A wise man once said that recruiting is like showering. If you don’t do it regularly, you’re gonna stink. If you ask any die-hard Virginia fan, they’ll surely tell you that recruiting well within the Commonwealth is imperative to having success in the ACC.
With that said, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to go back four recruiting cycles, to the 2009 class, and see how they all turned out. These guys would mostly be either fourth-year seniors or redshirt juniors, so their careers are well underway, and some inferences can be made.
For this little trip down memory lane, I used the Rivals recruiting rankings, as they are the most comprehensive for that recruiting cycle. 25 prospects signed letters of intent with Virginia in that cycle, 16 of them being Virginia natives. There were 5 4-stars, 11 3-stars and 9 two-stars in the class, good for 33rd best class in the nation. No, this was not a terrible job by Al Groh and his staff on the trail, although 9 two stars is quite a few for a program that aspires for success in the ACC. The 2009 class was Virginia’s first full recruiting cycle following their 9-3 2007 season, the best under Groh. The coaching staff also had nowhere to go but up, after a disastrous 2008 class that only included FOUR prospects from the Commonwealth of Virginia. FOUR!
So let’s take a look at the 2009 class, what went right, what went wrong, and what happens when a coach gets very, very desperate to save his job.
Oday Aboushi (4*): Aboushi was one of the highest ranked members of the ‘09 class, and has been one of the most productive since arriving on Grounds. Aboushi never redshirted, and played in six games as a true freshman in 2009. Since then, he has started every game, almost all of them at left tackle. In addition to his on-field exploits, Aboushi has thrived off the field as well. He was named a captain for the upcoming 2012 season, and last fall he was invited to Washington, DC to be honored by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, at a banquet for Muslim-American athletes. Aboushi, who is originally from Brooklyn, committed to the Cavaliers about a month before signing day, and he has definitely turned out to be one of the best players for Virginia from the 2009 class.
LoVante Battle (2*): Not as much to report here. Battle, a Phoebus High alum, did not redshirt in his first season at UVA. Quite a perplexing move by Al Groh and the coaching staff, considering he only played special teams, recording one tackle on the season. Since then he has basically been a special teams player, with a few appearances on defense in blowouts. Battle was moved to fullback during spring practice this year, and will compete to replace graduation senior Max Milien at the position.
Luke Bowanko (3*): This guy’s career appears to be on the right track. After redshirting in 2009, Bowanko played in five games in a reserve role, before getting the starting job at left guard in 2011. Luke started every game in 2011, and is penciled in to start at right guard in 2012. Now THIS is how it should work.
Sean Cascarano (3*): Up until now, Cascarano has been a backup offensive tackle, who played sparingly. After redshirting in ‘09, Cascarano played in 17 games over the next two seasons. Although he didn’t participate in spring practice due to injury, he is projected to start at left guard for the Hoos this season.
Paul Freedman (3*): Freedman has been a backup tight end for the past few years, but he has contributed to the offense. Freedman started five games in 2011, replacing the injured Colter Phillips. Although he has played in all 25 games of the Mike London era, Freedman has only recorded 19 receptions and 1 touchdown. Freedman is another example of a guy who probably could’ve benefited more from being redshirted his first year, but the previous coaching staff decided not to do so.
Will Hill (3*): There seems to be a recurring theme of guys in this recruiting class who didn’t get redshirted their first year but didn’t play many meaningful snaps either. Will Hill is one of those guys too. Hill has made strides over the past few seasons, making his first career start in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl back in December. Hill is expected to start at defensive tackle, and has been named a defensive captain as well.
Quinton Hunter (4*): Hunter was pretty much a total bust for UVA. Not because he’s a bad person or anything like that, sometimes these things just don’t work out. In 2009, Hunter played Hunter asked for the opportunity to try and play quarterback, which was his position in high school. That didn’t work out, and Hunter quit the team. A few months later, he transferred to JMU, where he plays wide receiver.
Perry Jones (2*): Without a doubt, "Superman" was the steal of UVA’s 2009 class. Jones’ only other offers were BC and Navy, and he was surely undervalued because of his size. After playing sparingly in ‘09, Jones has started all but one game since. Credit Al Groh and his staff for finding a gem in Jones, and know that there are plenty of college coaches that wish they had offered Perry now.
