Friday, March 27, 2015

2011 recruiting class in review

This is a regular yearly feature these days that I don't want to let slip, so, bonus Thursday post.  The 2011 recruiting class is either gone or going into their fifth-year-senior season, so for the most part we know how things have shaken out.  Usually one or two players blossom in the upcoming season enough that they finish their career in a better category, but hopefully we're now doing this late enough that we're done with attrition from this class, which wasn't the case last year when Jake McGee made it into the "stars" category only to transfer.

2011 was Mike London's first real recruiting class, and if you think back to Signing Day 2011 you might even remember what it was like to feel optimism about the football program.  London was beating Virginia Tech for recruits, which hadn't happened in lo these many years.  It was a big class, a darn good one at the time, and it was supposed to be the foundation of the revival.

The stars next to the player are the number that Rivals gave them, for consistency's sake with previous editions.

DECOMMITMENTS (3)

S Matt Bailey *** (Edna Karr - LA)

Short version: Decent semi-regular at Tulane

Bailey was actually a Groh commitment, one of the last vestiges of the era.  Groh wanted very large defensive players and a lot of his recruits got shifted closer to the line by London.  In Bailey's case, London likely thought Bailey much too big to play safety, and the decommitment was at least mutual if not largely engineered by London.  Bailey wound up at his hometown school, Tulane, and played as a true freshman - but at linebacker.  His peak year was 2012, when he started the majority of games; he started a handful of games each of the following seasons, too, but never really built on his sophomore season.

S Jordan Lomax *** (DeMatha - MD)

Short version: Exploded in 2014 for Iowa

Lomax decommitted from UVA very late in the cycle; barely a week before Signing Day, in fact.  Rumors of it were swirling beforehand, and it didn't sound like the cleanest of divorces.  When asked about it, Lomax refused to give any details, or even any broad statements.

For three years there wasn't much career to talk about.  Lomax saw spot duty in 2011 and 2013, sandwiched around a shoulder injury that forced him out of action in 2012.  He did start a game in 2013, but injuries continued to hold him back.  Then, this past fall, he got into the starting lineup and never looked back.  As Iowa's starting free safety he had 92 tackles, six PBUs, and a pick, and made honorable mention all-B1G.  Additionally he's a two-year academic all-conference performer too.  UVA hasn't actually been lacking for decent safeties, so losing him didn't hurt UVA much, but it's not often one of our decommitments does so well.

TE Darius Redman ** (H.D. Woodson - DC)

Short version: TE who moved to lineman at VT

This was another at least quasi-mutual decommitment; London did recruit Redman but it wasn't quite the fit that it felt like in the beginning, and truth is Redman wasn't the last instance of London having trouble getting DC public school players through admissions.

Redman has been a lightly-used player most of the time in Blacksburg.  As a redshirt sophomore in 2013 he started two games and saw between 10-15 plays a game on offense, but his role diminished big-time last year and he hardly played.  This spring - just a few days ago, in fact - Redman moved to the offensive line to shore up Tech's depth issues.

DIDN'T MAKE IT THIS FAR (12)

DE Diamonte Bailey ** (Hermitage - VA)

Short version: Left team

One minute he was there, and then he wasn't.  Bailey didn't transfer, and his departure wasn't publicized.  He participated in spring practice 2013; by the summer, he was off the roster with hardly a peep.  Bailey never played in a game for UVA.  

DE Thompson Brown *** (St. Christopher's - VA)

Short version: Switched to lacrosse

Brown had a few plays here and there as a true freshman, but unlike most players in this section, he did sear one big moment into the memory of UVA fans.  With UVA clinging to a lead against Miami after giving most of it away, the Canes were down to one last play with a legitimate shot at the end zone.  Part of a three-man rush, Brown blew through the line early and forced Canes QB Stephen Morris to take off running before any of the routes could develop.  Morris scrambled and was brought down to end the game, and Brown looked like he might be a future force on defense.

It didn't last long; Brown decided after one season to jump to Dom Starsia's outfit instead, where he's a reserve defender who missed 2014 (his junior year) with injury and has gotten in a couple blowout games when healthy.

