For all the technological advances that have occurred since former sports editor Bill Brill compiled the first Roanoke Times Top 25 more than 40 years ago, predicting a prospect’s college success has become no less mind-boggling.
Consider the case of current Virginia Tech wide receiver Willie Byrn, who was rated the No. 100 prospect in the state — out of 100 — as a senior at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach.
That same year, 2009, Tech signed 10 players off The Roanoke Times Top 25. When the Hokies met Virginia last month in the regular-season finale, the only starter from that group was defensive lineman Derrick Hopkins.
Four of Tech’s in-state signees that year are no longer with the program. Byrn, on the other hand, goes into the Sun Bowl later this month as the Hokies’ leading receiver.
Recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring tells the story of a visit to First Colonial High School in the winter of 2009-2010. Presumably, Stinespring was there to see Nick Dew, a 6-foot-3, 192-pound defensive back from First Colonial who was the No. 8 prospect on the Roanoke Times Top 25.
Stinespring can’t remember if he saw Dew that day but does remember bumping into Byrn in the First Colonial lunchroom.
“I asked him, ‘Where are you thinking about going to college?’ ” Stinespring said earlier this fall. “He told me, ‘I’m thinking about going to Virginia Tech.’ I told him, ‘Well c’mon down.’ ”
An ESPN.com story in 2012 reported that Tech’s recruiting budget was in the $250,000 range, with Virginia’s a shade higher. That doesn’t count the untold hours spent analyzing players’ film.
So, why all the misses?
“It’s not just your top 25,” said Stinespring, a full-time Tech assistant and recruiter for 20 years. “The biggest class study is the NFL Draft Board. The Green Room [on draft day] is full of guys who are never heard from again.”
How about Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, named NFL rookie of the year in 2012? Wilson, a graduate of the Collegiate School, wasn’t selected until the third round of the NFL Draft.
Before that, Wilson was rated the No. 25 prospect in Virginia after committing to North Carolina State in 2006. Two other quarterbacks, Tyrod Taylor from Hampton High School and Peter Lalich from West Springfield, were ranked No. 1-2.
Taylor had an outstanding college career at Virginia Tech and has a Super Bowl ring as the back-up to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Lalich was booted off UVa’s team after the second game of his sophomore year and some would say Cavaliers’ football has never been the same.
“There’s so much that goes into it other than just the skills set,” Stinespring said. “There’s the physical development, the mental development and then there’s a maturing process.
“With some guys, if they never get any better, that’s good enough. But, with these rankings, you’re not projecting success in college. You’re analyzing the success they’ve had in high school and that doesn’t necessarily project to success in college.”
At the time that Brill started picking a top 25, recruiting coverage was in its infancy. Now, there are a host of services that rate players, four of which were used as a resource in picking this year’s top prospects.
State Gatorade player of the year Andrew Brown is rated the No. 1 prospect in the state by ESPN.com, while fellow defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand from Woodbridge is rated No. 1 by rivals.com, 247sports and scout.com.
Hand, from Woodbridge High School, and Brown, from Oscar Smith in Chesapeake, rank 1-2 on a Roanoke Times Top 5 that may be unique in its makeup.
Although information from the early years is sketchy, it appears that 2013 will mark the first top five that does not include an offensive player.
Several of the players play on both sides of the ball and it is not out of the realm of possibility that they could be shifted to offense, but still.
Safety Quin Blanding from Bayside High School in Virginia Beach is the only “skilled” player on a top five that includes two more defensive linemen, Derrick Nnadi from Ocean Lakes in Virginia Beach and Jalyn Holmes from Lake Taylor in Norfolk.
Nnadi, whose father is a Tech alumnus, is the Hokies’ last hope of getting a top player, although the competition from Florida State and Penn State has been stiff. Holmes is going to Ohio State, while Brown and Blanding provide UVa with multiple top-five picks for the first time in more than a decade. Hand has committed to Alabama.
Heading last year’s Roanoke Times Top 25 was Fork Union quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who signed with Penn State and was named Big Ten freshman of the year.
Quarterbacks frequently have headed the list with Mike Glennon and E.J. Manuel going 1-2 in 2007, one year after the Taylor-Lalich selections. Glennon and Manuel both started as rookies in the NFL this year.
Quarterbacks Caleb Henderson and Wilton Speight, respectively headed to North Carolina and Michigan, made this year’s top 10. However, the highest-rated pure running back is Tech-bound Marshawn Williams at No. 17.
