Since Rivals.com began issuing star rankings in 2002, 16 high school seniors from the state of Virginia have earned 5-star status. Three of those prospects — Woodbridge defensive end Da’Shawn Hand , Bayside (Virginia Beach) safety Quin Blanding , and Oscar Smith (Chesapeake) defensive lineman Andrew Brown — are members of the class of 2014. ESPN.com, 247Sports.com, and Scout.com all rank all three prospects on the 5-star level as well.
Arguments can be made for any of the three 5-stars to hold the top spot in the state. In this Preseason Top 40, I have Hand at no. 1, Blanding at no. 2, and Brown at no. 3.
Da’Shawn Hand played four games on the junior varsity level before getting the call up to the varsity midway through his freshman year. Then only about 190 pounds, Hand lined up at nose guard and scored a sack on his first play from scrimmage. He recorded a tackle-for-loss on his second play and had an assisted tackle-for-loss on play no. 3. Certainly, Hand’s talents were evident early on in his high school career. He finished the 2010 season with over 60 tackles and three sacks, and in the past two seasons he has totaled 37 sacks.
Hand, who recently measured in at 6’4″, 254 pounds at Nike’s The Opening, has elite quickness off the edge and closing speed. He can blow by offensive linemen, but he’s also strong and can push the opposition back deep into the offensive backfield.
Blanding, a 6’2″, 210-pound prospect bound for the University of Virginia, is an outstanding safety prospect. He’s a sure tackler who also can lay the big hit. He plays the run well and moves very well from sideline to sideline. Blanding was all over the field for the Marlins last season, finishing 2012 with 111 tackles. He also finished with five interceptions, showing a strong ability to read the quarterback and diagnose plays.
Blanding has good speed, but what impresses me most about his movement is how fluid he is. He makes cuts without losing speed, and he has a terrific backpedal as well.
Brown, who, like Hand, has been a coveted defensive lineman from very early on in his high school career, is a 6’4″, 295-pound lineman with excellent quickness off the ball. He primarily plays defensive tackle at Oscar Smith, where he racked up 83 tackles with 14 tackles for loss and 11 sacks last season as a junior, but has the athleticism to alternate between end and tackle. Brown has the potential to be a stalwart against the run and a big-time pass rusher on the major college level. He has committed to the University of Virginia.
While the three 5-star players make up the top three, a pair of solid 4-star prospects round out the top five. Lake Taylor (Norfolk) defensive end/tight end Jalyn Holmes and Ocean Lakes (Virginia Beach) defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi come in at no. 4 and no. 5, respectively.
Holmes, who has committed to Ohio State, was a two-way force on Lake Taylor’s Division 5 state championship team in 2012. The 6’5″, 235-pound prospect started at tight end and defensive end for head coach Hank Sawyer. On offense, he had 24 catches for 351 yards and seven touchdowns. He racked up 78 tackles including 40 tackles for loss and 11 sacks on the defensive side, which is the side of the ball many feel he’ll play in college. I like his ability on both sides of the ball and could see him as a big-time tight end as well.
Nnadi, a 6’2″, 310-pound prospect, is a major force in the middle of the defensive line. He has the ability to make plays in the offensive backfield — he racked up 27 tackles for loss and 13 sacks as a junior — but what stands out the most to me is his outstanding strength. On the high school level, not many offensive linemen can push him off the line. His size and strength should at the very least make him an excellent defender against the run on the major college level.
– Six players in this top 40 earned invites to Nike’s The Opening, an event in which only 162 of the nation’s top players get invited to. Hand, Blanding, Brown, Holmes, MJ Stewart (ATH, Arlington Yorktown) and CJ Reavis (S, Chester Thomas Dale) were all in Oregon for the event.
– Of the top 40, 14 players are undecided, including top 10 prospects Hand, Nnadi, Jamil Kamara (WR, Va. Beach Bishop Sullivan) and Ricky Walker (DL, Hampton Bethel). Virginia Tech leads the way in terms of the number of in-state commits, as the Hokies have scored eight prospects thus far. Virginia and North Carolina have four apiece. The Cavaliers have three players in the top 10 and two in the top three. Wake Forest has two recruits on this list. Florida State, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee have one commit apiece.
