Tuesday, February 5, 2013

2009 recruiting class in review

Two things bring us to today's post, which is a recap of football's 2009 recruiting class.  One is that Signing Day is this Wednesday; fewer than 48 hours from now, the 2013 class will be in the books.  Second is that I've actually been writing this thing long enough to do this; the 2009 class was the first that this blog covered with a recruiting board.  That makes today an appropriate time to take a look back and see how that class fared.  The stars next to each name are the ones Rivals gave each player.


RB Alex Owah ***

Short version: Academically ineligible and never signed.

Owah committed very early in the process, but was declared ineligible a month before Signing Day and never made it into the class.  He had more than his share of problems, actually.  Academics kept him out of the class entirely; he spent a semester at Hargrave and enrolled at East Carolina in January of 2010.  Before that, he'd been involved in high school in a prescription drug ring, for which one of his teammates (the distributor) got a mostly-suspended 35-year jail sentence, and oh by the way as a sophomore had "helped plan" an armed robbery.  Owah's academic ineligibility was probably the admissions department saving Al Groh from himself.  The summer after he signed up at ECU, he was arrested for trying to purchase alcohol while underage, and a year and a half later, in November 2011, he was booted from the Pirates team for good.  Wherever he's landed since then, I have no idea and am probably better off not knowing.

RB Caleb Porzel ****

Short version: Decommitted in favor of Maryland; didn't last long there.

Unlike Owah, Porzel was only part of the UVA class for about a month and a half, and an early portion of the cycle at that.  He was a Good Counsel product who committed in February and started having second thoughts a month after that; shortly thereafter, he decommitted.  In July he was a Terp and that was the end of his recruitment.  Sadly for Maryland, the four-star recruit lasted one season, in which he played sparingly and rushed for 75 yards in seven games.  Struggles in the classroom forced him to leave Maryland in summer of 2010; he ended up at East Central Community College in Mississippi and, as best as I can tell played sparingly again in one season and then gave up football.

WR Tyree Watkins ***

Short version: Was a bitch.

And I'm not usually that harsh on college athletes, but Watkins is one who deserves it.  By now the story of how he strutted around on his official visit to UVA like the King of Rose-Smelling Shit is pretty well known; he talked as much trash as he could pack into a weekend, much of it directed at Tim Smith, who Watkins felt was undeserving of his fourth recruiting star that in Watkins's mind belonged to Tyree Watkins.  Less than three weeks later Watkins was a Duke commit instead.

Watkins carried his yapping over to the field, actually taking the time to stand next to the UVA tunnel at Scott Stadium after halftime of the 2011 Duke game, saying something to every UVA player that exited.  Except, as the story goes, Cam Johnson. 

That was the last time Watkins appeared in a game against UVA, however.  Last spring, Watkins celebrated a big showing in Duke's spring game - preceding what would have been his senior season - by going out with the lads that night.  Fun, until he decided to beat around his (now ex-, obviously) girlfriend, who reported the incident to the police.  Watkins was arrested April 2, kicked off the team April 4, and served 75 hours of community service.

If Watkins's words of contrition from the above article are sincere, however, and you know what, I hope they are, that story may have a happier ending than the other two.  Watkins finished his Duke degree in December and then enrolled at Wagner (in Staten Island) for this spring to play one and possibly two more seasons of I-AA football.  It would be refreshing to hear of a better finish to Watkins's college career than the one he spent three years working on.


WR Quintin Hunter ****

Short version: Transferred to JMU.

Hunter was one of Al Groh's biggest 2009 recruits, but spent only one season at UVA.  He got a cursory look at quarterback but was quickly moved to wide receiver, where he played as a true freshman but made only one catch that year.  Hunter was among the players who left the team in the wake of the coaching change, something that changes tend to cause, and transferred to James Madison, where he's been playing only sparingly.  The reason Hunter gave for leaving was that "his heart was no longer into playing football," which is basically just politeness.

He'll have one more season at JMU in 2013; though he didn't have to sit a year after transferring, he tore his Achilles tendon in 2011 and missed that season.  In 2012 he started six of 11 games and caught 13 passes for 191 yards.

DB Corey Lillard ***

Short version: Transferred to Liberty and then quit football.

Not much of a story here.  Lillard also left following the coaching change, although he didn't go until the summer.  He transferred to Liberty, played a season (five games, actually) and then decided to drop football for good.

LB Connor McCartin **

Short version: Career derailed by concussions.