To date, programs at the Football Bowl Subdivision (previously I-A) level have received 59 commitments from Virginians. That number should reach the mid-60s, which would threaten the previous high of 69 in 2009.
That 2009 figure did not include commitments to Old Dominion, now giving out full rides after moving from I-AA to I-A. Numbers would suggest that this could be a bountiful crop in Virginia. But does it matter that the marquee positions are not widely represented?
“I think it’s a deep class,” said Stinespring, who has had access to the Roanoke Times’ Top 25 since his days as a schoolboy in Clifton Forge, “and it’s got such a strong defensive contingency that [the makeup] doesn’t really matter.”
The Roanoke Times’ annual report of the best high school football players in the state.
1. Da’Shawn Hand, 6-4, 260, DT, Woodbridge, Committed to Alabama
2. Andrew Brown, 6-3, 298, DT, Oscar Smith (Chesapeake), Committed to UVa
3. Quin Blanding, 6-2, 206, DB, Bayside (Va. Beach), Committed to UVa
4. Derrick Nnadi, 6-1, 299, DT, Ocean Lakes (Va. Beach), Uncommitted
5. Jalyn Holmes, 6-5, 235, DE, Lake Taylor (Norfolk), Committed to Ohio State
6. Caleb Henderson, 6-4, 223, QB, Lake Braddock, Committed to UNC
7. Jamil Kamara, 6-1, 202, WR, Bishop Sullivan (Va. Beach), Uncommitted
8. Wilton Speight, 6-6, 217, QB, Collegiate (Richmond), Committed to Michigan
9. Steven Moss, 6-4, 292, OL, Chancellor (Fredericksburg), Committed to UVa
10. Ricky Walker, 6-2, 275, DT, Bethel (Hampton), Committed to Va. Tech
11. Greer Martini, 6-3, 230, LB, Woodberry Forest (Orange), Committed to Notre Dame
12. Jeremiah Clarke, 6-4, 276, DE, T.C. Williams (Alexandria), Committed to UNC
13. Raymon Minor, 6-3, 220, Ath, Benedictine (Richmond), Uncommitted
14. Travon McMillian, 6-0, 196, Ath, Hylton (Woodbridge), Committed to Va. Tech
15. C.J. Reavis, 6-0, 199, DB, Thomas Dale (Chester,) Committed to Va. Tech
16. Marvin Stewart, 6-0,185, DB, Yorktown (Arlington), Committed to UNC
17. Marshawn Williams, 6-0, 212, RB, Phoebus (Hampton) Committed to Va. Tech
18. Alec Eberle, 6-4, 270, OL, Atlee (Mechanicsville), Committed to FSU
19. Coleman Thomas, 6-6, 295, OL, Fort Chiswell (Max Meadows), Committed to Tennessee
20. Jaylen Bradshaw, 6-0, 170, WR, Oscar Smith (Chesapeake), Committed to Va. Tech
21. Nick Scott, 5-11, 180, RB, Fairfax, Committed to Penn State
22. Greg Stroman, 5-10, 160, DB, Stonewall Jackson (Manassas), Committed to Va. Tech
23. Tyler Powell, 6-4, 252, OT, Cosby (Midlothian), Committed to UNC
24. Terrell Edmunds, 6-1, 180, DB, Dan River (Ringgold), Committed to Va. Tech
25. Trace McSorley, 6-0, 180, Ath, Briar Woods (Ashburn), Committed to Vanderbilt
SLEEPER OF THE YEAR
Mustaqeem Williams, 5-11, 190, DB, Forest Park (Woodbridge), Committed to FSU (track)
26. Demornay Pierson-El, 5-9, 174, WR, West Potomac (Alexandria), Committed to Nebraska
27. Malik Carney, 6-2, 208, LB, T.C. Williams (Alexandria), Committed to UNC
28. J.J. Jackson, 6-4, 220, DE, Woodgrove (Purcellville), Committed to UVa
29. Vincent Mihota, 6-4, 240, OL, Massaponax (Fredericksburg), Committed to Va. Tech