OT Tim Cwalina *** (Mt. Lebanon - PA)

Short version: Medical scholarship

Getting an offensive lineman that Wisconsin offered is a pretty good deal.  But Cwalina never played a game for UVA; he redshirted as a freshman as most linemen do, but sat out the following spring with mono and then was sidelined for good when it was discovered he had a heart condition.  Just before the 2012 season began, Cwalina was placed on medical scholarship, ending his football career.

WR Adrian Gamble *** (Independence - NC)

Short version: Transferred to Tennessee

Talk about your lengthy sagas.  Gamble committed to UVA in July of 2009 - not only giving his commitment to Al Groh but doing it before his junior season.  Then, after sticking with it through the coaching change and two of his high school seasons, he had to wait yet another season to suit up, forced to take a postgrad year at FUMA.  (Which seems odd; he did have two years where he knew he was going to UVA, you'd think that'd be enough time to get his transcripts in order.)

At any rate, he finally got on the field in 2012 and 2013, but despite his blazing speed, wasn't able to push very far on the depth chart.  He only played in five games in 2013, and caught just three passes in his UVA career, which might have helped his decision to transfer.  He decided, before the 2014 season, to walk on at Tennessee, meaning he was actually a Hoo for less time than he was anticipating being a Hoo.  Having redshirted in 2014, he'll have two more seasons to try and make his mark in Knoxville.

ATH Kevin Green ** (Petersburg - VA)

Short version: Never even enrolled

Not really a decommitment, because he did sign, Green never landed in Charlottesville.  Required to prep a year to get eligible, I don't recall that he even did that.  Thanks to his disappearing act and having a common name, Green is nigh-unGooglable; most results for "kevin green virginia" turn up a convincted murderer who was executed in 2008.

OT Kelby Johnson *** (DeMatha - MD)

Short version: Academic issues sent him to juco; landed at Louisville

Johnson was always going to be a boom-or-bust prospect.  Recruited out of then-pipeline DeMatha, Johnson had a rocky two years at UVA.  He played as a true freshman and then sat out 2012, and watched his grades spiral into irrecoverable oblivion.  He was forced to fix his grades in junior college, ending up at a place called ASA College in Brooklyn, NY.  Bobby Petrino was tipped off to his existence, and after a season spent at juco in 2013, he went to Louisville.

Once there, he was considered a candidate to compete for a starting tackle role, instead, he was basically a special-teamer.  He'll have one more year to try and rescuscitate his career.

DT Marco Jones *** (Boys' Latin - MD)

Short version: Never played

Another D-lineman who never set foot on the field for UVA.  A combination of two things sank his career: injuries, for one, as he missed most of his redshirt freshman season in 2012; also, he was a tweener in a big way.  Never really quick enough for DE and couldn't get on the field as a DT.  Shame, because Jones had a lot of promise coming out of high school.  Jones was still in the plans as late as July 2014, but was no longer on the roster by the fall.

LB Darius Lee ** (St. Stephens & St. Agnes - VA)

Short version: Special teamer who recently left

If we'd done this a week ago, Lee would be in the "never panned out" section, but the roster was updated for the spring recently and Lee wasn't on it.  That's about the extent of the fanfare his departure got.  Recruited as a safety, he was moved to outside linebacker, but it didn't get him on the field on defense.

Lee did, however, play very regularly on special teams for three solid years.  Sort of the poster child for "why would you ever play a true freshman there" when guys like Lee are willing and able.  By what little indications we had, Lee appeared to be a well-valued teammate who simply wasn't talented enough to get snaps on defense; the fact that he played so much on special teams and was, multiple times, named the scout teamer of the week suggested that the coaches thought quite highly of him.

S Kameron Mack *** (I.C. Norcom - VA)

Short version: Left to "focus on academics and personal life" and never returned

Those quote marks above come from Mike London, not Mack.  Mack played on special teams as a freshman, but shortly before fall practice in 2012, London told him to take a year off.  Mack was, at the time, still enrolled at UVA; he isn't anymore.

RB Clifton Richardson **** (Menchville - VA)

Short version: Kind of drifted away

I'll admit: I had really, really high hopes for Richardson.  Richardson played for a really awful high school team and in such a situation where almost everyone good (in Virginia, anyway) transfers schools, Richardson stuck it out.  He also showed a huge soft side in an article that detailed how he took care of a nephew of his who'd suffered awful burns as a toddler.  Combine it all with excellent, almost effortless athleticism of the four-star variety, and it looked like Richardson would be a huge favorite going forward.