Corey Lillard (3*): Played a total of 10 plays in 2009, and then promptly transferred to Liberty. It appears he played only played one season there, before moving on.
Jeremiah Mathis (2*): If nothing else, Jeremiah Mathis has proved to be versatile. Halfway through 2010, Mathis moved from defensive end to tight end, and even scored a touchdown a few weeks later against Maryland. Pretty impressive stuff. Mathis caught two touchdown passes last year; one from Watford and one from Rocco. UVA has a bunch of tight ends that should factor into the offense in 2012, Mathis included.
Connor McCartin (2*): McCartin’s career was unfortunately cut short by a string of concussions. After a concussion during training camp last August, McCartin was told that he would never be able to play football again. McCartin, who had previously been a contributor on special teams, still remains actively involved with the team.
Ross Metheny (3*): Metheny never started a game for Virginia, after being beaten out by Mike Rocco and David Watford in camp last summer. He could be seen on game days sending in signals to the QB in a very animated fashion. Knowing that he would almost certainly never take a meaningful snap at Virginia, Metheny transferred to South Alabama following the 2011 season.
Morgan Moses (4*): Moses prepped at Fork Union in ‘09, before recommitting to Mike London and the Cavaliers on signing day in 2010. He then became Virginia’s highest ranked commitment in back to back classes, a rarity in college football for sure. Moses played more and more as the 2010 season unfolded, and started every game at right tackle last year. Moses, a mountain of a man, has lived up to the hype, and figures to play in the NFL someday soon.
Justin Renfrow (3*): Renfrow redshirted in ‘09 and played very little in 2010 before playing in 6 games last year. Renfrow, who has apparently gained 40 lbs since arriving in Charlottesville, figures to make an even bigger impact next season, with the departure of several key defensive linemen. Renfrow has the ability to clog the interior line, taking up blockers and opening up rushing lanes for speedy pass rushers coming off the edges after the quarterback.
LaRoy Reynolds (3*): When he arrived at UVA, LaRoy Reynolds was slotted to play safety. After playing a year on special teams in ‘09, Reynolds was moved to outside linebacker, and has started all but one game since. As he has spent more time at the position, Reynolds has looked more and more comfortable in Jim Reid’s defensive scheme. Reynolds uses his safety speed to fly around and pursue ball carriers on a regular basis. Reynolds has also been named a captain for the 2012 season, and his career in Charlottesville has worked out nicely so far.
Kevin Royal (2*): Nothing to see here. It’s usually not good when a wide receiver has more career tackles (1) than receptions (0). Royal rarely played in his career, before being dismissed from the team earlier this year.
Bobby Smith (3*): Very quiet career for Bobby Smith so far. He redshirted in 2009, played in 3 games in 2010, and none in 2011. He has yet to record a stat of any kind.
Tim Smith (4*): Tim Smith has had an interesting career at Virginia so far. Smith showed some flashes in 2009, when he started 3 games and scored 2 touchdowns. He suffered a setback in 2010 however, when he missed the final 10 games of the season with a foot injury. Smith was granted a medical hardship waiver, not unlike the one UVA basketball player Mike Scott received after missing most of the 2010-2011 campaign. Smith returned better than ever in 2011, starting ten games and averaging 17.1 yards per catch. Although it could be fair to say that Tim Smith has not quite lived up to his 4-star ranking, labeling him a bust would be absurd. Smith figures to be UVA’s #1 receiver next season, and with two years of eligibility left, Virginia fans expect big things from him in the future.
Jake Snyder (3*): After redshirting in 2009, Jake Snyder played a bunch in 2010, then started 12 games in 2011. He is the only starter on the defensive line from 2011 that will be on the team when they kick off the season against Richmond in September. Snyder has had a solid career thus far, and he is going to need to get even better next year for to help anchor a defensive line full of new faces.
