Virginia Team Report
Call Mike London the closer, because he helped Virginia finish strong for another impressive showing on the recruiting trail. Despite a slew of changes on the coaching staff—some by London’s design, and some not—London kept the majority of his 2013 recruiting class intact. The Cavaliers even made a couple of key acquisitions at zero hour.
The results? Well, it depends which set of experts you subscribe to. Rivals tabbed Virginia’s 21-man class as the 26th best in the country and fourth among ACC teams. ESPN, however, ranked Virginia’s recruiting class 34th in the country and sixth in the conference.
“There are a lot of people that contributed to holding this class together,” London said at his news conference.
On paper, this is arguably the best recruiting class yet for London, who’s headed into his fourth season in charge in Charlottesville. And it includes arguably the best player to ever sign with the Cavs on London’s watch. RB Taquan Mizzell, from the talent hotbed Tidewater area of Virginia, was selected as part of the ESPN 150 and rated by ESPN as one of the top 10 running back prospects in the country.
Mizzell, and the two four-star and 15 three-star prospects signed by the Cavs, according to Rivals, held firm despite the turnover on Virginia’s staff. London dismissed four assistants, including defensive coordinator Jim Reid, just a few days after the Cavaliers concluded their second losing season in three years under London. Then, with just a week to go before national signing day, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor stepped down to join Chip Kelly’s new staff with the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL.
Virginia finished strong, poaching a couple of offensive line prospects from other major programs. George Adeosun spurned Georgia to sign with the Cavaliers, who also coaxed Richmond’s Eric Tetlow away from Wake Forest.
Top Of The Class
RB Taquan Mizzell (Bayside High/Virginia Beach, Va.)—Mizell is the first recruit rated at five stars by Rivals to come to Virginia since Eugene Monroe signed with the program in 2005. Mizell definitely has the credentials. He’s got a laundry list of accolades, including being selected to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Mizell scored touchdowns four different ways as a senior—rushing, receiving, punt return and kick return—and racked up more than 3,500 career rushing yards.
DB Tim Harris (Varina/Richmond, Va.)—A consensus four-star prospect, Harris looks to be a cornerback of the future for the Cavaliers. Harris was rated the No. 14 cornerback prospect in the country by Rivals.
LB LaChaston Smith (South Iredell/Statesville, N.C.)—The lone early enrollee in the class, Smith missed the majority of his senior year due to a knee injury but returned in time for the playoffs, as his team made it all the way to the state title game. He’s considered one of the consensus top 50 linebackers in the country, ranked as highly as 36th by Rivals.
• Virginia moved quickly to replace Bill Lazor as offensive coordinator after Lazor left to join the Philadelphia Eagles’ coaching staff. Steve Fairchild, whose coaching career includes a stint as head coach at Colorado State, comes in to replace Lazor. Jon Tenuta previously was hired as the new defensive coordinator after Jim Reid was replaced. The two new coordinators are among five new assistants on coach Mike London’s staff, including Tom O’Brien, let go this offseason as N.C. State’s head coach. O’Brien will serve as tight ends coach and the associate head coach for offense.
• One of the best signees in the 2013 class, on paper, probably won’t be fully healthy again until 2014. QB Corwin Cutler suffered a serious knee injury in the opening round of the playoffs in Virginia. Cutler still completed 70 percent of his passes for 2,232 yards, 31 touchdowns and four interceptions to earn All-State first-team honors in Virginia’s large-school classification.
• Several of Virginia’s incoming recruits share common ground as former teammates. Three of the signees played prep school together at Fork Union Military Academy—DT Tyrell Chavis, DB Malcolm Cook and athlete Max Valles. Another trio comes from Good Counsel in Maryland: LB Micah Kiser, WR Andre Levrone and QB Brendan Marshall.
Practice priorities: There’s always an adjustment when a football team brings in a new coordinator, and Virginia has new offensive and defensive coordinators. That could slow down the team’s grasp of the system this spring, a process that may take until fall practice begins. It also will be interesting to see how QB Phillip Sims adjusts now that he’ll be the earmarked starter following Michael Rocco’s decision to transfer.
Quote To Note: “We stayed because of the reason we chose it the first place. It’s a great community, a great place to be and we can make things happen.”—DT recruit Tyrell Chavis, to the Charlottesville Daily Progress, on maintaining his commitment to Virginia despite the slew of changes on the coaching staff.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Key Losses: QB Michael Rocco, LB Steve Greer, RB Perry Jones, OT Oday Aboushi, OLB LaRoy Reynolds
Players To Watch In 2013:
QB Phillip Sims—The prized in-state player who transferred back closer to home from Alabama supplanted Michael Rocco during the season as the starter. Now, Rocco’s transferred to the FCS level, and it’s Sims’ job to lose.
QB David Watford—Watford redshirted in 2012 but spent the first half of his freshman year in 2011 splitting reps with Rocco as part of a scripted rotation. How has the year on the sidelines helped or hindered Watford? He’ll have all eyes on him.
TE Jake McGee—He was Virginia’s biggest touchdown threat in the entire receiving corps and made two game-winning grabs last season. McGee tied for the team lead in touchdowns and looks to be the biggest weapon at the position since Heath Miller.
CB Demetrious Nicholson—He will be the elder statesman, not just of the secondary, but the entire defense. A starter since his first game as a true freshman, Nicholson racked up 56 tackles and broke up 15 passes last season.
• DT Chris Brathwaite was ruled ineligible and is no longer with the team or enrolled at Virginia.
• QB Michael Rocco transferred to Richmond, where he’ll have one remaining year of eligibility.