COACH LONDON: First of all, I’d like to acknowledge the hard work of my staff. They did a tremendous job going out into the various areas representing the message of the University of Virginia very well and establishing relationships with players, coaches and communities, and it’s led to – which I think, has been a very successful recruiting class for us.
A lot of these men that decided they wanted to come to Virginia, as you look at the profile of them, not only are they high achievers on the football field, but they have the highest GPA that any recruiting class has had in quite some time also at UVa.
High achievers on the field, high achievers in the classroom, and that’s one of the things we want to continue to do. We want to bring young men to the University of Virginia, guys that when they get here, are high achievers in the community as well.
It’s been really fun being around and in the different homes of these recruits. I think I’ve gotten into every home of all these young men, and it’s been really neat to see what type of young men they are, where they come from, the obstacles they’ve overcome and the talent they have, and the love of the game. We’re really excited about that.
QUESTION: Last season redshirting was a big emphasis for you. Are you taking the same path going into the next season for this group or?
COACH LONDON: I’ll tell you, I think this class will represent young men that have the ability to play and make some impact for us.
I wanted to make sure that we did redshirt last year’s class because we did not know what this class would bring.
Their size on the line, particularly offensive line – their skill and their speed, both with wide receivers and defensive backs – there’s tall athleticism. There’s guys I think – there’s only one guy under 5’10”. Everyone else 6’3″, 6’4″, 6’7″ – we tried to adjust to the fact that if we could attract high-end caliber talent, that one of the things that we were certain that we were going to do was afford them the opportunity to play if they could.
And when you talk about that Trey Nicholson was the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Virginia, Darius Jennings was the Gatorade State Player of the Year in Maryland, and last year, while he didn’t play for us last year as he redshirted, Kevin Parks was the Gatorade State Player of the Year in North Carolina.
If you can just keep attracting that type of talent, then you’ve got to put them on the field somewhere.
QUESTION: I guess most of these commitments were known before today. But can you talk a little bit about the anticipation of the final two getting them this morning or however it transpired?
COACH LONDON: It’s never over until that fax comes through, the official signature, you make sure the names and all the lines are crossed and dotted.
We did have a lot of success early on during the summer with some junior days with young men coming multiple times by themselves with their parents, with people of influence.
They had the message, and it was clear, and it was clear that that’s what they wanted. We were able to garner several commitments that way.
Going into the final stretch, is a little bit more nerve-racking, because when we start getting into a position where we won’t know until the final day about if we’re one of the top three or top two or whatever it is. It’s a risky proposition knowing that you could lose out on, if you had four guys, lose out on all four of them.
But at the same time, if you can put yourself in a position like that where of the four, Curtis [Grant], A.J. Hendy who recommitted to Maryland, and then Darius, and Dominique, we went 50/50, I think those odds, talking high-caliber players like that, are pretty good.
Hopefully for a while we’ll continue to attract high-caliber players in signing days.
QUESTION: Are there any needs that you would have liked to have addressed more than you did?
COACH LONDON: What I wanted to address was speed and athleticism. And I think when you look at the skill, whether wide receiver, DB, athlete, that you see guys that have the ability to play on both sides of the ball. It’s interesting that sometimes you recruit just a wide receiver and that’s all he is, and that’s all it becomes.
If it doesn’t work out, then it’s a college career that’s not very favorable. But when you look at these guys from top to bottom, the different positions that they played, quarterback, wide receiver, defensive back, kick returner, then there’s a sense of skills and ability that somewhere along the line it’s now our job now to fit it into the process of making us a better football team, and I think that addressing the skill aspect of it, particularly with speed and athleticism, it was something that we wanted to do.
I don’t think there’s nothing that we didn’t address. Got a little bit of everything, to tell you the truth, with David Watford coming in as a mid-year quarterback. Now we’re starting to have classes that separate each other, and that’s always important. But I feel good about who we have and the way we went about getting them.
