UVa. sports: www.virginiasports.com
COACH LONDON: When I got here, there were 13 that were already committed, and it was to the great accomplishments of Anthony Poindexter and Bob Price to keep these commitments alive and made sure those young men stayed committed to the University. We lost one, but I was able to add five additional players to this class to bring it to its current number.
Excited about the opportunity. Excited with the young men that are going to be members of this program. Had a chance to go see them and visit them, be in their homes, at their schools, had a chance to talk to them. They sound like they’re ready to go. So I’m excited about these guys. Ready to move forward.
Q. What is your impression of Kevin Parks and his mind-boggling numbers?
COACH LONDON: I think KP, as we call him, is a phenomenal talent. Better than that, he’s a great young man with a great family. Everyone looks at his on-the-field accomplishments, rushing yards, Parade Magazine All-American, National Player of the Year awards, MVPs, All-Star games. Even more than that, he’s a great young man, has an infectious smile. He’s going to be one of those guys that’s going to rally people around him because of his demeanor, and his ability.
We’re very pleased to have him be a Cavalier because I think he’s going to have special things ahead of him in store for him.
Q. Some people have questions about his size, how do you see his skill set translating to the college game?
COACH LONDON: I think I look at the Pro Bowl. I saw a bunch of 5’9″ runningbacks having a phenomenal day there. Size doesn’t matter to me. That’s probably one of the things people have talked about, his size. He’s on a mission, a man on a mission. I’m glad he’s on our team so he can prove his mission.
Q. You signed four quarterbacks, how many do you see staying at that position?
COACH LONDON: Michael Strauss came mid-semester. That was agreed upon with the previous staff. Right now he’s acclimating into our environment, lifting in school, very well right now. The other three, who I know personally, Jake McGee, Mike Rocco and Miles Gooch, they are quarterbacks that are also athletes that have opportunities to play other positions for their high school, but they’re accomplished in their own right in being a quarterback.
I think looking at the quarterback position where we stand now with a fifth-year senior, coming on his last year, two others that have yet to take a snap, if you’re going to be a quarterback at this program, now is the time to be one.
We’ll look at these players as they transition into college. Strauss will practice in spring practice. We’ll have the other three there. Then the other three young men will come in and bide for time.
It’s important for us to establish I guess the future in terms of guys that are going to be signal callers by getting under the tutelage of Coach Lazor, the system, the schemes, all that.
It’s always important as you transition from high school to college, the terminology, expectations, conceptually, all those things. If we can find one or two that stand out amongst the rest, and perhaps the other one or two will have an opportunity to move to another position to contribute.
Q. What is your philosophy on redshirting players? Would you prefer to redshirt a large a majority of this class?
COACH LONDON: I think with linemen you’d like to redshirt linemen just because the physical toll, the expectations that it has on a linemen. In the skill position, you put him out there, flank him out, he’s going one-on-one with somebody else, you can utilize his speed or athleticism, if he’s ready to play, if he’s better than the ones you have, he can contribute to your team, then you’re more inclined to play a player like that.
It’s one of the those things when they come in August, you have a chance to implement the schemes and the systems, one, if they can grasp, and two -athletically they can do the things you’re asking them to do, can play at a fast tempo, play better than the starter, you want to play him, have the opportunity to do so.
A lot of these kids, if they have a chance to play, they want to play. Once they come in, look around, see the talent, a lot of times they think it best to sit for a year. I’m okay with that, too. Academically, you also need to build your academic muscles also and get acclimated to college, which this is a challenging place, which is okay. I think it will benefit them.
I don’t know if I’m answering your questions. I think skill position, if he’s ready, we’ll put him in the game. But linemen, like to redshirt them.
Q. You said you lost one recruit from 13 who committed before you were hired. Is he a possible to come to UVa at a later date?
COACH LONDON: Yes. No, probably have to go to prep school for a year, bolster his academics, then we’ll be happy to see him.
Q. Where you relived to see Morgan Moses’ fax come through?
COACH LONDON: Oh, man, I heard he had the hats out there again, worried there a little bit. You know, when you talk to Morgan, he’s a great young man. Obviously he’s dealt with a lot of things trying to get himself eligible. Very highly recruited. Teams are still talking to him, trying to get him to change his mind up until the last hour.
