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How the 757 has thrown Tech and Virginia into a recruiting frenzy

Southeastern Virginia’s extensive talent pool has given rise to stars for both the Hokies and Cavaliers, but the battle for recruiting dominance has yet to stop

The Tidewater region of Virginia, known by its area code “757,” has long held a reputation for producing some of the most prolific athletes in both the Commonwealth and the nation. You might remember the names of former NBA players such as Allen Iverson and Alonzo Mourning or football legends like Michael Vick and Bruce Smith. Whether they come from Hampton, Norfolk or one of the other five cities that comprise the 757, all of these stars had their roots in Southeastern Virginia.

A region with such a deep talent pool has naturally pitted the state’s two rivals — Virginia and Virginia Tech — against one another in a yearly clash for the new cream of the crop. Football has especially been a topic of contention between the schools, as both the Cavaliers and Hokies have landed, and missed, on highly touted recruits from the region. 

If we fast forward from Vick and current Houston Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s commitments to Virginia Tech, the archives reveal Virginia has had the upper hand over the Hokies in garnering commits from the 757. Coach Mike London, who coached the Cavaliers from 2010 to 2015, starred in the recruiting landscape despite not faring so well on the field.

London jumped out of the gates by landing the No. 1 cornerback in the country in only his second year on the job— 4-star and No. 50 overall prospect Demetrious Nicholson. The cornerback from Bayside High School in Virginia Beach, Va. would be the first of three high-level prospects from Bayside to commit to Virginia. Despite having a rough career for the Cavaliers, Nicholson avoided the journey west and saved London from seeing the enemy — Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer — gain traction in the 757. 

In 2012, London managed to nab the No. 7 defensive end in the country and No. 43 overall prospect in Virginia Beach native Eli Harold. Harold attended Ocean Lakes High School and made an immediate impact for the Cavaliers — ending his career with 17.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. One of the more prolific products from the 757, Harold heard his name called in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers.

The Cavaliers added an offensive weapon in 2013 after stockpiling defensive gems, landing the No. 4 all-purpose back in the nation, Taquan Mizzell. The Virginia Beach native and Bayside alum famously known as “Smoke” picked up the backfield work as an effective pass catcher and between-the-tackles runner, having led Virginia in rushing yards in both 2015 and 2016. 

The crown jewel of London’s recruiting came in 2014, with two five-star prospects from Southeastern Virginia ultimately deciding to take their talents to Charlottesville. The No. 1 safety in the country — Quin Blanding from Bayside — and the No. 1 defensive tackle — Andrew Brown from Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake — spearheaded a tremendous class of recruits towards the end of London’s tenure at Virginia. Blanding remains first in career tackles by any defensive player at Virginia, while Brown struggled at times to establish his dominance as such a highly regarded recruit. However, both of these defensive mainstays continued the trend of 757 players choosing not to play for the school in Blacksburg. 

While Virginia didn’t even see much of an increase in success with these recruits, London had developed a knack for amassing in-state talent that Coach Bronco Mendenhall couldn’t sustain. The change in coaching staff and style has caused Virginia to lose that battle for Tidewater recruits, even though the four and five-stars haven’t been coming in waves like they used to. 

Tech — the school which boasts the likes of Norfolk native and safety Kam Chancellor along with Vick and Taylor — has a longstanding tradition of bringing out the best in 757 players. Chancellor, Bruce Smith and former cornerback DeAngelo Hall — a Chesapeake native — all enjoyed success in Blacksburg and later in the NFL. On the offensive side of things, Vick and Taylor perhaps were “the ones that got away” from the Cavaliers as each quarterback thrived in their new home. 

The edge has now shifted to the Hokies, as the end of the London era also saw the rise of former coach Frank Beamer, former coach Justin Fuente and now-interim coach J.C. Price in the southeast part of the State. In 2015, Beamer signed two three-stars — defensive end Trevon Hill from Salem High School and running back Deshawn McClease from Oscar Smith High School — thus turning the tides on London in his last year. Hill would go on to record 46 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss his senior season, while McClease saw plenty of work in his last two years at Virginia Tech. 

With the line of 757-turned-Hokies now outnumbering those at Virginia, the No. 3 three safety in the country — Virginia Beach and Bayside product Devon Hunter — put the dagger in the coffin by choosing the Hokies in 2017. Two fellow Virginia Beach natives, defensive back Armani Chatman and wide receiver Tayvion Robinson, followed Fuente to Blacksburg in 2017 and 2018, respectively, with the latter continuing to excel as the Hokies’ top slot receiver.

The area may be running dry with respect to pumping out talent year after year, yet the Cavaliers have clearly given up significant ground to their rivals. Only two players from the 757 have joined Virginia in the past five years — current sophomore defensive end Ben Smiley III and junior defensive back Joseph White. Even if other schools such as North Carolina have been encroaching into the Commonwealth’s football hotbed, Virginia Tech has perhaps surpassed the Cavaliers in the post-London era. 

The breeding ground of the Tidewater region has given Virginia fans so many remarkable talents and names — Blanding, Harold, Mizzell and older players such as quarterback Aaron Brooks and running back Terry Kirby. Years may come and go with no recruits from the 757, but the legacy of this region still remains at the forefront for both the Cavaliers and the Hokies. 

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