QUESTION: Of the guys in this class, I believe Mason Thomas was the last one to get a scholarship offer. What did you see from him that made him pull the trigger ultimately?
COACH LONDON: When you watch Mason’s tape – I know there were some MAC offers, I think he had an offer by Old Dominion, you try not to get caught up into who is offering the guy. But when you watch his tape, he played defensive back. He played some linebacker. He ran the ball.
And so when you talk about getting more athletic, then you find more athletic players that can play do different things. And that’s what he did. And that’s what he showed on tape.
And because of that, we had a spot available for him, and talked to his coach – a good coach. It’s an area down there in Virginia Beach, again, that we definitely want to reestablish our ties in that region. And it just made sense that he’s a good student. Got admitted into school. It was a fit.
QUESTION: I believe you were the recruiting coordinator in 2002 when the – if I’m not mistaken, Brooks-Ferguson class came in. I wanted to know if you could compare and contrast the two, the way you felt today the way you felt then?
COACH LONDON: I tell you, remembering those when Ahmad came in he was the Gatorade State Player of the Year, played right away. Kai Parham, great player down Tidewater area, Michael Johnson. I would say that the accolades and the accomplishments of this class are very, very similar to that one.
Although, they’re playing different positions – Jennings is a skilled position. Dominique Terrell skilled position, Demetrious Nicholson is a skilled position, Ahmad Brooks was a big defensive end, Kai, big middle linebacker. But I would say that in terms of a skill level, very similar in terms of what they can provide on the field.
QUESTION: You’ve got a staff that’s obviously very familiar with the state. What was your message about the importance of winning the state and getting the state recruits?
COACH LONDON: I don’t know about trying to win the state. I think we did a pretty good job of the top 25 players that were in the state, I think we had like 12 of them.
And other schools got a couple, few here and there. But I think that’s important. When the 2012 recruits looks at it, then they look at this was where some of the best talent went that was in the state, they went to the school right up the road.
I just think that if you look at the percentage of players on this team and you start talking about profile players, we have one from Atlanta. He had SEC offers. We had one from Pennsylvania. And he had a couple offers, he is a big linemen.
But when you look at the bordering states, Maryland, DC, North Carolina. We had one from North Carolina that we thought that the type of talent in those players that fit the profile – were the kind of players that we want on this team.
This year it worked out that a high percentage of the players, not only came from Virginia, but came from states that touch. When you talk about driving to a game, whether it’s a home or away game, then there are opportunities for parents to see these young men play.
And that was important. But there is a conscious effort to make sure that we evaluate and talk to and make sure that every in-state player that coaches recommend to us – that we give them a fair evaluation, that they fit our needs academically and athletically, then to do a good job and make sure that we recruit them.
QUESTION: How did you and your staff handle other athletes who committed – you’ve lost commitments. Curious as to how you instruct your staff to handle other players who have committed, when is it okay to keep recruiting? Do you always keep recruiting? Do you take your queue from the athlete and his coach?
COACH LONDON: That’s a tough one right there. Because of time and circumstance, if you said you were going to take two outside linebackers and outside linebackers committed to you and you weren’t going to take anymore, then another school starts recruiting one of the outside linebackers, and he kind of turns his ear and maybe takes a visit there, and sometimes you know and sometimes you don’t know. Then sometimes you get blindsided by the fact he takes a visit and now you’re talking about a possible decommitment.
The player that was No. 3 that may have committed to another school when there wasn’t a slot when you had it available, now all of a sudden there’s a slot that’s available and he’s already committed to another school, it’s a tough thing.
Some people say “you said you committed to this school and we’re going to make sure we keep our word,” but at the same time if you can afford yourself the best opportunity of not just a two, three-year decision but a 20, 30-year decision, then who would fault a young man for taking an opportunity to go to a school that now has presented an opportunity for him to get what he wanted in the first place.
