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Strange year for Top 25 football recruits
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Strange year for Top 25 football recruits

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If it seems that guesswork has been a factor in recruiting over the years, that's nothing compared to what college coaches experienced this year.

There were few opportunities to judge a prospect during the season, as evidenced by the number of signees who did not play as seniors in high school.

In a news release on national signing day, Virginia noted that five of its signees had never visited the school either officially or unofficially.

Somehow, word got out as a host of football coaches went shopping in the state. Six different FBS programs signed at least one four-star recruit on the five-star scale used by recruiting services and another 17 signed at least one three-star recruit.

Of the 24 prospects who signed with Virginia, nine were from Virginia. Six of Virginia Tech's 25 signees are from the commonwealth.

Still, it was noteworthy that ACC rival Pittsburgh had signed four players from Virginia, including one of the state's seven four-star recruits, outside linebacker Naquan Brown from Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach.

That shouldn't surprise anybody because of the past recruiting successes of Panthers' assistant Chris Beatty, who is from Virginia and coached at UVa under former head coach Mike London.

Many of the state's football signees will be enrolling in college when classes resume in January.

"I think, when I arrived, we were allowed three mid-years," UVa coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "It might have been four. I don't remember for sure.

"We've basically been able to expand that based on the quality of the person and capability they've demonstrated."

Early in this year's recruiting cycle, cornerback Tony Grimes from Princess Anne in Virginia Beach was rated the  No. 1 prospect in Virginia for the entering class of 2021, but Grimes enrolled at North Carolina in late summer and actually played for the Tar Heels this season.

Most recruiting sites now have uncommitted Tristan Leigh, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound offensive lineman from Robinson Seconddary School in Fairfax County as the No. 1 prospect in the state.

Leigh's plan is to choose from a group of elite programs that includes Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma, all of which have taken commitments from other top Virginia prospects in this year's class. Leigh has expressed plans to announce his decision Feb. 2.

Rivals ranks Ohio State's class at No. 2 in the country behind Alabama's. It includes two Virginia products, running back TreVeyon Henderson from Hopewell and defensive tackle Tyleik Williams from Unity Reed High School in Manassas.

Henderson is the brother of Virginia running back Ronnie Walker, a former Roanoke Times Top 25 choice who began his college career at Indiana.

As usual, there have been a number of  conflicting evaluations, with ratings of Virginia Tech's recruiting class serving as a classic example.

In its review of recruiting classes nationwide, CBS Sports listed the Hokies as one of its three losers in the early signing period, along with Auburn and Mississippi State.

On the flip side was Rivals.com, which had Tech's class rated 41st in the Football Bowl Subdivision, a huge jump from the No. 85 ranking the Hokies received for their 2020 entering class. Some analysts would see that as a win.

It's hard to say that Virginia or Virginia Tech had as much success as Pittsburgh.

"I had a lot of those guys up before the pandemic hit us," Beatty said this week. "That gave us an advantage. They couldn't go to a bunch of other places because we had them up ahead of time.

"When I first got to Pitt, I wasn't really trying to get the guys in the class for that year," added Beatty, who was at Maryland from 2016-18. " I knew [the state of] Virginia was loaded this year.

"During spring ball of '19 all the way up to the summer time, those guys were up numerous times because I was trying to plan ahead. It worked out perfect."

Beatty was an assistant at UVa for one year, 2015, but was not retained when Mendenhall replaced London.

All of the Pittsburgh recruits from Virginia were from the Hampton Roads area, where Beatty had coached the likes of Percy Harvin, a turn of the century flash at the University of Florida who is considered one of the top prospects ever to come out of Virginia.

"As a recruiter, you go where your needs are," Beatty said. "I think there's talent up and down the state and it just turned out that Tidewater met our needs as much as anything else.

"I don't know that there's a sleeper in [Pitt's] bunch because everybody knew about all these guys because they all had offers from power five conference schools. I think they're going to be great players for us but that's the way everybody thinks."

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