– Potential movers in the postseason ranks include Woodgrove (Purcellville) defensive end/outside linebacker JJ Jackson and L.C. Bird (Chesterfield) defensive back Shawn Payne . The 6’4″, 220-pound Jackson showed a lot of promise last season as a junior, his first on the high school level. He didn’t have much responsibility — basically, his main role was to rush the quarterback — but this season head coach Mike Skinner plans on expanding the athletic UVa-bound prospect’s responsibilities.
Payne, who stands at 6’3″ and weighs 180 pounds, went under the radar before landing and accepting an offer from Virginia Tech in June. There is not a whole lot of film on him, but from what is out there, he appears to be a very fluid athlete who covers a lot of ground quickly.
The 2014 Preseason Top 40
1 – Da’Shawn Hand , DE, 6’4″, 254 pounds, Woodbridge, Undecided
Hand, who sees action all over the defensive line for the Vikings, had 78 solo tackles his junior season. Schools from all over the country recruited him, but he recently revealed his final five: Alabama, Florida, Michigan, LSU and Southern Cal.
2 – Quin Blanding , S, 6’2″, 210 pounds, Bayside (Virginia Beach), Committed to UVa
Whether he is helping against the run, making big hits in the secondary, or playing the pass, Blanding brings the total package to the safety position. Expect him to see the field right away at Virginia.
3 – Andrew Brown , DL, 6’4″, 295 pounds, Oscar Smith (Chesapeake), Committed to UVa
Brown displays excellent quickness for his size, but he says his hands separate him from the competition. The 2012 season was his first at in-state power Oscar Smith. He attended Indian River High School in Chesapeake the previous two years.
4 – Jalyn Holmes , DE/TE, 6’5″, 235 pounds, Lake Taylor (Norfolk), Committed to Ohio State
Holmes looks the part of a major college athlete right now. Defense seems to be where most feel he will end up at Ohio State. He earned DL MVP honors at the Nike Camp in Ashburn in the spring of 2013.
5 – Derrick Nnadi , DT, 6’1″, 300 pounds, Ocean Lakes (Virginia Beach), Undecided
A true anchor of the defensive line, Nnadi is big and strong. Should at least be an excellent run-stuffer on the major college level, but he has shown the ability to make plays in the offensive backfield. I still feel Virginia and Virginia Tech are the likely finalists in the end, but Florida State and others have offered as well.
6 – Caleb Henderson , QB, 6’3″, 210 pounds, Lake Braddock (Burke), Committed to UNC
Henderson played for his father, Eric, at West Potomac before moving on to Lake Braddock, where his father now serves as defensive coordinator. Henderson totaled 2,931 yards (including 2,403 yards passing) and 31 touchdowns his sophomore season at WPHS. As a junior at Lake Braddock, he had 3,000 yards of offense including 2,500-plus yards passing.
7 – Vinny Mihota , DE, 6’4″, 250 pounds, Massaponax (Fredericksburg), Committed to Virginia Tech
Mihota, whose older brother Anthony had a solid career at the University of Virginia, has gone under the radar in my opinion. I think he has excellent upside on the next level, displaying the size, quickness off the line, and good speed off the edge. And he’s intense. Alabama tried to sway him with a scholarship offer but he remains committed to Virginia Tech, where he pledged to in the spring of 2012.
8 – Jamil Kamara , WR, 6’2″, 205 pounds, Bishop Sullivan (Virginia Beach), Undecided
Kamara may not be a speed burner, but has good size, good speed, and has shown excellent hands on the high school level.
9 – Steven Moss , OL, 6’5″, 290 pounds, Chancellor (Fredericksburg), Committed to UVa
Moss brings toughness and tenacity to the Chargers’ offensive line. He plays to the whistle. He starts at right offensive tackle for the Chargers, but I believe offensive guard may be his future with the Cavaliers.
10 – Ricky Walker , DL, 6’3″, 260 pounds, Bethel (Hampton), Undecided
Walker is a solid looking defensive tackle prospect with good ability against the run or the pass. His brother, Rijo, is a safety at the University of Virginia, but Walker plans to head elsewhere to play his college ball. He has offers from Virginia Tech, Penn State, Michigan State, and UNC, among others.