It’s tough, because you don’t want be on the end of losing a guy and a guy committing and somebody else getting - but sometimes it’s reality. You look across the ESPNU ticker taper and you see someone decommits and commits to someone else. It happens and it happens all the time.
You hope as you continue to spread your message – that the ones that have committed to you, that you just keep talking about all the reasons why and making sure that you stay in contact with them as we did.
But even ourselves we lost one at the end, which was unfortunate. But I think by losing that one – that we gained two that I think offset losing that one.
In the end I think we came out pretty good.
QUESTION: You mentioned you have a lot of guys from the state, but you also have a strong number from Maryland – can you talk about getting into these regions, especially as you head up north out of Virginia?
COACH LONDON: I think it’s in the treatment of bordering schools in-state. Goes back to the relationship. Anthony Poindexter and Shawn Moore have done an outstanding job over the years maintaining relationships with coaches in those areas.
You look at the schools. Good Counsel, it’s a profile school. Nate Jenkins, Earl Smith went to that school. We don’t have a young man from Gonzaga, but that same conference you have guys from there. DeMatha. DeMatha – we’ve got three players on our team from there – Kelby Johnson is coming from DeMatha. You look at profile schools there, that their academics, their climate and atmosphere there is very similar to here at Virginia and again it becomes the fit and the match.
You look at Gilman with Darius Jennings, that’s another profile school that young people, men and women or students come here. So if you can concentrate on finding and staying on point with attracting those type of young men that are interested and stay on top of those schools.
And even the city schools. Even the public schools that have good academic reputations, I think if you just continue to target those young men, then you’ll have a chance, because then they’ll say, well, I know so and so, because I played against him, or I heard about him.
And I know there’s going to be a concerted effort now with new leadership up in Maryland to keep guys in Maryland. But our message will still be the same. We’re a different school, I believe, than some of the schools that we recruit against.
And we’ll continue to keep trying to spread that message and hopefully get a chance on some of those, the top-notch players.
QUESTION: I don’t know if you pay any attention to recruiting rankings and all that kind of stuff. But a couple of services have you guys ranked as a top 20 class in the country. Talk about the personal satisfaction of getting a class like this and what does it say about the message, what you’re trying to build here?
COACH LONDON: It’s interesting that one recruiting site’s star is another recruiting site’s lesser star or more of a star. But I think consistently that what has been recognized is the fact that the types of young men that are here again have those qualities that make you take a double look. If you watched our highlight tape – I know they’ve been running maybe during the course of the day. There’s some phenomenal runs, phenomenal plays that make you really excited about it.
As people have said, these guys have to play. They have to go on the field and they have to play. So all the rankings and everything like that, that’s good. But I think you find out maybe a year or two afterwards, if the class was as highly touted as what it may have been or what it was perceived to be because now the guys have to go and play against college guys.
This class, although it’s really my first recruiting class, next year’s class will be as important, because of being able to sustain that type of caliber of young men. But when have the benefit of being ranked, then obviously you take that.
I know if you weren’t, then you talk about, well, rankings don’t mean anything, you gotta play on the field. So I’m going to err on the side of I appreciate being ranked and go from there.
Because as a 2011 recruiting ends – 2012 started today.
QUESTION: If you had signed everybody who you had offers out to – how does that all work with fifth-year guys?
COACH LONDON: That’s always an ongoing process of the numbers that you sign and as it relates to the fifth-year players that are on the team. I’ve met with or am meeting with the fifth-year guys to decide what their status would be.
I made the mistake last year of telling Trey Womak early that I wasn’t going to bring him back. And then we went through spring practice. He did a great job in spring practice in the classroom and some other things. And I always told him I made a mistake on that.
I don’t want to make the same mistake this time around with those guys fifth-year guys to give them the opportunity again to compete on the field in the classroom and some of the things that I’ve asked them to do. And then make those decisions.