McCartin never made it onto the two-deep and probably never would have, but he was developing into a nice special teams ace and was heading into his junior season with a prominent role on kick coverage.  Unfortunately, he suffered a concussion early in fall camp of 2011, which was the fourth of his football career, and the staff at UVA's hospital told him his career was over, having not responded well to this latest one.  He was kept on the roster in 2011 so that he could act as a sort of student-coach, and then placed on medical scholarship.

QB Ross Metheny ***

Short version: Couldn't crack the lineup and transferred to South Alabama.

After biding his time, including redshirting his first season and then playing some off the bench in 2010, Metheny was entered into 2011's four-way quarterback derby and essentially placed third of four, ahead of Michael Strauss but behind Mike Rocco and David Watford.  Though he remains a UVA fan, Metheny finished his degree in just three years, clearing the way for his transfer to South Alabama.  There he played all 13 games in 2012, starting most for the fledgling program in their first year as a I-A team (and only fourth ever) and throwing for 2,148 yards, 12 TDs, and 12 picks.  He has one more year left as a Jaguar.

WR Kevin Royal **

Short version: Dismissed from the team

Royal never could crack the lineup either - he played a little in 2010 but not at all in 2011 - and then was dismissed by Mike London in the spring of 2012 for "failing to meet expectations," which could mean any number of things.  Royal did not leave UVA and will finish his degree on time this spring.

DB Javanti Sparrow **

Short version: Academic casualty

Sparrow played on special teams as a true freshman in 2009 (one of the examples redshirt fanatics would point to right now if Sparrow had stuck around, since he was in for a grand total of 23 plays) but following that season, ended up academically ineligible at UVA.  He declared an intent to return in 2011, but never made it back; in 2011, he was instead at Liberty.  But only for a few days; he hasn't been heard from since.

DT Hunter Steward **

Short version: Academic casualty who also ended up at Liberty

Another guy who couldn't stay eligible at UVA.  Steward redshirted 2009 and spent his two years at UVA flip-flopping between offensive and defensive line.  He left after 2010, and spent 2011 (his first at Liberty) as a backup defensive lineman who registered a few tackles here and there and played on kick-block units.  In 2012 he flopped back over to the offense, and started all 11 games for Liberty; he'll be a 5th-year senior there in 2013 and a likely second-year starter.

RB Dominique Wallace ****

Short version: Quit football

That's all there is to it, really.  Wallace played two years as a backup running back, and then decided football wasn't for him and left the team after the 2010 season.  He stayed at UVA to finish his studies, and was the object of a great deal of wishful thinking from some UVA fans who held out hope he would change his mind.  He did not.


S LoVante' Battle **

Short version: Special teamer only

Battle spent a year as a linebacker and two years as a safety buried on the depth chart and playing almost exclusively on special teams; for spring practice in 2012, he moved to fullback and was buried in a different position on the depth chart, also playing almost exclusively on special teams.  Probably the highlight of his career was a 22-yard run in garbage time against Richmond in 2012, his only carry of the season.

WR Bobby Smith **

Short version: Has basically never played

Smith's height gave him some potential as a short-yardage, perhaps red zone receiver, but he's done basically nothing but occupy a scholarship.  His career summary on his profile page on the official site is two lines long and has three years' worth of "did not appear in any games" and one (2010) that mentions three games and no stats.  He's never had a catch; in fact it's rare to find a player who's had as little impact on any program anywhere as Bobby Smith.  The yearly scholarship crunch makes him a near-lock not to be asked back for a fifth year.

LB Tucker Windle ***

Short version: Got further back on the depth chart as career progressed

Windle was another object of frustration for the redshirt fanatics, but major depth issues left Al Groh little choice but to start Windle at middle linebacker against Virginia Tech as a true freshman in 2009.  It didn't go real well.  In 2010 he played about half his plays on defense and half on special teams, but by 2011, his junior year, he was almost exclusively a special teamer, and had sort of disappeared by 2012.  That 2009 start was probably the high water mark of Windle's career.


TE Paul Freedman ***

Short version: Respectable blocking tight end

To the extent that there was a starter at tight end in 2012, Freedman might as well have been it.  At any rate the official site says he started 10 of 12 games, so that's what he did.  Freedman never developed into a pass-catching tight end; when the coaches wanted someone to do that, Jake McGee was their main guy this year, and Freedman only had 26 total catches, and two touchdowns, in his four-year career.  His main job was basically to be a sixth offensive lineman on run plays, which he did well.

