football

Battle for the 757: Cavs gain on Hokies

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AftergrowingupinVirginiaandcoachinginthestatefornearlytwodecades,Virginia'sMikeLondonunderstandsonemajortaskinvolvedinmakingtheCavaliersACCtitlecontenders.
Winthebattleof757.
The757areacodecoversthesoutheasternsectionofVirginiathatincludessuchcitiesasNewportNews,Hampton,NorfolkandVirginiaBeach.Thatstretchmakesuponeofthenation'stoprecruitinghotbedsoutsidethetalent-richstatesofFlorida,CaliforniaandTexas.
Overtheyears,the757areahasproducedthelikesofBruceSmithandMichaelVick.BoththoseguysplayedforVirginiaTech,whichbuiltitselfintooneofthenation'smostconsistentwinnersbycontinuallyfindingAll-AmericatalentintheTidewaterarea.
"Techbuiltitsprogramwithkidsfromthisarea,"ChesapeakeOscarSmithHighSchoolcoachRichardMorgansaid.
Virginiawantstodothesamething.
AssoonashetookoverasVirginia'sheadcoachinDecember2009,Londonpreachedtheimportanceofrecruitingtheentirestateandparticularlythetownsinthat757areacode.
"Eversincehe'sbeenanassistantfootballcoach[atVirginia]andaheadcoachatRichmond,he'smadethatareaaprioritybecauseheknowsthatareaisveryfertile,"VirginiarecruitingcoordinatorJeffHansonsaid."Thatwasahugeprioritywhenhecamein.''
London'seffortsarepayingoff.
TheCavaliers'2012recruitingclassincludedthestate'stopprospect:VirginiaBeach(Va.)OceanLakesdefensiveendEliHarold.Virginiaalsolandedthestate'sNo.4recruitinNorfolkChristianlinebackerKwontieMoore,oneoffourplayersfromhisschooltosignwiththeCavaliers.
VirginiaTechstillhadthehigher-rankedclass.TheHokiesranked22ndnationally,whileVirginiawas27th.ButtheCavaliersactuallysigned10playersfromthe757areacode,whereasVirginiaTechonlysignedfour.
ThatrepresentsamajorchangefromformerVirginiacoachAlGroh'sapproach.Groh,aformerNewYorkJetsheadcoachandlongtimeNFLassistant,didn'tfocusonin-staterecruitsnearlyasmuch.
"[Groh's]firstrecruitingclasswasoutstanding,"Rivals.comnationalrecruitinganalystMikeFarrellsaid."Thenhestartedtofocusontheareaheknew,whichwasupnorth.HedidverywellinNewJersey,NewYorkandstartedhittingPennsylvania.ButthatallowedVirginiaTechtodominatethestate.Andwhenyouallowthattooccur,it'shardtogetitback.''
VirginiaTechhasmadethatparticularlytough.
Overthelastfiveyears,68.6percentofVirginiaTech'srecruitshavecomefromthestateofVirginiaortheDistrictofColumbia.NoFBSprogramoutsideofTexas,CaliforniaorFloridahassignedahigherpercentageofin-staterecruitsduringthatstretch.
Justwithinthelastdecade,former757recruitstoearnAll-AmericahonorswiththeHokiesincludelinebackerXavierAdibi(HamptonPhoebus),cornerbackDeAngeloHall(ChesapeakeDeepCreek),defensiveendDarrylTapp(ChesapeakeDeepCreek)andcornerbackJimmyWilliams(HamptonBethel).
AccordingtoVirginiaBeachBaysidecoachDarnellMoore,arecruitfromthe757areafiveyearsagowouldbefourtimesmorelikelytopickVirginiaTechoverVirginiaifhereceivedanofferfrombothschools.NowMoorebelievesit'smoreofatoss-up.
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"Youcaneasilyseethingshavechanged,"Mooresaid."JustlookatthispastyearandthekidswhocommittedtoVirginiaoutoftheTidewaterarea....TheymadesomebiginroadssinceCoachLondonhastakenover.They'vereallyputforththeirbestefforttoforgerelationshipswithallthecoachesinthearearegardlessofwhethertheyhaverecruitsthatparticularyear."
London'slocaltieshavehelped.
AftergraduatingfromHamptonBethel,LondonplayeddefensivebackattheUniversityofRichmond,aVirginiaschooljustoutsidethe757area.HeworkedasanassistantatVirginiaandledRichmondtoanFCStitleastheheadcoachathisalmamaterbeforemovingtohiscurrentposition.
