Virginia football sees its call to the 757 area code answered
Saturday, October 16, 2010; 12:42 AM
HAMPTON, VA. - The centerpiece of Virginia Coach Mike London's first complete recruiting class grew accustomed to being overwhelmed years ago, which is good, considering what he represents for his future university's football program.
Earlier in David Watford's youth here in the Tidewater region - the state's most fertile ground when it comes to generating athletic talent - his cousins took immeasurable joy in jumping out of the closets in his grandmother's house to frighten him or sneaking up behind him and pulling sheets over his head.
"David always had the ability to run real fast, even when he was younger, because he used to be scared a lot," said Marques Hagans, a first cousin of Watford's who played quarterback at Virginia from 2002 to 2005. "He had bad nerves as a little kid. We used to always scare him and try to patronize him, so he was always scared. And I think that's what developed his speed, because he was always looking to run every time we scared him."
Watford's speed is part of what attracted London to the dual-threat Hampton High quarterback from nearly the moment London was named Virginia's coach last December. He established Watford's recruitment as a priority and became intimately involved in its process. When Watford, 17, orally committed to Virginia in July - choosing the Cavaliers over West Virginia and in-state rival Virginia Tech - London landed his first notable recruiting victory.
Not only did Watford's pledge to Virginia reaffirm London's efforts to reconnect his program with the 757 area code, it also gave the coach a quarterback to anchor an incoming class of talent that will play a significant role in setting the tone for "the new era," as Watford calls it, in Cavaliers football history.
"They've had quarterback troubles at Virginia for quite some time now, and I think that's the position that they really targeted as the most important one in this class," said Mike Farrell, the lead football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. Watford "is arguably the best [high school quarterback] in the state, and I think [London] likes his ability to sort of get out of the pocket and make things happen. He's got a lot of intangibles that I think are necessary and I don't think there's been a Hampton quarterback that's been unsuccessful [in college] in quite some time."
Watford vividly remembers the night in elementary school when he got Ronald Curry's autograph in red pen on the back of a receipt after a Hampton basketball game. Curry - widely considered one of the most talented athletes the commonwealth of Virginia ever produced - was a two-sport star at the time, and his reputation resonated with Watford and every other aspiring football or basketball player his age in the region.
Curry "was like a computer on the field because he knew everything," Watford said. "He knew what the defense was going to do. He knew how to check plays. He knew where the receivers were going to be at all times. That's what you want to model yourself after. You want to be a quarterback like him."
Former Tidewater area high school star quarterbacks Michael Vick, Bryan Randall, Tyrod Taylor and Hagans all became role models for succeeding generations of 757 athletes, as well. Each of those four players went on to have successful collegiate careers at in-state schools, and - with the exception of Hagans - each attended Virginia Tech.
"You want to do the things that they did," said Watford, who became the first Hampton High quarterback to commit to Virginia since Hagans in 2001.
Virginia Tech did not push hard for Watford, according to Farrell, who said the Hokies have set their sights on Lafonte Thourogood, a quarterback at Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach. Still, Farrell noted, "a win is a win in Hampton Roads." Farrell is among those who expect Watford's choice of Virginia to have a lasting effect on London's ability to recruit players from a territory shut off to the Cavaliers during much of the past nine years, when Al Groh led the program.
"I think it just opens up a lot more doors in the area, saying that the kid from Hampton High is going to the University of Virginia, and he's been a big focal point of Coach London's recruiting process," Hagans said. "And then kids from our area can see that and say, 'Well, you know, if David's going to U-Va., then there is another school to go to in the state of Virginia besides Virginia Tech, and then a lot more kids that probably were focusing on going to Virginia Tech will say, 'Well maybe I do have another option and maybe U-Va. might be the place for me.' "