TE Jeremiah Mathis **

Short version: Switched from DE to TE

Mathis made the aforementioned switch in the middle of the 2010 season and hasn't looked back.  I sort of waffled as to whether he should be here or in the previous section, but Mathis redshirted in 2009 and may have another year to add to his stat line.  At any rate, he hasn't been invisible; he's caught at least one touchdown every season and has 14 total catches in his career.  He's a decent short-yardage target but not as good at receiving as Colter Phillips or Jake McGee and not as good a blocker as Freedman, and his fifth year likely hinges on whether there's enough attrition otherwise to fit the 2013 class under the limit.

DT Justin Renfrow ***

Short version: Depth defensive tackle

Depth problems at DT make it very likely Renfrow will come back for his fifth year in 2013.  But his career has so far been more about potential than production.  2012 was the first season in which Renfrow appeared in every game of the season, and his next start will be his first.  He's more of a space-eater than a playmaker, and the emergence of Chris Brathwaite and of David Dean was threatening to keep Renfrow parked at the back of the rotation.  It remains to be seen whether Renfrow can parlay his experience into a starting role in 2013 or if he'll still be the fourth tackle in a four-man rotation.  Neither would surprise.

OG Cody Wallace **

Short version: Possibly being overtaken on the interior line

Wallace had an interesting story, which maybe he didn't find too interesting at the time.  He showed up in the fall of 2009 for practice, but was held out until some eligibility issue or another could be resolved.  It turned out to be unresolved - I think it was something about a missing class from his transcript - and he had to spend the fall at Fork Union finishing up his requirements.  He was back with the team in the spring of 2010 and redshirted that season, which made him only a sophomore this past year.  After an unremarkable 2011, he started the first game of 2012 at left guard, but ended up bumped from the starting lineup by Conner Davis.

Wallace had already been bumped once; for a time there he was being groomed as the next starter at center, but it didn't pan out that way.  He'll fight to regain the starting job this year, but the likelihood is that he'll spend the next two years as a backup, rotating in for maybe a quarter to a third of the offensive plays.


C Luke Bowanko ***

Short version: Current starter at center

Bowanko will be a fifth-year senior in 2013 and going into his third year as an every-game starter on the offensive line.  In 2011 that was at right guard; in 2012 it was at center.  Truthfully, he was a better guard than center, having some early season trouble with shotgun snaps, but the signs of improvement were there as the season went on.  His early development - being an every-game starter as a redshirt sophomore - has contributed greatly to some solid cohesion on the offensive line, but the offense will need to see better output from the whole interior next season if it's to produce consistently.

RG Sean Cascarano ***

Short version: Current starter at right guard

When Bowanko moved to center, Cascarano was the beneficiary; he started all 12 games at right guard.  He was a little slower than Bowanko to develop into a starter, partly due to moving from tackle where he spent his first two years.  2009 was a redshirt year, and in 2010 he jumped right into the rotation as a backup tackle, but 2011 saw him sit the bench a lot more, learning the guard position.  He's got the versatility to play tackle again if needed, but ideally will play his fifth season at the same place he did last year.

OT Morgan Moses ****

Short version: Could live up to the mega-hype by fixing a couple flaws

Now this was a recruiting saga.  First we had to wait all through 2008 and into Signing Day 2009 before Moses made his choice official, and he was definitely the kind of recruit worth waiting for.  Big, powerful, and with offers from half a million other schools; eventually, UVA beat out UNC, Tennessee, and flirtations with Ohio State.  Then we had to sit nervously for another year while Moses got eligible at Fork Union, and fended off another year's worth of non-UVA suitors.

For the most part, it's been worth it.  Though some (including me) think he'd be a better guard than tackle, a tackle he is.  He's been just advertised in the run game; the guy can absolutely mow people down when he starts moving in a straight line, and as a pass protector, power rushers just get eaten up.  But Moses has trouble with speed rushers because his footwork is a little lacking.

As if the recruiting pins and needles weren't enough, Moses was eligible as a sophomore to declare for the NFL draft, because of his prep year at FUMA.  But he's stuck with UVA every single time that he had a chance to leave and will come back for his senior year in 2013.  For his whole career he's been a right tackle, starting practically every game in 2011 and 2012, and he'll move into the left tackle spotlight in 2013.  It's definitely an audition year for the pros, and a really good one could make me look silly for "only" putting him the "core" category.

LB Laroy Reynolds ***

Short version: Thrived at linebacker after London moved him from safety

The next category is "stars" and Reynolds is a tough one to keep out of that list.  He was a team captain in 2012, had 90 tackles, and ended up an honorable mention for all-ACC as well.  Recruited as a safety by Groh, London moved him to outside linebacker, a position he took to instantly.  He ended up a three-year starter and improved his numbers every year, despite missing two games this past season with a hand injury.  Aggression occasionally got the better of him on the field, but just as often it got him into the backfield making a play.  The highlight of his career: Probably the fourth-down TFL against Miami in 2011 that helped preserve a one-touchdown lead and ultimately the game.  Since Reynolds played a few plays on special teams as a true freshman, his eligibility has run out, giving Groh's critics their biggest piece of ammo ever against the burning of redshirts.