I think his parents decided this was the best fit for him, this was the best place, surrounded by a great group of people, coaches, administrators, academic support people.
In the end, you know, he made the best decision that was for him and we’re very happy he chose the Cavaliers.
Q. What was your pitch to the player who committed to the previous staff?
COACH LONDON: The message was you choose universities for reasons. The reasons for these young men were the academic opportunities, the atmosphere here at the school, great college campus. You walk around on Grounds and you see it’s historic. The facilities are very eye-pleasing. Then you add that to the staff, the guys that I hired, ’cause they had a chance to go out and visit with them, go into the homes. I had a chance to talk to them on the telephone, visit with them out at their schools. It kind of reiterated and bolstered all those decisions why they chose it in the first place.
It’s very true that players choose personalities – they choose coaches. But I think in this situation I’m grateful they chose the University. We just had to add up to it. They liked the fact it had a new staff here, new energy, new focus on things. I think it made it very appealing to them to stay with their commitment.
Q. Did you visit all the previously committed players?
COACH LONDON: I visited several of them. Didn’t get a chance to go to every one of them because of trying to fill the staff and other obligations here. Our staff members, as I said, Anthony Poindexter, Bob Price, visited every one of them, every week. As I started to hire the new guys, we made sure they went to their schools, got in front of them. Any opportunities I had, you know, I visited them at their schools or at home or definitely stayed in contact by definitely.
Q. Do you consider Michael Strauss as a guy who committed to the previous staff or is he one of your guys?
COACH LONDON: A little of both. It’s a little ironic. The day he was making his visit, I happened to be talking to Coach Littlepage, he was there. I had a chance to sit down with him and his parents. I think I made an impression on him that maybe he could play for this guy. I think things worked out. I’d like to say probably a little bit of both.
Q. But the visit had been already set up?
COACH LONDON: The visit had been set up. But the meeting between he and I just happened to be in the office at that time. May had been a chance meeting or whatever, but it worked out for the good.
Q. In terms of overall numbers, more players are scheduled to come in rather than going out. Have you made some decisions fifth-year guys?
COACH LONDON: I’ve made some decisions on some of these fifth-year guys to make sure that these numbers coincide with the available and allowable numbers per the NCAA. You know, I think there’s still some leeway here or there, scholarship or two. We’ll see how it plays out.
But at the end of spring practice, there will be some more evaluations going on with some of these fifth-year players. I think it’s safe to say we’ll make sure we’re under our allotment or right at our allotment.
Q. What did John Shuman tell you about Cody Wallace?
COACH LONDON: Basically that he learned a lot. My son Brandon went to Fort Union, went on to UMass from there. John has been such a great partner for the University of Virginia because of the players that have gone there, from Darryl Blackstock to Marques Hagans Almondo Curry, the list goes on and on.
But, John said Cody practiced hard, he played well. He’s a tough, tough young man. That year away, Fork Union will make you stronger mentally, physically, spiritually, any kind of ‘ly’ there is — it will make you do it. I think he’s a big Cody Wallace fan.
Q. You signed four players who committed to other schools, talk specifically about the McGee situation.
COACH LONDON: Jake is a player that his family had deep ties to the University. His grandfather was on the VAF board, I believe. Very strong members of the Virginia community. I knew back then at the time that Jake committed to Richmond that this was a I-A player. Was very pleased and happy.
As circumstances go, when a young man sometimes has a chance to go to another school, in this particular case from an FCS school to a BCS school, given the ties to the University that he he’s had, the opportunity came to him, and he chose an opportunity to come here.
You can view it all different kind of ways. If I was perhaps still at Richmond, he left to go to William & Mary or took some from William & Mary, I’d be upset. But this situation, going from an FCS to BCS school, a lot of times you can’t blame or fault a young man for doing that.
Q. Can you address how you put your staff together?
COACH LONDON: It’s been one of those tasks that you want to make sure you do it right. You want to make sure that you get the right kind of men that are going to be involved with the players on a day-to-day basis. Obviously you want the X and O expertise, which I think I got, but you also want to make sure you got the right kind of person, the person that fits the profile of recruiting student-athletes that the University of Virginia has here, a person that has character and integrity.
