Football recruits are buying into Mike London's sales pitch at Virginia

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2010

Throughout the spring, Virginia football Coach Mike London tried to sell his program to Brandon Phelps, a coveted recruit from Damascus High. And although London impressed Phelps during their June meeting at the Cavaliers' football complex, Phelps told London he wasn't ready to commit to Virginia.

But after walking from McCue Center to his parents' car, Phelps began to reconsider. Following a talk with his parents, the defensive back and wide receiver -- who has received nearly two dozen offers from elite programs such as Alabama, Ohio State and Louisiana State -- walked back inside and told London he planned to play in Charlottesville.

"The direction he wanted to go," Phelps said, "made me want to go there."

London's message has resonated on the recruiting trail, even though he has yet to coach his first game at Scott Stadium. The first-year coach has already secured 19 oral commitments for his first full recruiting class, which will arrive in Charlottesville in 2011.

Two of those players were inherited from the previous regime, but most of the work has been the product of a London-led coaching staff that wants to change the perception of Virginia football, especially among prospects from the Washington and Tidewater areas.

The coaching staff "makes you want to go," said Jordan Lomax, a defensive back from DeMatha who is one of seven prospects to commit to Virginia from the Washington region. "As long as they keep doing what they're doing, they're getting a lot of guys."

What they're doing is selling a new atmosphere at Virginia, which suffered consecutive losing seasons and has been dominated by rival Virginia Tech on the field and in recruiting. Among the public relations initiatives: open spring practices, such as one held in the talent-rich Tidewater region, and an 18-part television series on Comcast SportsNet providing a behind-the-scenes look at London's rebuilding efforts.

But London's improvements will only be as strong as the players he coaches. When the Cavaliers hired London, a former Virginia assistant who led Richmond to a division I-AA national championship in the first of his two seasons with the Spiders, he immediately set to improve the program's image among high school players and coaches.

"It's a breath of fresh air from a Virginia staff that values relationships," London said. "That's probably the key thing right there, from the head guy on down. We've done a great job with crafting the message and letting it resonate."

Three recruits said they were inspired by a speech London delivered, in which he used the Cavaliers' logo of two sabers under a "V" as evidence of one of his mottos: "Iron sharpens iron." London conveys the snippet of biblical verse ("Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another") to show he wants to recruit the best people for the betterment of everyone on the team.

When London used the expression during a presentation at the end of Virginia's Blue Chip Junior Day on June 6, Good Counsel defensive lineman Vincent Croce and Baltimore defensive end Marco Jones exchanged looks and shared a similar reaction.

"The more he was talking, the more I was buying in," Croce said. "It's just that feeling. You'll know when you know. I just had that revelation, if that's what you want to call it. An epiphany."

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