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February 20, 2013

Virginia prospects rising to top of rankings

MORE: Class of 2014 Rivals250

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

"Meet Virginia" is not just a campy, adult pop song.

For the first time since the class of 2003, a single state is responsible for three of the top six players in the Rivals100, and it isn't a traditional power state such as Florida, Texas, or California.

Meet Virginia: an up-and-coming state in football recruiting.

Top prospect Da'Shawn Hand is joined by fellow five-star players Quin Blanding of Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside at No. 4 in the nation and Andrew Brown from Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith at No. 6, highlighting a second straight solid class from the commonwealth. The talent level is not only improving, it is getting deeper.

John Harris coaches Hand at Woodbridge (Va.) High. He said those three players are the exception to the rule but that the improved product throughout the state has been a group effort.

"Those top kids are just special, and I don't think there is much anyone can say about why they happen to all be from Virginia; they just are," Harris said. "We are getting better coaches on this level, and that is a result of better communication with college coaches. We are all learning what they want and how to get the kids better prepared, so I think that has pushed the fringe guys into the fold and the next-level kids up to the fringe.

"The kids are more committed to getting better and doing what they need to do, and you are seeing that with the recruits. They are getting better and more prepared to compete and stack up nationally."

The class of 2014 from Virginia boasts four other players inside the Rivals100.

Defensive end Jalyn Holmes of Norfolk (Va.) Lake Taylor is ranked No. 30; defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi of Virginia Beach (Va.) Ocean Lakes is No. 37; quarterback Caleb Henderson of Burke (Va.) Lake Braddock checks in at No. 65; and offensive lineman Steven Moss of Fredericksburg (Va.) Chancellor rounds out the group at No. 89.

Richard Morgan is the head coach at Oscar Smith. He said he is impressed by the improvement as a whole and especially the three players in the top 10.

"We have had guys that I thought could just go and contribute right away from Virginia before," he said. "I remember thinking that about Percy Harvin and Phillip Sims, but all three of those guys have the talent, the size, the ability and the mentality to step right into college football.

"It is rare for this state to have three guys in one class ready to do that, and I have no idea how they all got to that point."

Morgan has had Brown in his program for only one season. Brown played at Chesapeake (Va.) Indian River before a June transfer.

Morgan said the 6-foot-4, 300-plus pound monster has been one of the hardest-working players since his arrival.

BREAKING DOWN THEIR GAMES
Da'Shawn Hand: "He is so fast and athletic that he really can do what he wants on the field. A lot of times he will go into camps wearing his glasses, and I know when he is getting ready for a battle rep because he will take them off. That is when I say he is going from Clark Kent to Superman. I don't think I have coached a kid near the product he is right now, nor with the ceiling he has. His hands are so fast and he is so agile that he only bull rushes if the play calls for it. Otherwise, he doesn't need it to beat a guy." -- John Harris, position coach at Woodbridge.

Quin Blanding: "Quin is a near-perfect fit as a free safety. The combination of his size, speed, athleticism and ball-hawking abilities makes him a great weapon against any offense. Being so long and rangy really helps Blanding in both man and zone coverage. Blanding's leadership qualities will prove to be invaluable because, as a safety, he has a good view of the offense and can help his teammates understand what the offense is trying to do. Blanding is a good tackler and is also a force inside the box on run plays. Blanding's versatility is not limited to the defensive side of the ball, as he is also an accomplished receiver, wildcat quarterback, and short and long snapper." -- Adam Friedman, Mid-Atlantic Analyst, Rivals.com

Andrew Brown: "Andrew is power first and speed second, but that doesn't mean he is slow. He is just so physical that he can get into you and still create space for himself. His technique has improved and he has gone from about 290 to over 300 pounds, but it is good weight that won't slow him down. He is very coachable and does what he is told, and I think that cannot go without being mentioned. When talented kids want to go their own way,it can hurt your football team, and he is not a 'me-first' player." -- Richard Morgan, head coach at Oscar Smith.

"It is a credit to his father," Morgan said. "Andrew has been humble since he got here and really soaked up the coaching. His technique has improved dramatically. It was a quick flip of the light switch when he first saw what we did here and realized it was another level than he was used to, and he didn't take too long to get acclimated to the new demands."

Harris said that humility is something Brown and Hand share.

"Da'Shawn is just the genuine article. He has no ego," Harris said. "He gets excited to get an A on a test; he is fun loving. He is so mature that sometimes I forget he is just 17. And he is so humble that sometimes I forget I am talking to the best football player I have ever coached."

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

At the start of the evaluation process, the class of 2014 has the edge on the two best historical classes in Virginia history -- relative to the start of the Rivals100 with the class of 2002.

The class of 2002 had five players inside the Rivals100 and four of the top 27 players were from the state. The group was led by Marcus Vick, Kai Parham, Michael Johnson and Ahmad Brooks, all five-star players. Rounding out the players in the rankings was Anthony Martinez, who was a four-star at No. 91.

The recently signed class of 2013 is the closest in competition with 2014 because it had six players in the Rivals100 with Derrick Green, Jonathan Allen, Christian Hackenberg, Taquan Mizzell, Wyatt Teller and Holland Fisher nationally ranked. Green, Allen, Hackenberg, and Mizzell were five-star players, while Teller ranked No. 59 and Fisher No. 83.

With plenty of time, evaluation and re-rankings in the future, there is sure to be movement and these three classes will jockey for final positioning, but right now it looks like the class of 2014 may be the cream of the crop.

WHO STANDS TO GAIN FROM THIS CLASS

The in-state schools of Virginia and Virginia Tech did not land any of the highest-ranked players in the class of 2013; Green signed with Michigan, Allen with Alabama and Hackenberg with Penn State. Virginia kept Mizzell, and Teller and Fisher went to Virginia Tech, making the first season on the rise a victory of sorts.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said he believes this cycle could be even better.

"The way the ties are set up with these kids, I think that most of them stay in state," Farrell said. "Last year the best three guys were not even listening to staying in the state, and this year the best three, I think, want to and will."

Blanding attends the same school where Mizzell played, and that figures to make him a natural lean to Virginia.

Oscar Smith has been a split decision, sending as many kids to Virginia as Virginia Tech, and Morgan has also had a share of players sign with Maryland. The initial belief, though, is that Brown is extremely interested in Virginia and would be likely to stay home.

Hand recently named a top five, and it included Virginia Tech. He has said on record that he has always had an admiration for Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster and wants to play for him.

Farrell said that, even as the trend of great players wanting to play with other great players grows, he doesn't think Hand will be a class changer the way Robert Nkemdiche was for Ole Miss.

"Da'Shawn will make his decision and go with it," Farrell said. "I don't think he is a kid that is going to recruit other players. He doesn't want to influence other kids to go with him because he wants everyone to make the choice that is best for them."

Farrell said what would be best for the in-state teams would be a better product on the field.

"This year did not go the way Virginia or Tech wanted it to go," he said. "While I do think that those kids want to stay home, the fact of the matter is, if those schools don't show improvement it will open the door for other programs to get a wedge in and pry them out of the state."



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