Javanti Sparrow (2*): Sparrow played 23 special teams snaps in 2009, as part of Al Groh’s attempt to re-create Sherman’s March by slashing and burning every redshirt in sight. The following June Sparrow was suspended for an entire year for failing to uphold his end of the bargain in the classroom. There was talk of Sparrow rejoining the Cavaliers prior to the 2011 season, but that never happened. Barring some unforeseen change, Sparrow’s college football career is over.
Hunter Steward (2*): Steward never played in his two years at UVA, then transferred to Liberty. The End.
Brent Urban (2*): Urban redshirted in 2009, before playing in only 3 games in 2010. The Canada native saw his playing time increase last season, appearing in every game. With Cam Johnson graduating and Billy Schautz recovering from his leg injury, Urban could play an even bigger role in 2012. For a fairly unknown 2-star Canadian prospect, Virginia got decent value here.
Cody Wallace (2*): The New Jersey native prepped at Fork Union in 09, before redshirting in 2010. Wallace only played in two games in 2011 as a reserve offensive lineman. He is currently listed as the second-string left guard, behind Sean Cascarano. There is still a chance he could play a good deal of meaningful snaps this year, with some new faces set to join the offensive line.
Dominique Wallace (4*): Wallace was one of the most heralded of Virginia’s 2009 commits, and one of the least productive. Wallace played in the first three games of 2009, before suffering a season-ending injury. He was credited with a medical hardship redshirt, but never got to cash it in. Wallace quit the team before the start of the 2010 season, but elected not to transfer, and continue his pursuit of a UVA degree. The four-star back was yet another example of a burned redshirt, but unlike a lot of guys in the 2009 freshman class, he actually played some meaningful downs.
Tucker Windle (3*): Another burned redshirt?!?!? Oh, COME ON! Windle has been mostly a special teams player throughout his career in Charlottesville. He was another guy who played in 2009, and it probably wasn’t worth it. He was only used on special teams for the first half of the year, before starting the final game of the season against Virginia Tech. Since then, Windle hasn’t started a game, and has been used almost exclusively on special teams. Whether Windle’s playing time defense is increased in 2012 remains to be seen.
After all that, let’s look at how UVA did overall. By my count the 2009 class included 6 players who were solid successes or better (Aboushi, Jones, Tim Smith, Moses, Snyder, Reynolds), 8 role players/contributors (Bowanko, Hill, Freedman, Mathis, Windle, Cody Wallace, Urban, Renfrow), and 11 who were either total busts or haven’t played much (Hunter, Lillard, Dominique Wallace, Steward, Sparrow, Bobby Smith, Battle, McCartin, Metheny, Royal, and Cascarano). 8 of those 11 guys are no longer part of the program. Being placed in that final category isn’t necessarily a reflection of their talent, work ethic, or character, but rather just how much they have actually achieved on the field. It is also worth noting that Sean Cascarano, Cody Wallace and Tucker Windle’s statuses on this list are somewhat in limbo, and all of them could end up in the role player category or the bust category when all is said and done.
So, what happened here? Well, for starters, this classes’ overall talent wasn’t overwhelmingly high. 9 two-star players is simply too many for a program of Virginia’s caliber. Granted Perry Jones turned out to be one hell of a steal, but for every Perry Jones there’s a Javanti Sparrow and a Hunter Steward. Al Groh and his staff lost far too many in-state recruiting battles to Virginia Tech to stay relevant, and 2009 was no different. The Hokies landed a bunch of Virginia natives who ended up as major factors in their system over the past few years, leaving UVA to try to find diamonds in the rough to fill out their class. Most of them didn’t work out.
Another obvious problem with this class was the work of a desperate coach. Groh burned a bunch of redshirts in 2009, which proved to be his final season in Charlottesville. After a 0-3 start, Groh threw a bunch of freshman into the fire, in a last ditch attempt to save his job. He did not have the luxury to worry about the future of the program after losing to William and Mary, and it showed. Far too many players were put on the field, only to play sparingly. Imagine if Perry Jones, whose redshirt was unnecessarily burned in ‘09, had 2 more years left at UVA instead of 1?
Hopefully Mike London and his staff can avoid some of these pitfalls that Groh and his staff fell into. In the mean time, there is still some talent from the 2009 class still in the program, so hopefully the coaches and those players make the most of their remaining time in Charlottesville.