Hokies Aim to Take Back Tidewater
By Matt Smith
Follow us at Twitter.com/SouthernPigskin. Become a fan at the SouthernPigskin.com Facebook Page
Virginia and Virginia Tech are engaged in heated recruiting battles in Virginia's most fertile recruiting grounds.
The overwhelming sentiment about the current state of major college football is that the further south a school is, the easier it is to win. The exact opposite has been the case in the ACC Coastal Division. VirginiaTech and Virginia, the two schools that are farthest north in the division, played for an ACC Championship Game berth last season on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
How has that happened in an era where the SEC has dominated the national scene? To find out, you don’t even need to leave the Commonwealth. You do, however, have to venture east from the picturesque hills and mountains that cover the western part of the state, where both Virginia and Virginia Tech are located.
This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Seven Days Battles in eastern Virginia, the second most deadly battle in the Civil War behind only Gettysburg. A century and a half later, a battleground once again lies along the eastern seaboard of Virginia. While not as lethal as the Seven Days Battles, it’s just as competitive.
The Tidewater, the coastal region in the southeast part of the state that includes Hampton Roads, Newport News, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, is a key reason for the prosperity of the Cavaliers and Hokies. The most successful quarterbacks in the history of both schools, Virginia’s Aaron Brooks and Virginia Tech’s Michael Vick, hail from the Tidewater. Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech dominated the region for much of the 2000's, and won nine of the 10 meetings with Virginia in the decade. That all began to change in 2010, however, when Virginia hired Richmond’s Mike London to replace the oft-maligned Al Groh.
Having coached in the state every year but one since 2001, London’s connections within the state were a major selling point. In the class of 2010, signed just after London’s hiring, the Cavaliers inked only one of the state’s top 30 players, according to Rivals.com rankings. 10 of those 30 landed in Blacksburg with Virginia Tech.
Two years later, the situation was much different. In the 2012 class, 17 of the state’s top 20 players stayed in-state. Six of those 17 signed with Virginia, including the state’s top player, defensive end Eli Harold, a Virginia Beach native. All in all, the Cavaliers landed 10 players from the Tidewater. The Hokies? Just four.
The landscape truly began to change in 2011, London’s first full class. Three of the top five Tidewater players signed with Virginia, while the other two left the state. Beamer has stuck to his guns during his quarter-century in charge of the Hokies, but realized it was time to regain control of some the ACC’s most fertile recruiting grounds.
He brought back a familiar face, his son Shane, who had been the recruiting coordinator for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, helping land the Palmetto State’s top player three years in a row – Alshon Jeffery in 2009 (despite Lane Kiffin telling Jeffery he’d work at a gas station if he signed with the Gamecocks), Marcus Lattimore in 2010 and Jadeveon Clowney in 2011. While working at Mississippi State in the mid-2000's, he landed another five-star recruit - his wife, Emily.
The Hokies were never known for top-ranked recruiting classes, instead succeeding with blue-collar players symbolized by the lunch pail that the Hokies keep with them on the sidelines during each game. Despite that formula leading the Hokies to seven conference titles in 16 seasons from 1995-2010, Beamer recognized London was raising the stakes, and brought his son back to Blacksburg.
The younger Beamer spent his first 11 years in coaching away from Virginia Tech, attempting to prove he could succeed without working under his father. He did that and more, and returned home to Blacksburg in February 2011. With the help of Tidewater recruiters Bryan Stinespring and Curt Newsome, the Hokies have already received commitments from five Tidewater players in the 2013 class, one more than they signed in all of 2012. National Signing Day is over seven months away.
The first major coup was landing four-star quarterback Bucky Hodges from Virginia Beach. Virginia was also heavily recruiting Hodges, but he committed to the Hokies during their spring game in April. At 6’5” and already 225 pounds, the Hokies already foresee another Logan Thomas in their future with Hodges. A teammate of Hodges, three-star linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka, has also committed to Virginia Tech. Add in athlete Deon Newsome from Hampton, and that’s three of the top six Tidewater prospects that have already committed to Virginia Tech.
Virginia was able to land another Virginia Beach quarterback, Corwin Cutler, but he is much less heralded than Hodges. Cutler’s only other scholarship offers are from Connecticut, East Carolina and Marshall. Three-star wide receiver Zack Jones of Chesapeake is the only other Tidewater player that has committed to the Cavaliers.
Plenty of top prospects in the area remain uncommitted, led by four-star Virginia Beach running back Taquan Mizzell. Both schools are in the running for the player known as “Smoke”. The proverbial biggest fish in the water is 2014 defensive tackle Andrew Brown, who holds offers from both schools and is rated the No. 2 player in the entire country by 24/7 Sports. He also holds offers from schools such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State.
Although not from the Tidewater, the No. 1 prospect in the 2014 class also hails from the Commonwealth. Defensive end Da’Shawn Hand of Woodbridge, about 30 minutes south of Washington, D.C., has 22 offers, a list even more impressive than that of Brown.
The rivalry between the Cavaliers and Hokies hasn’t really developed like it should between two division foes which are the only two FBS programs in the state. When one team wins 12 of 13 games, it’s hard to establish a heated rivalry. Although the result of last year’s game was more of the same for the disgruntled Virginia fanbase (38-0 Virginia Tech), the game was played with the Coastal Division title on the line for just the second time. It’s not unrealistic to think the same thing could happen in this year’s meeting, Nov. 24 at Lane Stadium.
With more and more out-of-state programs beginning to focus on the Tidewater, the metaphorical fence that Virginia and Virginia Tech had built around the region has gone the way of the Berlin Wall. However, it still produces the most talent of any region in the state. Both coaches, if they can no longer own it, at least want to sign more four-year “leases” there than anyone else.
It’s not quite the Seven Days Battle, but more like the Seven Years Battle. The future success of the two programs is heavily dependent on how well they can recruit the Tidewater. The Hokies have called London’s raise. Who will fire the next shot?