All of them will graduate, because I want to make sure that my commitment to them is to graduate. And then if they’re not asked to come back, then for me to do everything I can to help them as a graduated student-athlete here at Virginia or to play somewhere else.
That decision will probably be made shortly after spring practice when I have a chance to see where the numbers are, the numbers I currently have on the team, guys that academically stay eligible. Sometimes every once in a while a young man will leave the program. Unfortunately, like Dominique, Wallace left the program, which opened the field to a fifth-year player.
You never say never, you don’t say this is when you’re going to make the decision, because everything is so fluid as we go into the spring practice and coming out of it.
But I’ll have a decision based on where we’ll be with numbers for these fifth-year guys and opportunities when we finish up.
QUESTION: What about your agreement that Jared Green’s not coming back, anybody else told you they won’t be back for a fifth year?
COACH LONDON: I’m in discussions with a couple other players that are looking at other options for themselves. Unfortunately, Jared did his Tweet thing and got it out there. I would have liked a joint statement – kind of done it the right way and talked about how both parties thought it was in their best interests. Particularly for him, he has options to graduate and start in the professional world of work or play at another place.
I would have liked to have handled that a different way. But he’s one for sure. And there may be – I was going to say maybe one or two others that we’ll have discussions about perhaps moving on so the last year of their football experience will be a positive one for them.
QUESTION: How quickly do you go into slotting? Is that something that you guys work on when you’re actually recruiting the kid? Can you just talk a little bit about the way you present to the recruit this?
COACH LONDON: As I look at – as you say slotting – I’m trying to address athleticism and speed. If there’s a slot like that, that there’s multiple slots for, then I’m all for it, because when you recruit just the wide receiver, and there are some really good ones out there, then if all you see on film is him being a wide receiver, then you have no idea about other things that he may be able to do.
Sometimes a wide receiver grows up, gets big and grows into being an outside linebacker. Or DB that’s a corner may grow into being a safety, because he doesn’t have the corner skills.
I try to look at the athleticism that they have, the types of, the different positions that they play, and then based on who we have and based on their ability, I try to slot them when they come on the team, not particularly as we’re recruiting them, but as they come.
Because most of these young men, they want to play. And we’re going to try to do that.
QUESTION: You mentioned earlier one that got away. I’m sure you’ve spoken with Curtis Grant within the last 24 hours, did he give you any indication he was going to lean towards Ohio State?
COACH LONDON: It’s kind of a private conversation between the two of us. But I appreciated the fact that Curtis likes us, he likes our staff. I know his mother enjoys the Virginia opportunity. And Curtis is a very personable person. He made a decision that he thought was in the best interests for himself. He wanted to get away.
But I’ve talked to him on numerous occasions. He has a great family. Dad, sister – support staff family, system around him. It’s unfortunate that he’s one that got away. But as I said before, the ones that are here – that are staying, that if there’s another Curtis Grant or there’s another five-star or four-star that’s out there, the ones that we have on our team can talk about the experiences that they’re having now with our staff, with the school, with academics, with the community, that they could say, ‘listen, let’s build it, stay in state and let’s build this thing.’
QUESTION: Wanted to get your thoughts on David Watford and the benefits of him enrolling early and will he’ll compete for the starting job this year?
COACH LONDON: David’s situation is he’s here. He’s still trying to find out where the library is, how to use his meal card. He is getting acclimated to being a college student first. Coach Evan Marcus, our strength coach, he and David are now lifting. David is going to be afforded an opportunity to compete for the quarterback position.
That’s one that’s a very significant position for us. But I think as we look at it, with the offensive line that I think arguably could be the best in the ACC when they’re all back and healthy, with skill that can run and catch and do things with the ball, that our quarterback just gets the ball to them. Don’t try to do anything crazy. You have enough protection – just get the ball to them. David, he’s a bright young man – asks a lot of questions. That’s what you want. And he’ll be a good player here for sure.
