BLACKSBURG — It’s common practice for collegiate coaches to manage expectations, but that wasn’t the case on national signing day when Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente outlined lofty goals for the team's 2021 class.
“I think it’s got a chance to be maybe the most important class in some time at Virginia Tech,” Fuente said. “Our aim is to have it be an elite class and we’re off to a great start.”
If anything, it will certainly need to be bigger than the 2020 class.
The Hokies signed 17 players in 2020 after adding one additional name to the list on Wednesday in three-star receiver Dallan Wright.
Tech goes into spring camp with 14 seniors — seven of them played at least 12 games in 2019 — and a few other scholarship spots remaining after some attrition in January. The Hokies haven’t had that many seniors graduate in the last two years combined.
That means adding more players that are ready to contribute on Day 1. Tech had a different way of thinking for 2020 with 19 returning starters, and evaluated talent with that in mind.
According to 247 Sports composite rankings, Tech’s 2020 signing class was ranked No. 70 nationally and No. 14 in the ACC. Both were the lowest rankings during Fuente’s tenure (the Hokies ranked No. 42 nationally in 2016 and was No. 8 in the ACC).
They signed seven four-star players in 2019, but only added one this year.
“[We got] some guys that can help us right now and some guys that will help us in the future," Fuente said. "The next class coming through is just going to be much bigger in numbers, and I think it’s going to have to be ready to replace a large number of guys.”
Tech will have an easier recruiting pitch to make as well, with the uncertainty surrounding the defensive coaching staff gone — Fuente named Justin Hamilton as Bud Foster’s successor at defensive coordinator and added four new defensive assistants — and a variety of facilities improvements as an additional selling point.
“They’re coming along at a time when all of these things are going to be finished, so we jokingly say that they get to be the spoiled class,” Fuente said. “The new dorm, the new dining facility, the new weight rooms, ultimately the new players’ lounge or refurbished players’ lounge that will occur when we're done with this stuff. It’s kind of an exciting time for those guys. That’s not all of it. Obviously there’s a lot more to it, but I think it has the chance to be pretty special. “
Tech currently has three verbal commits for the 2021 class, including four-star quarterback Dematrius Davis, three-star athlete Nykelius Johnson and three-star safety Jalen Hoyle.
Davis, who is the No. 4 ranked dual-threat ranked quarterback in 2021 (and ranked No. 137 nationally), verbally committed in November. He already has 27 scholarship offers and many of them from top tier Power 5 schools, including Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Miami and Texas A&M.
Coaches aren’t allowed to talk about specific recruits, but Fuente spoke generally on Wednesday about playing defense in recruiting.
“I think it’s a good problem to have, is the first thing I would say,” Fuente said. “Continuing to have those people be invested in what you’re doing and people they’re putting around them is important. But yeah, it’s not lost on you that it’s a long time until it’s official. But you hope that the types of people that are making those decisions that early are the types of people that made those decisions for the right reason.”
Tech hosted a number of high-profile rising seniors last weekend, including four-star defensive end Landyn Watson of suburban Austin, Texas, and fellow four-star defensive end Naquan Brown of Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach (the No. 3 ranked in-state recruit in the class and No. 121 nationally).
“I think we are in great position with some other people that we’ve been developing relationships with for a long time,” Fuente said. “I’m incredibly optimistic.”