Londonhasauniquebackgroundandanoutgoingpersonalitythathaveallowedhimtobondwitharearecruits.
"Hejustpulledmein,"saidHarold,thenation'sNo.50overall2012recruit."Hereeledmerightonin.Whenwetalked,he'saveryuniqueguy.He'saman'sman.He'sagreatguy.He'samanofintegrity.He'sahumbleman.He'ssoextraordinary."
Haroldlosthismothertopancreaticcancerlastyear.Londonisaformerpoliceofficerwhooncehadagunpointedathim.Morerecently,LondondonatedbonemarrowtoadaughterwhowasdiagnosedwithFanconianemia,arareinheritedblooddisorder.
"Wetalkedabouthispast,mypast,whathe'sbeenthroughandwhatI'vebeenthrough,"Haroldsaid."Wejustconnected."
Londonisn'ttheonlypersononVirginia'sstaffwithareaconnections.
VirginiacornerbackscoachandassistantrecruitingcoordinatorChipWestisaHamptonnative.Hansonhasnearlyfourdecadesofcoachingexperience-mostlyinthestateofVirginia-andcantalkaboutthetimebackinthelate1970sthathenearlygotarecruitfromWilliamsburgLafayettetosignwithRichmond.TheprospecthappenedtobeLawrenceTaylor.
"Wewerevery,veryclose,"Hansonrecalled."Wewouldhavegottenhimif[North]Carolinahadn'tcomeinandofferedhim.He'dcomeforanofficialvisit.We'dbeeninhishome.ItwasadealwherereallynobodyelseinthestateofVirginiahadofferedhimbutus."
VirginiaandVirginiaTechnowcontinuetosearchforthenextgreatplayertocomeoutofthe757area.
Onlythisyearisalittledifferentinthatregard.Foronething,manyofthetopVirginiaprospectsintheClassof2013comefromelsewhereinthestate.OfthesevenVirginiarecruitsintheRivals100,VirginiaBeachBaysiderunningbackTaquanMizzellistheonlyplayerfroma757school.MizzellindicatedhegrewupaVirginiaTechfanbutenjoyedarecentJuniorDayvisittoVirginia.
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ClickHeretoviewthisLink.Moreover,thetop2013Virginiaprospectsseemmuchmoreopentoleavingthestate.StanfordClickHeretoviewthisLink.alreadyhasverbalcommitmentsfromtwoofthetopfourprospectsinVirginia:AshburnStoneBridgequarterbackRyanBurnsClickHeretoviewthisLink.andRichmondWoodberryForestlinebackerDougRandolphClickHeretoviewthisLink..
Thestate'sNo.1recruitisWoodbridgeC.D.HyltonlinebackerE.J.LevenberryJr.,whoseemstofavorFloridaStateandMichigan.Thestate'sNo.3prospectisRichmondHeritagerunningbackDerrickGreen,whoalsohasshowninterestinplentyofout-of-stateschools.ThegoodnewsforVirginiaandVirginiaTechisthatFarrellsaidthestateisasdeepasit'sbeeninadecade.
"Ifyou'relettingtheLevenberrysandDerrickGreensoftheworldleave-andyoualreadyknowBurnsandRandolphandsomeoftheotherguysareleaningoutofstateaswell-it'sgoingtobeextraimportanttokeepotherkidsinstate,"Farrellsaid.
Butifthosetopkidsfromelsewhereinthestateareleavinghome,thatmakesitallthemoreimperativethattheVirginiaschoolskeepcomingbacktoNewportNews,VirginiaBeach,Hamptonandtheother757towns.
VirginiaTech'sbeendoingthatsuccessfullyforyears.NowtheHokieshavealittlemorecompetition.
"Itjustfeltlikethisareawasn'tapriority[forVirginia]inthepastundertheoldregime,"HamptonPhoebuscoachStanSextonsaid."Nowitseemstobeapriority.IknowTechhasmadeitapriorityovertheyearsandhasmadethemselvesaperennialtop-10,top-15teameveryyear.AndIthinkUVAnowunderCoachLondonisdoingthesameformulanow."
SteveMegargeeisthenationalcollegecolumnistforRivals.com.Hecanbereachedatsmegargee@rivals.com,andyoucanclickheretofollowhimonTwitter.
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