I think in taking my time, particularly with the offensive coordinator position, there were a couple of guys obviously that I would like to have had an opportunity to be here. But I think in the end, making the choice with Coach Lazor was time well worth spending and investigating his background, his pedigree, what he stands for. As well as with Scott Wachenheim, who was the tight ends coach with the Redskins last year, but also he was at Liberty University the three previous years as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. So I think the overall staff of what we bring, you know, to the program I think was one that took a little time. Maybe some people out there were a little anxious about getting everything going. I think it turned out pretty good in the end.
Q. Have you seen any difference recruiting as the head coach at a BCS school?
COACH LONDON: I was one of the lead recruiters when I was here. I look at it all the same way. It’s all about relationships, it’s all about connecting with young men. I was able to do that irregardless of the position I held. I’ve been the same guy that I am now that I was four, five years ago dealing with players and families and people.
So I think the biggest thing is about people and the relationship part of it regardless of the title. So I’m happy that this group stayed with us in terms of the commitments, that we were able to get five more. Obviously the 2011 class will be a very important class. I’m looking forward to developing relationships with the players, their parents and all the significant others in their lives.
Q. What are the specific assignments of coaching the offensive line?
COACH LONDON: Ron Mattes is going to coach the offensive line and Scott Wachenheim, who has tight end offensive line experience, can lend some assistance. The tight ends and offensive line, they work closely together. It’s great to have a guy that played in the NFL, played the position, and a guy that coached the position, but was also a coordinator while he was coaching that position. So I think the O-line will be a strength for us this year.
Q. You made an emphasis on tight ends this class. Can you talk about that?
COACH LONDON: For sure. I think the tight end is an integral part of the success that Virginia has had in the past, particularly in running the ball. Zach Swanson, obviously we’re going to start out Jake McGee at quarterback, give him an opportunity. Again, there’s another big athlete that can be an H-back tight end type player, very versatile. We have two returners and a third. We have two walk-ons that are itching for an opportunity to get in there and play.
We’ll address that again in the 2011 class. But I think right now as we move forward, the tight end position will be something that’s very important.
Q. Do you see any of Heath Miller in Jake McGee?
COACH LONDON: That’s a stretch right there, Doug. They’re tall. Both of them were tall. Both of them were athletic. I think Heath I believe played quarterback also. So there is a correlation between the athleticism that Jake has and that he has.
But I’m hesitant to make the jump that he’s one in waiting. I’d like for him to be that way, but only time will tell. But the abilities that he has I think lends itself to saying that he’s going to grow into that body, whether it’s at quarterback, H-back or tight end and hopefully be a player for us.
Q. Not a lot of big recruits in the state, was the talent level down in Virginia this year?
COACH LONDON: I don’t know about talent level. I just know when I got into the mix here, again, we had those players already committed. Then having to make room for the additional five, you know, required some other maneuvering and issues.
But Virginia is always going to be loaded with talent. We just got to do the best job in recognizing what the talent is, whether it’s a one star or five star guy, just trying to find the right kind of fit.
Q. Some recruiting services don’t have this class ranked high, what is your philosophy in the ratings by stars?
COACH LONDON: Well, you know, this is the age of the Internet and Facebook and YouTube and instant messaging, Skype. I can go on and on. Magazine subscriptions sell for being in the top class. When you’re rated a particular star, the people that are rating them, you know, I know they take pride in what they do.
But I just – I like to go out and watch a film, watch a guy play a position, see what he does, see how he competes against other players. If you like the makeup or the things, if you can check off on the boxes the things that he can do for your team, you know, at the schemes and the positions, you know, the skills that you’re required, then that’s all that matters.
I know there’s a lot of players out there that have outstanding qualities and skills, which people that are ranking classes or players would assign those stars to them. But, you know, one man’s five-star is another man’s one-star. So I think it has to fit the “who” that you’re recruiting.
In this case, you know, I like who we have. Again, the opportunity to go out and make 2011 a class in terms of all the guys that are going to have, you know, kind of what I’m looking for in a player.
