It was certainly an eventful National Signing Day for Virginia Tech, but Head Coach Justin Fuente is pleased with how things turned out. The Hokies added depth in several key areas, as well as made a statement about their recruiting in the state of Virginia.
“I’d really like to thank our assistant coaches and player personnel staff for their hard work and perseverance in putting this class together,” Fuente said. “Relationships and trust are at the heart of the recruiting process. I appreciate the way our staff has fostered those relationships with our prospects, their families and their coaches.”
Virginia Tech’s Class of 2017 finished 25th in the 247Sports Composite rankings (as of the time this was written), good enough for fourth in the ACC. The Hokies only finished behind Florida State (6th), Miami (13th) and Clemson (16th). In total, the Hokies took in 26 new players.
One of the main goals of the coaching staff during this cycle was to build up talent and depth at key areas, especially at linebacker and defensive line. Virginia Tech believes they accomplished that, adding four linebackers and four defensive linemen.
Dylan Rivers is one of those linebackers that could have an immediate impact on the field. The 4-star prospect was courted by Fuente and Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster, who swayed Rivers away from Penn State. Fuente said that assuring Rivers that Foster was remaining on staff after Frank Beamer’s departure was crucial.
“Dylan did not know if Bud was still going to be here or not, so he made his decision,” Fuente said. “We essentially asked permission. ‘Dylan, will you give us a chance to, for me, to show you what I’m like and what we’re like. He agreed to that and through a year’s time, we developed that relationship.”
Rivers joins Jaylen Griffin, Aundre Kearney and Rayshard Ashby at linebacker, leaving some questions as to where the four will fit. Ashby seems fit to play inside, while Rivers, Kearney and Griffin could play both inside or outside.
“You never know exactly,” Fuente said. “You do your best to project where guys will end up, but you just don’t know. There are some definite nuances between those two spots and we try to say, “This is where we envision you guys at.’ It may switch as we get further down the road.”
Virginia Tech also added a difference-maker in the secondary with Devon Hunter, one of the top players in Virginia and in the country. Because of his talent and athleticism, Hunter could see the field right away as a freshman.
“Sometimes you recruit guys that are 6-1, but need another 15-20 pounds,” Fuente said. “Devon is a pretty developed, mature kid so I think he’ll certainly have an opportunity to [play right away].”
Even if Hunter takes his time making an impact on the field, he assuredly has made an impact off of it. Virginia Tech has struggled in recent years to keep out-of-state schools from poaching the elite Virginia recruits. Hunter’s decision to stay home could change that. “I think he’s a great example of someone who had many opportunities to leave the state and knows he can achieve all of his goals, his hopes and dreams right here at Virginia Tech,” Fuente said. “I think it certainly serves as a great example.”
Offensively, adding depth and talent at quarterback became an even bigger priority when Jerod Evans announced his early departure for the NFL. In response, Virginia Tech signed two quarterbacks for the Class of 2017, Hendon Hooker and AJ Bush.
Hooker, who’s seen as one of the better players in North Carolina (#8 in the state per 247Sports), enrolled early and is already working with the team. Fuente sees natural quarterback traits in Hooker, which could allow him to compete for the starting job sooner rather than later.
“Aside from the things everybody can see on film, I think he has a great personality, a knack for leadership,” Fuente said of Hooker. “He’s a highly intelligent young man with a good family. Many opportunities to go to other places.”
Bush is a different style recruit. A JUCO transfer from Iowa Western Community College, Bush brings experience to a quarterback unit that boasts a redshirt-freshman in Josh Jackson, a redshirt-sophomore in Jack Click and a true-freshman in Hooker.
“I just wanted to make sure if we brought an older guy into that room, that he was going to help facilitate that and not squash that growth,” Fuente said. “I thought that was really important for us moving forward. We did as much research on AJ from that manner as we could. I think it’s going to be a great mix in there.”
Heading into the spring, Fuente says he can envision the quarterback competition running similar to last season, where all quarterbacks were given a shot to rise to the top. Last year’s competition ran all the way up until the beginning of the season, when Evans was named the starter roughly 10 days before the season opener.
“I would imagine,” Fuente said. “We have not talked about it for one second because we’ve been recruiting. That’s where the conversation, when Brad (Cornelsen) and I sit down, that’s where it’ll start. I would imagine that’s probably what we’ll do.”
Virginia Tech was also able to add versatile pass catchers in the Class of 2017. The Hokies added guys like Sean Savoy, Hezekiah Grimsley and Kalil Pimpleton who can affect the game on the edge, as well as guys like Dalton Keene and Drake DeIuliis, who can create matchup problems.
“We felt like we needed some guys who could play on the inside,” Fuente said. “We felt like between Sean, Kalil and Hezzy, we’ve got some guys with some versatility that maybe, as we move forward, will be both ball carriers and receivers in the slot with all of the short stuff you see people doing nowadays that are essentially part of the run game.”
“Moving forward, to continue to try and mold it the way we want to mold it, we needed some versatile tight ends, we needed a tight end that could play on the line of scrimmage and we needed some slot wide receivers,” Fuente said. “We would like to continue to move those guys around and create different formations with the same personnel group in there. Hopefully, in the future… as we go forward, hopefully they’ll let us do that.”
Of course, not all went perfectly for Virginia Tech. The Hokies missed on multiple Signing Day targets, including Ameer Speed, Mekhi Becton and Brad Johnson. Virginia Tech also lost out on Tahj Capehart, who flipped his commitment on Signing Day to Maryland. Capehart visited Maryland over the weekend and was rumored to be leaning towards the Terrapins.
That said, Fuente did not seem upset or frustrated with how things played out.
“It’s not disappointing at all,” Fuente said. “We have a tremendous class that we’re excited to sign that I think has great potential. We wish all those guys going other places the best. We don’t hold any ill will towards anyone. We want to do a great job of selling Virginia Tech for the right reasons.”