By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — UVa’s football staff hit the storied “7-5-7” hard again in putting together Mike London’s second full recruiting class.
The class that enrolled at the University last summer included nine players from the talent-rich Tidewater area, the home of such former Cavaliers as Chris Slade, Terry Kirby, Marques Hagans, Elton Brown, Antwoine Womack, Darryl Blackstock and Kai Parham, to name only a few.
The 26 recruits who make up Virginia’s 2012 class — national signing day was Wednesday — include 10 from that part of the state.
The 804 and 703 area codes are also important to the program, London told reporters Wednesday afternoon at John Paul Jones Arena, and so are 434 and 540 and 202 and 410 and many others.
“To me it’s important to make sure that we evaluate and go after the best players in the state of Virginia,” London said, “and I think what you rely on a lot of times is the relationships built from coaches on your staff.”
London attended Tabb High and Bethel High, both of which are in Tidewater. Chip West, who coaches the Cavaliers’ cornerbacks, graduated from Kecoughtan High in Hampton and was an assistant at Old Dominion University before joining London’s staff.
“There’s no secret I’m from that area,” London said. “There’s a lot of people I know from growing up when my dad retired from the Air Force. Chip West is a guy that’s grown up in that area, so there’s a lot of relationships that have been established. There’s kids from Richmond, Virginia, that we’ve signed, but [Tidewater] is an area that there are deep-rooted relationships that cover years and years, and although we’re always excited about getting some of the best players in the state of Virginia, wherever they may be, you can’t ignore the fact that there are relationships down there that have helped us in that area.”
The jewel of UVa’s class may well be Eli Harold, 6-4, 215-pound defensive end from Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach. Harold, rated the state’s No. 1 recruit by many recruiting analysts, committed to the Cavaliers in August.
“Eli is a real speed guy with a tremendous amount of ability, a great kid, and he’s going to be a tremendous player,” said Jeff Hanson, who coaches the Wahoos’ defensive linemen.
Harold is a charismatic young man who lost his mother to cancer, and he’s had other obstacles to overcome.
“He’s just a fantastic young man and has a success story that’s waiting to be written for him,” London said.
Of the 26 members of Virginia’s 2011 recruiting class, 17 played their high school football in this state. London’s latest class includes 13 players from the state.
Four of them attend the same high school. That’s a first for London and also for West, the lead recruiter for the four recruits from Norfolk Christian: 6-2, 243-pound linebacker Kwontie Moore, 6-5, 215-pound wide receiver Mario Nixon, 6-6, 240-pound defensive end Courtnye Wynn and 5-10, 170-pound athlete Wil Wahee.
“I’ve been in positions where maybe we’ve gotten two from a particular school,” West said Wednesday “I can’t really remember three in one class, and four is pretty phenomenal.”
Between them, Moore and Wynn also had scholarship offers from such schools as Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Oregon, Michigan State, Stanford and North Carolina. Both, however, were originally more interested in playing basketball at Norfolk Christian than football, as were Nixon and Wahee.
Moore and Nixon enrolled at Norfolk Christian as eighth-graders. Wynn and Wahee joined them there a year later.
Don’t expect to see UVa land four players from the same high school in the same class again anytime soon, if ever. But “this particular year, at Norfolk Christian, it worked out for us,” London said. “We had players that we wanted, fit our profile, had height, length, athleticism, all those things, and it worked out that they were at Norfolk Christian.
“We have a guy, Chip West, that knows that area very well, and it just worked out with his relationship with the coaches and the area down there, it helped us sign all four of those young men.”
Nixon originally committed to Virginia Tech before switching his pledge to UVa. The first of the four to pick Virginia was Wahee. In early May, UVa became the first Football Bowl Subdivision school to offer a scholarship to Wahee, and he committed a day later.
“I just look at him as an athlete,” West said. “Whether he can play corner or safety or whatever it may be, I do think he’s athletic enough to get on the field somewhere. The biggest thing about Wil is, he may be small in stature, but he’s pretty physical.”
Had he been told at this time last year that UVa would end up with any two of the Norfolk Christian stars, West said, “I would have been happy. You’re not thinking that all four of those guys are going to come to you. We are really, really happy.”
WAIT AND SEE: In 2010, London’s first season as the Cavaliers’ head coach, he played three true freshmen: quarterback Michael Rocco, offensive lineman Morgan Moses and defensive back Rijo Walker.
In 2011, 12 true freshmen saw time for the ‘Hoos: quarterback David Watford, tailback Clifton Richardson, wideouts Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell, offensive tackle Kelby Johnson, defensive end Thompson Brown, linebackers Daquan Romero and D.J. Hill, cornerbacks Tra Nicholson and Brandon Phelps, and safeties Kameron Mack and Anthony Harris.
Asked Wednesday how many members of his latest recruiting class are likely to play this fall, London was noncommittal.
“For me to sit here today and tell you who’s going to play, without having them learn anything about our defense or our offense,” would be difficult, London said. “I don’t want to put pressure on any of the young men.”
He acknowledged, though, that he assured players during the recruiting process that if “they can exhibit the skills we think that can help us win, then they’ll play early.”
OPTIONS ABOUND: UVa’s recruiting class includes one running back: speedster Kye Morgan of Somerset, N.J., who also had scholarship offers from such schools as Boston College, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Illinois, Rutgers and Temple.
Morgan is listed at 5-11, 165 pounds, but those numbers may not do him justice.
“The nice thing about it is, he’s a legitimate 6-foot,” UVa running backs coach Mike Faragalli said Wednesday. “He’s already benching over 300 [pounds]. He’s an outstanding receiver. Outstanding. So he can be another threat, similar to Perry [Jones] or Max [Milien] or whoever.
“He’s physical enough to be an I-formation tailback and run the ball down the hill. But he’s athletic enough and versatile enough to be a really good receiver, however we want to use him.”
UVa returns its top four tailbacks from 2011: rising senior Perry Jones and rising sophomores Kevin Parks, Clifton Richardson and Khalek Shepherd.