It just wasn't to be; Richardson had some nagging injuries from the get-go, and maybe, simply lost interest in football as well.  In late spring of 2013 he decided to transfer out of UVA and landed at Liberty.  He lasted just one season, though.  In a run-heavy attack he was a clear backup in 2013, running for 399 yards on 94 carries. Just less than a year after he transferred from UVA, Liberty quietly announced he was no longer on the roster, putting an end to his football career.

LB Caleb Taylor *** (Phoebus - VA)

Short version: Transferred to ODU, then dismissed

Taylor only wore the UVA uniform for a season, in which he redshirted.  After a year, he decided, with a newborn daughter at home, to transfer back closer to home.  Though he started for ODU at linebacker in 2012, his job slipped away in 2013, and shortly after the start of that season, he was suspended, then dismissed, for "repeated violations of team rules."  He hasn't played football since.

QB David Watford *** (Hampton - VA)

Short version: One fairly disastrous season as a starter

Watford was hailed by some fans as an important recruit, not for his position or for having offers from everywhere, but for his high school: Hampton, where UVA typically had zero success in the past.  

His career was probably nothing like he envisioned.  Watford battled for the starting job as a true freshman before the coaches realized Mike Rocco was doing a much better job and yanking them both in and out wasn't helping.  (It's very likely Watford was partly hamstrung by having played in a run-almost-exclusively offense in high school.)  He then took a rare second-year redshirt in 2012, and emerged from that year's enormous controversy as the starter in 2013.  London then made the opposite mistake, refusing to consider another quarterback even as Watford struggled mightily all year.  He finished with only 8 TDs against 15 INTs and led the Hoos to a 2-10 season.

That earned him the back seat in the 2014 competition, and after about half the season he re-emerged with some reps at wide receiver, probably a reward for maintaining a solid attitude through a roller-coaster ride.  Very soon after the season, he announced his transfer back home to Hampton University, where he'll finish his college career.  It's a near-certainty the coaches told him he wasn't going to get another shot at quarterback; he will at Hampton.

NEVER PANNED OUT (3)

DE Rob Burns *** (Stone Bridge - VA)

Short version: Moved to tight end

In retrospect, a huge lanky 6'7" guy at DE wasn't likely to work out that well unless he was an athletic freak.  Burns isn't.  He redshirted 2011 and was moved to tight end during fall camp 2012.  Since then he's been a blocker for three years.  He has three career catches: one in 2013 for no gain, and two in 2014 for 11 yards.

That said, he'll be the only tight end this year who's ever set foot on the field.  Brendan Marshall is a converted quarterback and Evan Butts is a redshirt freshman; everyone else is still in high school.  Burns has maybe the best chance of anyone on this whole list to move up a category in his fifth season.

DT Vincent Croce *** (Good Counsel - MD)

Short version: Moved to fullback

Between Croce and Marco Jones, this class was supposed to set us up at DT for a good long time.  Croce could never get into the lineup, though.  After two seasons, one a redshirt year and the other in which he sat most of the year and finally got into the last four games on special teams, he was moved to fullback, or H-back, however you want to call it.

It's hard to say which, because the move didn't help his playing time much.  Croce has still been mainly a special-teamer.  In 2014, he finally did get some spot duty as an H-back.  This was exclusively in a blocking role, though; Connor Wingo-Reeves moved ahead of him on the depth chart almost immediately, and Croce has yet to carry the ball or catch a pass.  He has one more season, in which his role in the offense may expand, but probably only slightly.

S Mason Thomas ** (Kempsville - VA)

Short version: Special teamer

Thomas's offer came at the very end of the recruiting cycle, and raised a few eyebrows since he was barely recruited by any D-I teams and was very lightly rated.  If he's ever played a down on defense, I've missed it.  Like Darius Lee, he's been on the field a decent amount, all of it (or almost all of it) on special teams, and serves on scout team duty.  His role isn't likely to change this year.

USEFUL (2)

LB D.J. Hill *** (Newton - GA)

Short version: Solid backup linebacker

Hill would be a good poster child for why you should redshirt your freshmen.  He was never quite good enough to start during any of the four years of his career, except as an injury replacement - though when he did start, he acquitted himself quite well.  It's not entirely his fault, as linebacker has been one of the strongest position groups on the team during his whole tenure.