30. Tabyus Taylor, 6-1, 220, Ath, Hopewell, Committed to Va. Tech
31. DaiQuan Lawrence, 6-1, 185, DB, Western Branch (Chesapeake), Uncommitted
32. Donovan Dowling, 6-1, 206, Ath, Varina (Richmond), Committed to UVa
33. Xavier Burke, 6-3, 250, TE, Brunswick (Lawrenceville), Committed to Va. Tech
34. Daniel Ezeagwu, 6-2,195, WR, Colonial Forge (Stafford), Uncommitted
35. Shawn Payne, 6-3, 180, DB, L.C. Bird (Chesterfield), Committed to Va. Tech
36. B.J. Farrow, 6-2, 185, WR, Liberty Christian (Lynchburg), Uncommitted
37. Mike Herndon, 6-4, 323, DT, Riverheads (Greenville), Committed to Pitt
38. Terence Ricks, 6-1, 220, RB, Western Branch (Chesapeake), Committed to Wake
39. Kam Moore, 5-11, 191, Ath, Bishop O’Connell (Arlington), Committed to BC
40. Anthony Scott, 5-8, 188, DB, Green Run (Va. Beach), Uncommitted
41. Steve Sobczak, 6-2, 285, DT, Massaponax (Fredericksburg), Committed to Va. Tech
42. Michael Biesemier, 6-4, 235, DE, Va. Episcopal (Lynchburg), Committed to UVa
43. Cole Herdman, 6-4, 225, TE, Flint Hill (Oakton), Committed to Purdue
44. Massadiq Walton, 6-3, 241, DE, Ocean Lakes (Va. Beach), Committed to ECU
45. Kyron Speller, 6-1, 250, DE, Kempsville (Va. Beach), Committed to ECU
46. Jared Coker, 6-3, 285, OL, Briar Woods (Ashburn), Committed to Bowling Green
47. Alex Light, 6-5, 275, OL, Salem, Committed to Richmond
48. Yazeed Atariwa, 6-4, 240, DE, Dominion (Sterling), Committed to Toledo
49. Shaun James, 6-4, 245, DE, Green Run (Va. Beach), Committed to ECU
50. Rashaad Goodwyn, 6-0, 192, DB, Dinwiddie, Committed to W&M
51. Jordan Dowrey, 6-1, 270, DT, Handley (Winchester), Committed to Marshall
52. Cornell Urquhart, 6-3, 251, DE, Benedictine (Richmond), Committed to JMU
53. Chad Wiggins, 6-1, 230, LB, Centreville (Clifton), Committed to Richmond
54. Melvin Holland, 6-3, 190, WR, Briar Woods (Ashburn), Uncommitted
55. Kimoni Fitz, 6-3, 230, DE, Dan River (Ringgold), Committed to Cincinnati
56. Aaron Glover, 5-11, 205, LB, Princess Anne (Va. Beach), Committed to Hawaii
57. Corey Henderson, 6-2, 242, DL, King George, Committed to Buffalo
58. Vincent Lowe, 5-7, 175, Ath, Grassfield (Chesapeake), Committed to ODU
59. Tyler Fain, 6-3, 255, DT, Indian River (Chesapeake), Committed to ECU
60. Steven Peoples, 5-10, 205, RB, Galax, Uncommitted
61. Marius Young, 6-3, 275, OL, Hermitage (Richmond), Committed to Richmond
62. Joe Wilson, 5-9,190, RB, Robinson (Fairfax), Uncommitted
64. Jonathan Duhart, 6-2, 187, WR, Manchester (Midlothian), Committed to ODU
64. DeAnthony Muse, 6-0, 260, DE, Northside (Roanoke), Committed to Richmond
65. Christian Byrum, 6-1, 195, DB, Tallwood (Va. Beach), Committed to ODU
66. Santoni Graham, 6-0, 230, LB, Bishop O’Connell (Arlington), Committed to Toledo
67. Ellis Knudson, 6-1, 231, QB, Hayfield (Alexandria), Committed to Towson
68. Nick Clarke, 6-3, 285, OL, Atlee (Mechanicsville), Committed to ODU
69. Walter Brantley, 6-3, 330, OL, Phoebus (Hampton), Uncommitted
70. Cameron Skaff, 6-3, 235, TE, Battlefield (Haymarket), Committed to JMU
71. Blane Markham, 6-5, 255, OL, Liberty Christian (Lynchburg), Committed to Richmond