QUESTION: Mike, I’ve read stories about Clifton Richardson and Demetrious Nicholson and how charismatic they are and how much they work on other players. You found with the advent of Facebook and texting and Twitter that the players themselves end up recruiting alongside the assistant coaches more than they maybe did with the 2002 class or in the ‘90s?
COACH LONDON: There’s no doubt that with the social media now, with the Facebook and Twitter and Skype, the iPhones, these players have become connected and contact with each other on a regular basis.
I read somewhere there was a young man that was going to one particular school, because he was putting on his Facebook that the fans from another site were dogging the other school, he changed his mind, decommitted and went to another school. You have to be careful about what you put on those social media networks.
But you’re right, people watch those things and they observe what’s being said and how it’s being said because that’s electronic media and it stays forever. Ten years from now you’re looking to get a job somewhere and they’re checking your Facebook status, and see that you said or have done something that’s not very flattering, that can come back against you.
It’s part of educating our players as they’re here, but also hopefully high school coaches and people that are significant influences with young men that are in high school educate them too.
Someone needs to make sure they get to them, because they can make a trident mistake with a statement or a thought or an idea that they thought was personal and private but becomes open to everyone.
The other part question is that a lot of our guys played in all-star games, Chesapeake Crab Bowl whatever it was there were six or seven players playing in those all-star games that had the chance to get in the ear from some of the uncommitted guys. And even though Darius said he made his own decision, I can’t imagine when you’ve got guys in your ear all the time, UVA, UVA, that after all it becomes part of an influence.
But you’re right, the social media with these young guys, they gotta watch themselves because it can be critical to them.
QUESTION: You’re stressing speed and athleticism and the versatility. Just a quick comment on Anthony Harris, I saw you had him listed as a DB, he was a multiple position player in high school. Is he in your mind a secondary guy?
COACH LONDON: Well, Dave, when I look at like Anthony Harris, when I was here before, we like long rangy guys and that’s what a safety looks like but he’s got corner skills. He can run. He was a quarterback. And so the correlation between Anthony is he can play several positions he’s so athletic but I think he has a pretty good chance being a safety, down safety or even middle-of-the-field safety – he will come down and hit you. He’s not afraid to run the ball as a quarterback. He’s shown that he can throw it and do all those type of things with it.
Kameron Mack, you look at him, very tall, athletic guy. Where he plays, he might be another tall safety. He could grow into being an outside linebacker, whatever it is. But he’s so athletic that he plays on a basketball team as one of the best basketball teams in the country.
But that’s what we try to do was address multiple-talented type players that could do a lot of things. And then get them here and try to fit them to where we need them – because this is a class that are guys that are going to be playing.
QUESTION: Last year you didn’t have a full recruiting year. How much easier was it then this year because you had that opportunity to reestablish those relationships, how much maybe more open was the recruiting field to you guys this year than it was then?
COACH LONDON: It was very open, and very receptive with the area coaches. If you can remember, we traveled, assistant coaches and I we traveled all over the state to different parts. Tried to get into most schools that were there. This opportunity during the contact period, when head coaches can go out, I think I’ve been in over 60 schools. We’re having the coaches clinic, we’re inviting high school coaches to come up be a part of it. Not inviting an NFL guy – inviting successful high school coaches to come up be a part of it. We are driving down to Tidewater to have another practice and going to Northern Virginia to have another practice this spring. We are trying to do things to be accessible and available and to get high school coaches to think that we are trying to be inclusive when we’re talking about recruiting their players. So I think after the first year, and coaches seeing you can only go by what you see and don’t talk about it, be about it, and what you do speaks louder than what you say.
Hopefully within the state of Virginia, with a lot of the great high school coaches that are there that we’ve extended our hands and embraced it as soon as practices are open, meetings are open, anything that we can do to get them on Grounds, we’re looking to do that.
We’ll continue to keep trying to find ways to have better relationships with high school coaches in state and in those areas that are touching us.