WR Tim Smith ****

Short version: Productive pass catcher

As a four-star player from one of the top football factories in the 757, there was obviously a lot of excitement for Smith when he joined the team.  His production hasn't been anything to sneeze at really, but it hasn't been four-star stuff, either.  Injuries have been a real problem; a foot injury caused him to miss most of 2010 and eventually earned him a medical hardship waiver that let him redshirt that year, and an ankle injury held him out of a couple games in 2012.  His best season was 2011, in which he started 10 games and had 33 catches for 565 yards - not too shabby.  But with the emergence of Darius Jennings as the team's top option, the days of expecting Smith to play that role are probably over.  In 2013, there should at least be hopes that Smith can be a dangerous complement to Jennings and give the Hoos a dynamic starting duo of receivers.

DE Jake Snyder ***

Short version: Solid run-stopping defensive end

Snyder is no star, but he was never pegged as one; he was a high three-star defensive end whose production has come to just about exactly match expectations.  He jumped into the starting lineup to stay as a redshirt sophomore in 2011; he's got only 3.5 sacks for his career, but rushing the QB isn't his primary job.  Snyder is a big strongside DE who plays almost as a third DT on the field and does a very nice job handling his blockers, to the point where he led the D-line in tackles this year with 44.  A very nice number for a lineman, actually.  Snyder will be back for his fifth year in 2013 as one of the top fixtures on the line.

DT Brent Urban **

Short version: From no-name to starting defensive tackle

Fans like to call every two-star recruit a sleeper.  Look, sometimes they're overlooked for a reason.  Urban is one of the few deserving of the title.  He comes from the Great White North and needed a little time to get acclimated to the American game, but once the light came on, it came on big, living up to the high praise he received from ESPN, the only recruiting service to do so.  Urban jumped with both feet into the rotation in 2011 after redshirting 2009 and being sparsely used in 2010, and by this past season he was an every-game starter at tackle.  His numbers don't pop off the screen, but that's because he's a tackle, not an end, and he did end up with two sacks in 2012, not bad for an interior linemen.  The best highlight of his career is easily his touchdown on a fumble return against VT this year.  Jake Snyder will be the 2013 veteran presence on the outside, Urban on the inside.


OT Oday Aboushi ****

Short version: Three-year starter and two-year all-ACC honoree

You can't deny that this recruiting class turned up some halfway decent offensive lineman.  I even wrote a piece for ITA about that earlier in the fall.  And it's hard to say the top prize hasn't been Aboushi, a late decommitment from Boston College who committed to UVA late in the cycle.  (Don't feel bad for BC.  We were close to getting Luke Kuechly right around the same time.)

Aboushi turned out pretty damn good.  A team captain, he built on a 2nd-team all-ACC selection in 2011 to make the first team this year, and represented UVA at the Senior Bowl.  He probably took a few too many holding penalties and, like Moses, had a little trouble with speed rushers.  But that's nitpicking.  Aboushi jumped into the rotation as a true freshman, rare for an O-lineman, and proved he belonged.  By the sixth game of his sophomore year he was the starting left tackle and never gave up the job.

DT Will Hill ***

Short version: Proved early enrollment can work at UVA

If we're being totally honest with ourselves, Hill's playing career probably belongs in the previous category.  As a defensive tackle, Hill moved slowly up the ranks and was only a full-time starter during his senior year, 2012.  As a sophomore and a junior he was a rotation member, but started only one game, and that was the Peach Bowl, thanks to injuries elsewhere.  Hill was mainly solid, but not spectacular.

Why here then?  For one, Hill was the first early enrollee in ages.  Al Groh and the admissions department were always butting heads for an assortment of reasons, one of them being that UVA was persnickety about letting any first-years enroll in January.  They had to come in the fall with their class and get the full college experience, otherwise they might not acclimate correctly.  Right, because football players are normal college students.  They finally relented, with Hill as the guinea pig, and it must have worked because we've had early enrollees every year since.

The other reason: this is UVA, and we give a shit about the classroom.  And Hill's dual-major degree in biology - yeah, biology, you lazy bum of an English major, you - and African-American studies is one of the most impressive things I've ever seen out of the football program.  I mean damn.

