center this morning. One more to come.
11:35 a.m. — And then there were 25. (Or 26, if you’re counting Lambert, who did not have to sign today.) The final NLI expected today has arrived, and it’s from offensive lineman Ryan Doull, a native of Canada who attends Fork Union Military Academy in Fluvanna County. London and Co. can only hope Doull’s college career mirrors that of Austin Pasztor, another Canadian who came to UVa from FUMA. Pasztor earned All-America honors at offensive guard as a Virginia senior in 2011.
Rankings vary among the recruiting services, but this figures to be a second straight top-25 class for the ‘Hoos. It began taking shape many months ago. Of its 26 members, only three — Rainey, Severin and Walker — had not committed by the start of the 2011 season.
“That’s the reality of college football right now,” London says. “There’s a lot of talk about having an early signing day for those guys that decided where they want to go. You go ahead and sign ’em, and the commitment is ironclad, and you just move on.
“Luckily this year, the commitments that were made to us stuck, and hopefully today will show that our early message was consistent, and having the season we had drew them closer in terms of wanting to be here.”
London and his assistants will meet with media members at a press conference at John Paul Jones Arena late this afternoon. A Signing Day celebration for the public will follow at JPJ. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for the 6 o’clock event at which London and his staff will discuss the new recruits.
If you have a question for the staff, e-mail it to me at email@example.com, and I’ll submit it for the Q&A portion of the Signing Day celebration.