Q. Could you offer any more scholarships in this class?
COACH LONDON: No. We’re at our limit, as the question was asked before, about fifth-year guys, making a determination whether they would come back or not.
Q. What about recruiting walk-ons?
COACH LONDON: There are stories of so many guys that have walked on here and earned scholarships because they did what they were supposed to do in the classroom and on the field.
I would say that the possibilities and probabilities of getting walk-ons again, developing them to become contributors to this program is as high as before.
Q. How big of a priority is recruiting the 757 going to be?
COACH LONDON: Well, you know, getting the best players is always the number one priority. The fact that I’m from down there, too, a little added nugget. We wanted to recruit the state and make sure that the players in all areas, as you mentioned particularly 757, that we have an opportunity to present ourselves, what we have to offer.
Whether it’s 757, 804, 703, 434, whatever area code it is, we’re going to try to do the best in those areas.
Q. Ryan Cobb is from one of the best high schools in the country, what are his options on the field?
COACH LONDON: Ryan on his visit had talked about – we talked about the style of offense we were going to have. I had all the players stand up, introduce themselves, their parents, where they’re from. Ryan stood up and said, ‘I’m a linebacker/fullback, but I’ll play whatever you want me to play, coach.’ Obviously I appreciated that. You appreciate players that will go anywhere and play anywhere.
You’re right, he comes from the number one high school in the country, Don Bosco, which is a great high school program. We’re looking forward to holding Ryan to his words and putting him in positions that can help us win.
Q. How much progress have you made for the 2011 class the past couple months?
COACH LONDON: I think it’s significant amount of progress. We’ve had a couple junior days. We’ve had players come up here on Grounds, at basketball games, meet the new staff. We’ll continue to keep doing that. I mean, the message out there, as I said before, is about being accessible and available. We got out to several high schools and made that clear to a lot of coaches.
That’s the message. It’s exciting to see that although the 2010 class, the culmination of all the hard work of the previous staff, the staff that I added on, did to make this to come to where it is now, but also now having started on the 2011 class, which is just as important.
Q. How hard was it in two months to assess the program, recruit players and assemble a staff? How did you juggle all that?
COACH LONDON: I think absent of the spring practice and having to watch these guys run, assess them athletically, I’ve had a chance to assess them academically. I’ve talked to every one of the players. We talked about whatever issues they might have, my expectations in the classroom, in the community, on the field. So it’s been a challenge to assess where we are from an athletic standpoint, you know, because we haven’t done anything.
In fact, we start our winter workouts here in a week or so. We’ll have a chance to go out and watch them move around, run, change of direction, and have an idea of where they are athletically.
It is kind of a mismatch in terms of, you know, what do you need to work onto add to the team athletically other than looking at the board and saying you have so many numbers of guys that will be seniors at this position, that position, so you’re going to have to do your due diligence in making sure next year’s class you offer enough, say, linemen.
We need to make sure that we assess these guys and we start running around a little bit.
Q. Hoe much did Danny Rocco have a say in sending his son here?
COACH LONDON: Well, it’s Uncle Danny. It’s Frank Rocco. I mean, obviously he very well may have. I would hope that he did because Danny knows me. We coached together on the staff here.
I just think in the end with Frank, the schemes and the systems that we’re going to run versus what Louisville is going to run, the proximity to home, the familiarity with Virginia, all those came into play. We feel very fortunate for Mike to be coming here.
Q. How do you feel about getting talent from the prep leagues? More players are going FBS than ever before?
COACH LONDON: You know, I think what it is with us particularly is that when you go to DeMatha, Gonzaga, St. Anne’s, Good Counsel, the environment there at that school is similar to the social and academic environment here at Virginia. Since they recognize that Virginia is an academic school that has athletic opportunities, then you go somewhere that you tend to have a common theme with.