Hill was a little bit limited physically compared to the starters, but you always at least felt like the defense was in good hands when he was on the field.  This impression took off when he got a couple starts late in his sophomore year after La'Roy Reynolds got hurt.  The linebacking corps is wildly inexperienced this year with the departure of literally every starter; having Hill around to help bridge the depth chart gap would've been great if he hadn't been tossed out mainly on special teams as a freshman.

WR Dominique Terrell **** (Osbourn - VA)

Short version: Has only ever teased with his production

Being one of the most highly-rated members of the class of 2011 has helped make Terrell one of the most maddening.  He had a few moments as a true freshman, but a sophomore season with 38 catches and 475 yards made it seem as if he could really take strides as an upperclassman.

It wasn't to be.  Watford's crummy year in 2013 didn't help, but Terrell regressed down to 14 catches for 107 yards.  Through it all, he's been sent out to return punts and making UVA fans set records for use of swear words with his inexplicable decision-making.  Terrell has shown he can be a quality receiver when he focuses on the game, but he habitually makes awful choices regarding which punts to field and which ones to let slide - often attempting to pick up bouncing balls, or making mad dashes to try and catch punts headed to a spot nowhere near him.

Last season, rather than try and force him to play through nagging injuries, the coaches decided to shut him down and give him one last fresh start in 2015.  One of their smarter moves; his absence wasn't really felt last year and he's still got enough talent that it's worth seeing what he can do at full health.  I wouldn't bet on stardom, but this is still a golden opportunity for him after spinning his wheels as a junior.

CORE OF THE TEAM (4)

OL Ross Burbank *** (Cox - VA)

Short version: Back and forth between center and guard

Burbank's career has kind of advanced in fits and starts.  The coaches made more than one attempt to make him the starting center; it didn't always take.  He got some snaps there as a redshirt freshman, and some starts there as a sophomore, but never could quite hold down the job.  Last season might have made the move permanent; he started 11 games there.

When not playing center, Burbank moved over to guard; even if he wasn't holding down one particular job, he's always been holding a job.  With Jay Whitmire questionable for the season with a back injury, it might be that Burbank turns out to be the top O-lineman of the 2011 class.

WR Darius Jennings **** (Gilman - MD)

Short version: A top target for three years

Jennings and Terrell both committed on Signing Day, turning a good class into a great one.  Getting the two of them was considered a tremendous coup.  Two four-star receivers - it never would've happened under Groh, and it was supposed to lay the foundation for a terrific offense.

The quarterback situation didn't help at all, but neither really lived up to their billing.  Jennings was a good, not great, player for four years.  As a freshman he was decent, but only a complementary player - and really only needed to be, since Kris Burd was busy piling up nearly a thousand yards.  Jennings more than doubled his output as a sophomore, finishing with 48 catches for 568 yards.

He never matched it, though.  In 2013, he averaged less than 9 yards a catch, right around the time he was expected, as a veteran, to start helping out his quarterback.  His senior year was a rebound year, and he finally became the big-play threat we'd been hoping for, averaging over 19 yards a catch.  Still, he only scored twice, and managed just 27 catches - just seven more than his freshman season.  Jennings was always a fixture on the field and someone the passing game depended very heavily on, but he only ever showed flashes of being a game-changer.

CB Brandon Phelps **** (Damascus - MD)

Short version: Versatile DB who bounced between CB and S

One of quite a few true freshmen who played in 2011, Phelps started his career at cornerback.  There was more opportunity at safety in 2012, though, so that's where he went in fall camp.  For two years he toiled as a safety, where he was pretty good, most of the time.  Which smacks of damnation with faint praise, because really, cornerback was always his better position.

Which made it a good thing he moved back there as a senior; again, he went where he was needed, this time after Demetrious Nicholson went down with an injury.  (It also created room for Quin Blanding to get on the field.)  Phelps had the athleticism for safety but never the instincts needed to be a star there; he was a much more natural cornerback, able to use his size greatly to his advantage.  Fans were often frustrated with him; unfairly, I usually felt, as he wasn't far off from being one of the better-known DBs in the league and his versatility played against him in that regard.  You wouldn't call him a lockdown player and he didn't rack up the stats, but he wasn't a weak link by any stretch of the imagination.