72. Marcus Boone, 5-11, 182, DB, Woodbridge, Uncommitted
73. Marquis Rowe, 5-8, 170, WR, Bishop O’Connell (Arlington), Uncommitted
74. Tyriq Trotman, 5-10, 165, DB, Landstown (Va. Beach), Uncommitted
75. T.J. Boothe, 6-2, 175, DB, Western Branch (Chesapeake), Committed to Hampton
76. Brooks Norris, 6-4, 300, OL, Oakton (Vienna), Uncommitted
77. Raeshawn Smith, 5-10, 170, DB, Chantilly, Committed to W&M
78. Brandon Whaley, 6-3, 235, TE, Battlefield (Haymarket), Committed to Delaware
79. Tyler Walker, 6-3, 200, WR, Westfield (Chantilly), Uncommitted
80. Nyquan Harris, 6-3, 285, DT, Lake Taylor (Norfolk), Uncommitted
81. David Ezeagwu, 6-2, 230, DB, Colonial Forge (Stafford), Uncommitted
82. Noah Dziedzic, 6-1, 214, WR, Collegiate (Richmond), Uncommitted
83. Isaiah Harper, 5-9, 170, RB, Grassfield (Chesapeake), Committed to ODU
84. Ryan Londree, 6-3, 280, OL, Albemarle (Charlottesville), Committed to ODU
85. Don Kidd, 6-1, 230, RB, Lee-Davis (Mechanicsville), Uncommitted
86. Shawn Golson, 6-0, 295, OL, Dinwiddie, Committed to Bryant
87. Brandon Tyson, 6-1, 322, OL, Clover Hill (Midlothian), Committed to ODU
88. D.J. Johnson, 5-11, 170, QB, Highland Springs, Uncommitted
89. Jahlil Green, 5-10, 165, Ath, Lafayette (Williamsburg), Committed to W&M
90. Bradley Brown, 6-4, 253, OL, Magna Vista (Ridgeway), Committed to VMI
91. Reece Burnett, 6-1, 330, DL, Lake Braddock (Burke), Committed to Towson
92. Nick Merletti, 6-4, 230, OL, Briar Woods (Ashburn), Uncommitted
93. Nate Davis, 6-3, 300, OL, Stone Bridge (Ashburn), Committed to UNC-Charlotte
94. Devonte Dedmon, 5-11, 170, Ath, Warhill (Williamsburg), Committed to W&M
95. Chase Smith, 6-3, 280, C, Woodgrove (Purcellville), Uncommitted
96. Adam Doll-Hennis, 6-1, 220, DL, Rockbridge (Lexington), Committed to VMI
97. Chris Thompson, 5-11, 206, RB, Lord Botetourt (Daleville), Uncommitted
98. Terrance Ervin, 6-2, 196, QB, L.C. Bird (Chesterfield), Uncommitted
99. Wes Reed, 6-4, 195, TE, Dinwiddie, Uncommitted
100. Josh Sweet, 5-11, 220, RB, Woodgrove (Purcellville), Committed to Cornell
1. Tim Settle, 6-3, 310, DL, Stonewall Jackson (Manassas)
2. Garrett Taylor, 6-1, 185, DB, St. Christopher’s (Richmond)
3. Josh Sweat, 6-4, 215, DE, Oscar Smith (Chesapeake)
4. Matt Burrell, 6-5, 300, DL, Hylton (Woodbridge)
5. Ricky Deberry, 6-2, 240, LB, St. Christopher’s (Richmond)
6. Clelin Ferrell, 6-5, 220, DE, Benedictine (Richmond)
7. Jaason Lewis, 6-2, 233, Ath, Ocean Lakes (Va. Beach)
8. Jahvoni Simmons, 6-2, 225, LB, Ocean Lakes (Va. Beach)
9. Austin Clark, 6-6, 285, OL, Rockbridge (Lexington)
10. Trevon Hill, 6-3, 210, LB, Salem (Va. Beach)
11. Brandon Polk, 5-9, 150, WR, Briar Woods (Ashburn)
12. Chance Hall, 6-4, 292, DT, Northside (Roanoke)
13. A.J. Alexander, 6-3, 210, DB, Lake Braddock (Burke)
14. Charles Tutt, 5-10, 160, DB, Centreville (Clifton)
15. Chad Smith, 6-4, 210, LB, Dominion (Sterling)
16. Juan Thornhill, 6-2, 175, Ath, Altavista
17. Tremaine Edmunds, 6-3, 200, LB, Dan River (Ringgold)
18. Deshawn McClease, 5-9, 170, RB, Oscar Smith (Chesapeake)
19. Mike Majette, 5-10, 176, DB, Woodbridge