11 – Travon McMillian , QB/ATH, 6’0″, 195 pounds, Hylton (Woodbridge), Committed to Virginia Tech
At quarterback, McMillian passed for over 1,300 yards and rushed for close to 1,100 yards his junior season, totaling 28 touchdowns. He’ll get a chance at QB at Virginia Tech, but it’s more likely he’ll end up playing elsewhere. Receiver, outside linebacker, and safety are other position possibilities.
12 – Jeremiah Clarke , DL, 6’5″, 270 pounds, T.C. Williams (Alexandria), Committed to UNC
Clarke plays on both sides of the line for the Titans. He has good upside on both sides on the major college level, but defense is where most schools wanted him to play.
13 – MJ Stewart , DB, 5’11”, 190 pounds, Yorktown (Arlington), Undecided
A tremendously productive two-way player, Stewart wants to play defensive back in college. He had 10 interceptions last season as a junior.
14 – Marshawn Williams , RB, 6’0″, 205 pounds, Phoebus (Hampton), Committed to Virginia Tech
A bruising running back with good balance, footwork, and strength.
15 – CJ Reavis , S/LB, 6’0.5″, 200 pounds, Thomas Dale (Chester), Committed to Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech likes versatile defensive players. Reavis fits the bill and should fit in nicely as either an outside linebacker or safety.
16 – Greer Martini, LB, 6’3″ 230 pounds, Woodberry Forest, Committed to Notre Dame
17 – Coleman Thomas , OL, 6’6″, 295 pounds, Fort Chiswell (Max Meadows), Committed to Tennessee
18 – Xavier Burke , TE/DL, 6’3″, 245 pounds, Brunswick (Lawrenceville), Committed to Virginia Tech
19 – Wilton Speight, QB, 6’6″, 215 pounds, Collegiate (Richmond), Committed to Michigan
20 – Nick Scott, RB, 6’0″, 185 pounds, Fairfax, Committed to Penn State
21 – Demornay Pierson-El, CB/ATH, 5’9″, 175 pounds, West Potomac (Alexandria), Committed to Nebraska
22 – Raymon Minor , LB/ATH, Benedictine (Richmond), Undecided
23 – Nyquan Harris, DL, 6’3″, 280 pounds, Lake Taylor (Norfolk), Undecided
24 – Alec Eberle, OL, 6’4″, 265 pounds, Atlee (Mechanicsville), Committed to Florida State
25 – Malik Carney, LB, 6’3″, 220 pounds, T.C. Williams (Alexandria), Committed to UNC
26 – JJ Jackson, LB/DE, 6’4″, 225 pounds, Woodgrove (Purcellville), Committed to UVa
27 – Terrell Edmunds , CB, 6’1″, 185 pounds, Dan River (Ringgold), Committed to Virginia Tech
28 – Greg Stroman , CB/ATH, 6’0″, 160 pounds, Stonewall Jackson (Manassas), Undecided
29 – Trace McSorley , QB/ATH, 6’0″, 185 pounds, Briar Woods (Ashburn), Undecided
30 – Christian Byrum, DB, 6’1″, 195 pounds, Tallwood (Virginia Beach, Undecided
31 – Anthony Scott, CB/ATH, 5’10”, 180 pounds, Green Run (Virginia Beach), Undecided
32 – Jaylen Bradshaw , WR, 6’1″, 175 pounds, Oscar Smith (Chesapeake), Committed to Virginia Tech
33 – Shawn Payne , DB/WR, 6’3″, 180 pounds, L.C. Bird (Chesterfield), Committed to Virginia Tech
34 – Vincent Lowe, RB, 5’7″, 175 pounds, Grassfield (Chesapeake), Undecided
35 – Mike Herndon , OL, 6’4″, 320 pounds, Riverheads (Staunton), Committed to Pitt
36 – DaiQuan Lawrence , CB, 6’1″, 180 pounds, Western Branch (Chesapeake), Committed to Wake Forest
37 – Tyler Powell , DL, 6’4″, 240 pounds, Cosby (Midlothian), Committed to UNC
38 – Aaron Glover, LB, 6’0″, 205 pounds, Princess Anne (Virginia Beach), Undecided
39 – Mustaqueem Williams, ATH, 5’9″, 160 pounds, Forest Park (Woodbridge), Undecided
40 – Terence Ricks, ATH, 6’2″, 210 pounds, Western Branch (Chesapeake), Committed to Wake Forest