RB Perry Jones **

Short version: Natural leader and integral part of the offense

Jones was the high school player of the year in the state as a senior, but not too many people paid attention to that; he managed just two stars and three D-I offers (BC and Navy were the others.)  Maybe they should've.  Perry Jones was one of those guys who just knew football, and after returning kicks in 2009, found his calling as a running back the next year.  Truthfully, he peaked as a junior, racking up 1,468 all-purpose yards and being named a team captain, a very rare honor for a non-senior.  Jones's production dropped considerably in 2012, along with the rest of the offense, but for three years he was one of (if not the) most prominent skill position players on the team.  Not bad for one of the most overlooked prospects of the class.


The 2009 class in one sentence is pretty damn good in the trenches and very hit and miss everywhere else.  Offensive line recruiting especially was highly fruitful - Aboushi, Moses, Cascarano, Bowanko, Wallace, all have started at least one game and the ceiling is the NFL.  The defensive line turned out nicely too, with Hill, Snyder, Urban and Renfrow.

The storyline at the time was that Al Groh had re-established a presence (if, as it turned out, only fleetingly, at least for Groh) in the home state.  16 of these guys came from within the borders of Virginia.  Groh went to valuable pipeline schools like Oscar Smith and Varina, and also pulled recruits from both DeMatha and Good Counsel (though the latter recruit ended up at Maryland eventually.)  There were five of the top fifteen and seven of the top 30 recruits in the state.  But the class also suffered from high-ish levels of attrition; nearly one-third of it failed to finish out their UVA careers.  Part of it can be blamed on the coaching change; that class had been around long enough to get used to Groh and his staff but not long enough that they lost a lot by leaving.  Change coaches in Year X and the recruiting class of Year X-1 will likely be decimated; it's just the way football is.

However, the lucky thing for UVA (at least in terms of perception) was that of all the players that left, all of them left before doing anything that would've made them partially indispensable.  They left behind potential, nothing more, which is to say that there weren't any Jeffrey Fitzgeralds in the class.  None but Kevin Royal spent more than two years on the roster.  And none of the decommitments were ever missed either.

Essentially, this class is the ammo against the "Groh left the cupboard bare" argument.  A lot of productive players came out of it, and this class's legacy is as the primary bridge between the Groh era and the London era.

P.S. - for those of you patiently waiting for the results of the basketball season simulation that I promised last week, I'm breaking that promise and replacing it with an ironclad cross-my-heart for the next post.  It's getting kinda late and I already shirked enough homework to get this post out.  It's not as exciting as it ought to be anyway since, you know, we lost to GT and all.


pezhoo said...

Fabulous write-up. I love this "let's review what really happened" posts. And I appreciate your candor. Imagine what it would be like to write one for Alabama.

Brendan said...

I would simply just have replaced "Never panned out" with "Fake medical redshirts." Guys like Bobby Smith would've had a "back injury" in the summer of 2011 and that would've been that.

Anonymous said...

I respect your effort on this write-up and you hit the mark for the most part. However, those of you on the outside looking in fail to recognize the incredible politics that played a huge role in the results for the remaining members of the 2009 class. The politics also played a major role in the team's losing record this past season. Certain players were kept off the field or had their reps reduced in favor of the players certain coaches wanted to "promote" for whatever agendas. The stats don't tell the whole story. This class has gone through major coaching changes, scheme changes, and position changes. And how a player is viewed by the staff that recruited him may not be how a new staff sees or values that player. The 2009 class has seen much turnover and turmoil in the program.

Nairobi Gilmers said...

Great job. I love this sort of post. One question: You said Javanti Sparrow had been in for 23 plays. Where do you get this stat? I would love to see how many plays each player is in each year, but don't know where to find it. thanks

Anonymous said...

Amazing post. It's like a (very) miniature version of Hoop Dreams. As an observer, I tend to focus on the "survivors", and thus although I know better, I get the impression that most players have a successful career, or at least a complete career. This post shows the truth, which is that there are so, so many ways things can go wrong along the way. It's a minefield.

Kind of depressing, but it's also good to see the various safety nets in action. Plus I feel good about having a HC like London, who better than most, and far better than some, will help these kids find their way.

Brendan said...

Re: number of plays, in Sparrow's case I found it from one of the articles that I'd used in research. Some teams' official sites do tell you how many plays a player was involved in; UVA's is not one of them, and I wish I did know a one-stop-shop for that.

Adriana said...

Just curious whether Kevin Royal is the same Georgia Tech student who got arrested afteva break-in at the Fox Theater in Atlanta?