OT Jay Whitmire *** (T.C. Williams - VA)

Short version: Still hoping to come back from a back injury

The offensive line has its depth issues, and I'll shout it from the rooftops how badly I think London has screwed that situation up.... but this hasn't helped.  Whitmire jumped onto the depth chart as a redshirt freshman and looked on his way to becoming a stalwart on the line.  Especially the next year, in 2013, when he was the line's most versatile player and probably its most talented not named Morgan Moses.  Whitmire started at both guard and tackle that year, depending on need.

Last year - nada.  Back injury.  Though the coaches tried to make noises about the possibility he'd play, it was pretty much evident from fall camp that he wouldn't.  Whether he will this year is anyone's guess.  Shame, because in a sea of offensive line question marks, he should've been the one exclamation point.

STARS (4)

DT David Dean *** (Green Run - VA)

Short version: Disruptive three-tech tackle

I kind of made it sound like Croce and Jones were the big hope at DT for this class, but Dean was just as much a part of the optimistic outlook as any of them.  Dean redshirted, and saw very limited playing time in 2012, but it felt like more; he was usually making his presence felt on the few occasions he was in the game.  That team had Will Hill, Chris Brathwaite in his good season, and Brent Urban on his way up, so Dean's time was always going to be limited.

2013 saw him force his way into the starting lineup, though, and for him it's been all uphill since.  This past year he played well enough to be on the coaches' third team all-ACC and honorable mention to the media; it's likely he'll get noticed in the upcoming season as one of the league's top returning D-linemen.  He's certainly the team's best one.

S Anthony Harris *** (L.C. Bird - VA)

Short version: Led nation in interceptions as a junior

Which pretty much made him a lock for any team with "all-" in front of it.  Harris's career trajectory was odd.  As a true freshman he was a special teamer and that was it.  The next year he was starting all 12 games at safety and ending up third on the team in tackles.  He started 35 games in all over three years.

It's really hard to duplicate the feat of picking off eight passes, so just going by his honors, Harris would appear to have peaked as a junior.  Don't be fooled; as a senior, Harris pulled off the very difficult feat of leading the team in tackles as a safety on a good defense.  That's normally a sign you have a crap defense; if your defense is good, it's a sign you have a damn good safety.  The idea of having to replace him next year is scary.

CB Demetrious Nicholson **** (Bayside - VA)

Short version: Has never played in a game he didn't start

Quite a feat, really.  Nicholson started 25 games his first two seasons, which amounts to all of them.  When healthy, he's unquestionably a top cornerback; fast, fluid, and with a real know-how for the position.  Over those two seasons he racked up 23 PBUs and added four more in five games as a junior.

Unfortunately, we haven't seen him in action since early in 2013.  OK, he came back for one game in 2014, which only proved he wasn't ready to come back.  UVA was deep at cornerback, so his absence didn't hurt too badly - though given the outcome of the VT game and the manner in which we lost, it's fair to say Nicholson might've been able to turn that around.  This season he'll be a solid bridge to the future; his return gives the coaches the ability to move Maurice Canady to safety to fill the obvious gap there.

LB Daquan Romero *** (Phoebus - VA)

Short version: Early enrollee became part of one of the league's top linebacking corps

Romero joined David Watford in spring camp 2011.  He made it pay off in a big way; while he didn't start any games as a freshman, he played regularly, and not just on special teams.  By the next year he was starting ACC games, and never looked back.  Along with Henry Coley, Romero formed a linebacking tandem that would've made Al Groh proud.

Playing on the outside, Romero made it a particular specialty of his to sniff out screen passes and crush them.  Announcers often said something to the effect of UVA was really good at defending screens because they ran them so often in practice.  It was probably true to some extent, but it was also usually the same guy blowing them up.  Romero never earned any all-ACC recognition, which was a shame because he loaded up with a smorgasbord of stats; he had numerous TFLs, a couple sacks, a pick, and a blocked kick.  For sure one of the best of the class.

