During the second National Signing Day of the college football recruiting schedule, Virginia Tech added three players on Wednesday to bring the total to 22 signees for the 2019 recruiting class.
The Hokies’ class ranks third in the ACC, only behind Clemson and Florida State.
“It’s a great day,” head coach Justin Fuente said at Wednesday’s press conference. “I’m just awfully proud of the guys we’re bringing into our program combined with the guys that signed in December. I think it’s got a chance to be a really special group of people. You all know me well enough now that I’m not prone to hyperbole when it comes to these things.”
Quarterback Knox Kadum (Rome, Georgia) was the first player to sign on Wednesday. Following the recent transfers of Josh Jackson and Hendon Hooker, Virginia Tech found themselves in a bind with only two quarterbacks remaining on the roster. Kadum was previously committed to JMU, but the Hokies made a hard push at the end to secure him.
The 6-foot-3, 188-pound signal caller threw for 1,633 yards, 21 touchdowns, and no interceptions as a senior. He also rushed for 619 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“First and foremost, he’s a guy that we’ve been tracking for some time,” Fuente said. “He’s had a lot of success. He played at an early age. We knew that there was a chance that we may find ourselves in this situation with a limited number of quarterbacks… In some ways this happening now is better than it happening at the end of spring, so we actually have an opportunity to fill one of those spots.”
Defensive tackle Jaden Cunningham (Lithonia, Georgia) signed to add some beef in the trenches. The 6-foot-2, 304-pounder brings immediate depth to a position that was lacking. Last year he played for Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, where he gathered 25 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
“Obviously, that was a point of emphasis for us,” Fuente said. “To fill those needs on the defensive tackle front, some place we’ve been really, really thin. Jaden’s a big body. We brought him on an official visit some time ago, and we’re happy that he’s joining us hopefully in the summertime.”
The biggest signing of the day was flipping offensive lineman Doug Nester (Huntington, West Virginia) from Ohio State. Nester had been verbally committed to the Buckeyes since 2017. The 6-foot-6, 302-pound offensive lineman becomes the highest rated prospect for the Hokies 2019 class. He was the 2018 Stydahar Award winner, which honors West Virginia’s top offensive lineman.
“Doug’s signing with Virginia Tech is a byproduct of the job Coach [Vance] Vice did with Doug,” Fuente said. “It’s also a byproduct of the way Doug was raised and the values that he has – a fantastic family. I think distance played a factor in terms of them staying close together, but you know I think the biggest thing was his relationship with Coach Vice and his belief in us.”
How did the Hokies flip Nester?
It’s awfully encouraging for the Virginia Tech faithful to see the Hokies competing and winning against the likes of Ohio State and Penn State for Nester. But how did it all happen?
Fuente and Co. had been recruiting Nester since he was 14. Even while he was committed to Ohio State, the Spring Valley High School prospect visited Blacksburg for a game in the 2018 season.
“If a guy is going to visit other places, he’s not committed,” Fuente said. “Let’s be real about this. That’s not an overnight flip, or a miracle happened, or a Hail Mary. It’s not like Coach Fuente walks in and one home visit, and all of a sudden [he flips]… that’s not how it works.
“We had a pretty good baseline relationship that we just continued to develop, not being pushy, just wanting the kid to be happy. Knowing that we had a great opportunity to provide him something here that was unique and different, and if it was something he was interested in we were willing to go down that road.”
Nester brings a skill set as an offensive lineman that very few high school prospects possess. He was ranked as the No. 6 offensive guard recruit in the country by 247 Sports.
“He’s a big, driven person,” Fuente said. “He cares about relationships and he is a hard worker. You combine that with talent. He’s got size, athleticism and drive.”
Enter onto the scene offensive line coach Vance Vice, and it was a match made in heaven. Now entering his fourth year at Virginia Tech, Vice has established himself as an ace recruiter. Vice’s 2019 haul includes Nester along with Bryan Hudson, Jesse Hanson and Will Pritchard. The Hokies are quickly building an offensive line full of talent that hasn’t been seen in recent memory.
“[Vance] has a unique style that appeals to our kind of people, and I believe all of these guys are our kind of people,” Fuente said. “We have two guys playing tackle for us [Christian Darrisaw and Silas Dzansi] that nobody wanted that I think are pretty special. Whether they’re highly rated our not, when he gets in there with our kind of people then he does pretty well.”
So what exactly is that ‘unique style’ that Vice brings? Fuente shared that Vice is a high school valedictorian who apparently holds the most degrees of anyone on the coaching staff, but it goes beyond that.
“He’s a highly intelligent guy that has a unique presence that’s built on some very fundamental core values and hard work and toughness and pushing through tough times,” Fuente said. “He tells those kids the truth, and the ones that want to hear the truth are genuinely drawn to him.”
According to some, Vice might not be the main reason for Nester’s Signing Day flip. Linebacker Dax Hollifield claimed responsibility on Twitter. Whether that’s true or not, it is part of the ever-growing culture of current players recruiting to bring others on board.
— Dax Hollifield (@ChiefDax_25) February 6, 2019
“We take our kids that come in here and we put them in front of our players and we leave the room,” Fuente said. “We take the parents and put them in front of our players and say to [them] ‘have at it.’
Fuente joked about Dax’s own recruiting process.
“Nobody in our program knows more about being recruited than Hollifield because he only drew it out for about six years, and 24 visits to Virginia Tech later he finally committed. If anybody should know anything about it he should… Our players do deserve credit. They do a great job telling the kids what it’s like and what we’re doing and where we’re going.”
State of the Program
Following the transfers of several key names, including Eric Kumah, Chris Cunningham, Jackson, and Hooker (Deshawn McClease has since returned to the team after initially entering his name into the transfer portal), much of the Virginia Tech faithful were worried about what was going on inside the program. However, Fuente insists it’s not as extreme as it may seem from the outside.
“Perception is not always reality,” he said.
“We are in the midst of self-evaluation. We’ve been through that some in terms of our program. Everything as a whole, as a team, when you come off a season that was not what you wanted it to be, I think it’d be wise to check yourself and go through everything with a fine-tooth comb. That’s what we’re in the process of doing. I like the way everybody’s responding.”
With some roster spots still available, Virginia Tech could look towards the portal for a graduate transfer to shore up a few positions. It’s all part of a job that’s extremely vital, but ultimately a headache for Fuente.
“Managing the [scholarship] numbers is the most stressful thing that I do,” Fuente said. “There are a lot of variables in there in terms of where are we at each position.
“We may still deal with a few more [graduate transfers]. It won’t be a lot, but there’s still a little bit out there.”