I think you’ll see a lot more of that as we go along. DeMatha and Good Counsel up in Maryland are arguably two of the best high school programs in the country because of the type of players that they have coming in and out. But that’s for a lot of private schools, also. A Liberty Christian, you know, state champions. You’re seeing private schools emerge from the standpoint of being very competitive and winning championships. In the end, I think we’ve got about six or seven players that have won state championships, players that reached the regional finals, players that were in the playoffs, players that come from schools that won conference championships. In the end you try to build your team with players that come from programs like that, regardless of whether it’s public, private, whatever. It just so happens that DeMatha and Good Counsel and Liberty, Lynchburg Academies, St. Anne’s-Belfield, all schools like that are producing top-level caliber talent.
Q. Two players in class are from the Washington D.C. area. What type of presence will Shawn Moore give you from that area?
COACH LONDON: That’s one of the reasons Shawn is hired, to give us a big presence up there. Obviously the respect he has up there, being at St. Albans, you know, him being known in that area. Again, it goes back to relationships again, having been around in a community for a while. So when a mother or a father are talking about sending their son somewhere, you’ve already established that relationship, you try to use that to your advantage.
So we’re happy about where Shawn is. He’s going to be there. We’ll have Anthony close by also. It’s not that one particular person has that area. There will be some overlap so Anthony can still get back into those areas because he’s well-respected up there, as well.
Q. Doesn’t seem like the program has a surplus of traditional 4-3 linebackers. Will that be a big need in 2011?
COACH LONDON: It very well could be, manifest itself to that. I think going into spring practice with moving outside linebackers down to defensive ends, ends inside to tackles, that’s all part of this assessment that I was talking about. You know, where are we now?
I’ll be able to answer your questions in terms of needs, position needs, whether it’s defensive ends, defensive tackles, Will linebackers, inside linebackers, based on coming out of spring practice.
Q. Did you find your relationship with coaches in this state provided open arms from schools that haven’t seen UVa on their campus in a long time?
COACH LONDON: Again, I’ve recruited this state for a long, long time, being from here. Even when I went to Boston College, this was my area. So it takes a long time to establish relationships with people. As I said, the question was asked about Shawn Moore, his relationship, the possibilities up in the D.C. area. I just think in the schools that I went to, the coaches I had the chance to talk to face to face, with the message of accessibility, availability, having established a prior relationship with them, because I’ve been in those schools, I think it opened – if a door was cracked, it opened it a little further. If it was closed, hopefully we cracked it. If it was already opened, hopefully the door is wide open for us to come in there.
I want to make sure the message is out there that we will recruit our in-state players and listen to our in-state high school coaches because it’s important. It’s important to have a relationship with your high school coaches if you’re the University of Virginia. I think we’ll continue to work on that. Haven’t been in every school. There are still some schools we need to get into. But the goal is coming out of May recruiting, spring recruiting, we’ve been into every school.
Q. Players from Florida and another from Texas are in this class. How much time do you plan to spend in those areas?
COACH LONDON: When you look at the demographics of where the University of Virginia players come from, we rely heavily on our alumni, where the pocket of alumni are, it’s easier to go to places where somewhere other than the head coach is talking about Virginia. If you can go to places that have a guidance counselor, principal, teacher that went to school here, talk about Virginia, it makes it easier when you go there and talk about the athletic and academic possibilities here, it makes it real easy to recruit that young man.
We’ll go to places or pockets of places that have strong academic influences and Virginia ties and try to forge that to establish an relationship so a young man will feel comfortable about coming here not just because his coach talked about it but because others in the school talked about it
Q. Can you talk about what you see in Chris Brathwaite out of such a strong Catholic League?
COACH LONDON: I tell you what, he’s strong, he’s athletic. Real excited about seeing where he fits in this 4-3 scheme. You know, he’s all gung-ho about wherever we put him – he wants to play. Goes back to what we said about Cobb. Coach, put me somewhere, I just want to play. Great attitude from him as we find a place where they fit in and where they can contribute.
Q. Going back to Kevin Parks, what have you seen in person or on film that you really like?
COACH LONDON: He’s like a weeble. You can knock him down, but he’s just pops right back up. He just goes and goes and goes. Low center of gravity. He can make a play that looks like two yards go 22 yards, go 52 yards. I mean – he’s an exceptional talent. You get him behind those big linemen, run. He’s 5’8″ and a half on his tippy toes, but he plays like a giant. Can’t wait to get him out there and show people what he has.
Thank you, everybody.