BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech’s plan once the evaluation period starts in April is to spend some proper time visiting high schools across the state.
The Hokies' staff hit plenty of local schools in January, but those visits were more focused on getting face time with specific players.
Coach Justin Fuente has plenty of new faces on his coaching staff and he wants the high school coaches across the state to get to know them. Defensive line coach Darryl Tapp and defensive backs coach Ryan Smith are already familiar in many of those halls.
Tapp is a Chesapeake native who went to Deep Creek High School and earned All-American honors playing defensive end for the Hokies. Smith has deep in-state ties as a William and Mary alum who grew up outside Fredericksburg. Smith returned to Virginia last year as James Madison's safeties coach.
“I think it was important to me to make sure that we maintained through this new cycle of staff turnover some regional connections, or more importantly the Virginia connections,” Fuente said. “And that’s quite honestly … that’s not the only reason we hired Darryl and Ryan, but they certainly fit what we were looking for in terms of connections and comfort recruiting the state of Virginia.”
Virginia Tech has signed 29 in-state players during Fuente's tenure, but only one of those came in 2020 (Lakeem Rudolph out of Virginia Beach's Green Run High). The Hokies have signed six players ranked within the top 10 in the state during that stretch (all six were four-star rated).
Rival Virginia hasn’t signed a top 10 player from the state the last four years.
Currently one of the top benefactors of Virginia football talent is Penn State, which developed a huge imprint on the state when James Franklin took over as coach. In the last four years, they have landed 10 signees ranked in the top 10, with three in each of the past two recruiting cycles. The Nittany Lions signed the state’s top prospect in 2018 (running back Ricky Slade of C.D. Hylton) and 2019 (linebacker Brandon Smith of Louisa County).
Notre Dame signed the state's top prospect (Thomas Dale's Chris Tyree) this year.
Fuente sees opposing schools continuing to expand their recruiting footprint — Tech has done this recently by putting resources into recruiting Texas — but the Hokies remain focused on making 2020’s light haul from Virginia a one-time occurrence.
“I don’t think it’s going to be something that continues by any means, but we’ve got to make sure we do a great job, provide opportunities to kids that grew up in Virginia and we’ll continue to do that,’ Fuente said.
There’s also a standout class of talent in 2021 from Virginia with the top five recruits all ranked nationally in the top 200 (according to 247 Sports). Princess Anne defensive back Tony Grimes is currently rated next year’s top ranked player in Virginia. The Virginia Beach native is nearing 40 scholarship offers, including from Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.
The rest of the top five includes Hopewell running back TreVeyon Henderson (No. 101 nationally), Ocean Lakes defensive end Naquan Brown (No. 121), Robinson Secondary offensive lineman Tristan Leigh (No. 165) and Highland Springs defensive end Kelvin Gilliam (No. 181).