**************************************

The verdict on this class is very boom-and-bust.  More bust than boom.  If you can get half of every class to fill in the top two categories you're in good shape, but this one managed just 8 really good players out of 25, and two more who've contributed.  15 of them never really did, and almost half washed out before even getting to this point.  That's not at all good.  A dearth of players in the "Useful" section really hurt the fortunes of the team, and even some of the players I called "Core" didn't fully live up to their promise.  As a comparison, the 2010 class that I profiled last year had three "Useful" players, and that was the much smaller coaching transition class.  And it only had four (of 18) who left early - five, I suppose, counting McGee.

I chalk some of it up to London's inexperience.  He did a great job convincing players who had lots of options to come to UVA.  But he didn't do so hot identifying players with staying power, took more than a few flyers, and didn't see any of them pan out.  The players who turned out really well were all players who were supposed to turn out that way, with the possible exception of Harris and Romero - who weren't exactly sleepers.

All in all, the 2011 class was at best a moderate success.  I suppose the only conclusion is that the class that was supposed to set the foundation for UVA's future, did.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's terribly sobering to see all of the disappointments laid out in one place like this. College football is an unforgiving place.

Anonymous said...

As unforgiving as college football is, the foolish decisions of the staff sure makes things worse. The poor QB situation made it so that it was hard for any skill player to develop a rhythm. The shoddy OL recruiting didn't help.

A guy like Dominique Terrell in this class should've been redshirted (or ... should've been on defense). I get letting him try offense as a recruiting enticement, since he supposedly wanted that, but once it became clear he was never going to be much, someone should've sat him down. It's possible a redshirt year might've made a huge difference for him as well.

That said, this class was probably a touch over-hyped at the time. It was nice to get high 3 stars/low 4 stars like Jennings/Terrell/Richardson, but those weren't elite skill guys, and as such, there needed to be a strong supporting environment for those skill guys to really have a shot (and Richardson obviously busted). Too much was made of the Watford commitment, probably by London as much as fans, as he was only a decent raw specimen, akin to Sewell (and it got worse by London doubling down and giving him so much PT). His QB skills were never that great. I mean, folks were talking about him moving to WR/S early on. I mean, a mediocre recruit got hyped up as a sign that London could win big recruiting battles!

The defensive side of this class was fine. There was a bust in Croce, though I wonder why they never considered moving him back to LB as he played in HS for a time (although we never needed the help thee either). You can't really say 2/low 3 star guys are busts either, and Daquan Romero probably turned out better than expected (certainly didn't expect him to start that quick, and hold it ... there were some questions about speed/quickness translating to the college level if I recall correctly).

Granted, if anything, the big positive of this class was probably London getting UVA's name back in the pipelines with a lot of schools. Although, to this day, I think Groh's recruiting problems were a bit over-stated. Groh still had solid recruiting classes every other year. Not great, but Groh's problem was

a) Not recognizing how to recruit for his 3-4 defense until too late (it was only later that he got nice pieces like Conrath, Zane Parr and co., maybe not great talents, but guys that can play in college)

b) Same problem as London. That darn QB position was a problem.

Anonymous said...

After the Georgetown loss, I was fairly down on the team and was actually mildly concerned we might not work our way into the field. We still have a lot of work to do, but the Notre Dame sweep is a step in the right direction. The lineup seems to be coming together a bit. Haseley's gotten it going in CF, and while Clement is struggling, he's better than Novak. Doherty's offensive performance has been much needed (and he's been one of our better pen arms).

We really need McCarthy back. LaPrise sounds like he might be out for the year, but if we get McCarthy back, then the lineup suddenly has some depth with McCarthy/Smith/Thaiss anchoring the middle.

Surprisingly, the pitching's been somewhat of a disappointment. Here's hoping Jones figured out what ailed him command wise, as the stuff's good. Kirby's command has been erratic as well. More disappointing has been the pen. We need 1-2 more guys to step up with Doherty (ad Bettinger when he's in there) to help anchor things for Sousa.

Big couple weeks of ACC games coming up. A strong run should propel us back into borderline hosting potential. A bad run could really cause damage.

pezhoo said...

Wow, that whole list is depressing. But I'm not reading many articles on football anymore. I haven't read one nugget about Spring football. How many games did we win last year? Five? I can tell you the exact high point of the season was. Valles' interception against Pitt. And he's gone now. What a wreck of a program.