Signs of change

Coach Mike London welcomes 21 student-athletes to Virginia's football program on National Signing Day


After a tumultuous offseason for the Virginia football program marked by the termination of four coaches, the transfer of junior quarterback Michael Rocco and the departure of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor for the Philadelphia Eagles, Cavalier fans finally have something to cheer about.

Wednesday, coach Mike London announced that 21 student-athletes signed national letters of intent for the 2013 season, joining linebacker LaChaston Smith — who enrolled in the University in January — to make up the team’s 2013 recruiting class. Despite massive turnover on the coaching staff that included the introduction of new coordinators on both offense and defense, Virginia managed to keep all of its original commitments.

“Obviously coaches build a particular relationship with young men and we pride ourselves on building those type of relationships,” London said. “And when coaches have moved on or are gone, then you have to make sure that you fill that void quickly with quality men … The guys that had to keep [the recruiting class] together, I thought, did a fantastic job of doing so.”

The 2013 class, ranked No. 27 by Rivals, is headlined by Parade All-American and five-star running back recruit Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell. He is the Cavaliers’ first five-star commitment since current Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Eugene Monroe of Al Groh’s 2005 recruiting class. Ranked as the No. 5 running back and No. 29 player nationally by Rivals, Mizzell finished his senior season at Bayside High School in Virginia Beach with 1,231 rushing yards, more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and 39 touchdowns.

“I think from a talent standpoint, [Mizzell’s] a great young man once you get a chance to know him,” London said. “I know he’s a young man that proved that he belongs here and that he can do well here in this academic environment [and] athletic environment and we’re looking forward to having him up here.”

Mizzell’s Virginia career got off to a rocky start. In January, while on his official visit, Mizzell was arrested in Charlottesville and charged with underage possession of alcohol.

“The matter with ‘Smoke’ — as we call him — was a matter handled by the University and the athletic department,” London said. “It’s a matter that also that I’ll be handling internally with the team and making sure that situations like that don’t occur again.”

The Cavaliers also snagged a pair of four-star defensive backs in Tim Harris and Kirk Garner, ranked No. 14 and No. 29 nationally at the cornerback position respectively. Along with safety commit Malcolm Cook, ranked as the No. 19 recruit in Virginia, Harris and Garner will add depth to a Virginia secondary that recorded only four interceptions in the 2012 season, tied for last in the ACC with Maryland.

“I think when you look at Malcolm and Kirk and you look at Tim Harris, there are playing opportunities for all these players,” London said. “And we’ll see how things shake out with the players that we have in our systems and in the type of scheme that [defensive coordinator Jon] Tenuta will employ.”

The rest of the Virginia defense, which graduated defensive tackle and co-captain Will Hill, defensive ends Bill Schautz and Ausar Walcott and linebackers Steve Greer and co-captain LaRoy Reynolds, also received good news Wednesday. The Cavaliers netted defensive tackles Donta Wilkins and Tyrell Chavis, defensive end Jack English, inside linebacker Micah Kiser and outside linebackers Zach Bradshaw and Connor Wingo-Reeves, in addition to the early-enrollee Smith.

“It’s truly a class that is filled with quality, depth and a lot of players that can be provided opportunities to play right away,” London said. “It met specific needs that we had, particularly at the offensive line position.”

To fill the needs on the offensive line, Virginia added four tackles and one guard. Tackle Sadiq Olanrewaju, who ranks No. 3 in the state of Connecticut, and guard Jack McDonald, who ranks No. 4 in Massachusetts, headline the new class of offensive linemen, although the Cavaliers also added two last minute commitments from Eric Tetlow and George Adeosun. Tetlow called London around 12:15 a.m. Wednesday to inform him of his commitment, while Adeosun picked Virginia over many other top FBS programs.

“When you look at Virginia and you look at the past linemen that have been here, you look at success,” London said. “And the interesting thing with George Adeosun is like he blew up overnight … He left our visit and then Purdue, Oklahoma [showed interest]. He said he was getting on the plane to go to Arizona State visit, and before he got on the plane, Georgia had offered him [a scholarship] and later on Tennessee [did as well].”

Six other offensive skill players rounded out the Virginia recruiting class. All three wide receivers, Andre Levrone, Zack Jones and Keeon Johnson, are ranked among the top 30 prospects in their respective states, with Levrone ranked No. 47 nationally at receiver. London described Jones, the younger brother of former Virginia running back Perry Jones, as “an all everything, utility guy.”

Virginia added two three-star signal callers to the roster in Corwin Cutler, the nation’s No. 22 pro-style quarterback prospect and Virginia’s No. 14 overall recruit, and Brendan Marshall, Maryland’s No. 21 prospect.

Of the top 30 recruits in the state of Virginia, the Cavaliers were able to snag seven, while Virginia Tech took 11. But of the state’s four five-star recruits, Mizzell was the only one to remain in-state. Half of the Cavaliers’ 22 commitments hail from inside the state, including six from the Richmond region and three from the Tidewater region.

It is the third straight year under London that Virginia’s recruiting class has been ranked in the top 30 by Rivals. Now that the class of 2013 is all but finalized, the program is already looking ahead to the class of 2014. But most of the Cavaliers’ focus will now be on a brutal 2013 schedule that features eight home games, including matchups against Oregon, BYU and Clemson.

“We embrace the fact that the schedule is very challenging,” London said. “And to a player — not just particularly on our team, but even with the recruits … they’re excited about that. So with the 2013’s now under the belt, the 2014’s will see that scheduling and look at Virginia in terms of the [new] facility that will be done here hopefully soon, you see progress. You see a lot of things that are going on with the program.”

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