Coach Justin Fuente started his second year at Virginia Tech as solidly as he finished his first. Armed with a 10-4 record in his inaugural season along with an ACC Coastal Division title and win at the Belk Bowl in December, Fuente capped his first full recruiting cycle Wednesday by debuting the Hokies’ highest-ranked National Signing Day class since 2013.
This year’s group of 26 signees is highlighted by three recruits ranked in the state’s top 10 — defensive back Devon Hunter, defensive end TyJuan Garbutt and linebacker Dylan Rivers, who flipped his commitment from Penn State in late January. That’s the first time since 2012 the Hokies have signed more than two of Virginia’s top 10.
As of early Wednesday afternoon, the Hokies’ recruiting class ranked 25th nationally and fourth in the ACC according to composite rankings by 24/7 Sports.
But Virginia Tech had glaring in-state misses on Wednesday as well, none bigger than four-star athlete Tahj Capehart, a Virginia Beach native who backed out of his verbal commitment with the Hokies and signed with Maryland. Fuente also lost Virginians Mekhi Becton, an offensive lineman who chose Louisville, and Dazz Newsome, a defensive back who went with North Carolina.
“It’s not surprising, we know what’s going on. So when a guy sits up there and he’s got hats and all that stuff, we’ve already either moved on or celebrated,” Fuente said. “It’s not like we’re all in there on the edge of our seats trying to figure out what’s going on, it’s not disappointing at all. We have a tremendous class that we’re excited to sign that I think have great potential. We wish all those guys that are going other places all the best, we don’t hold any ill will toward anyone. We want to do a great job and sell Virginia Tech for the right reasons.”
Hunter, the third-ranked recruit in the state, is the prize of the class. He played safety and running back as a senior at Indian River High School in Chesapeake, where he rushed for 1,223 yards and 24 touchdowns and racked up 350 receiving yards and four more scores. Rivals, Scout and 247 Sports all listed Hunter as a top-50 recruit in the nation. He chose Virginia Tech over Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Auburn.
The defensive back is also the highest-ranked player from the talent-rich Hampton Roads region since Virginia Tech signed Tyrod Taylor in 2007. On the Hokies’ National Signing Day webcast, defensive coordinator Bud Foster compared Hunter to NFL safety and Virginia Tech alumnus Kam Chancellor. The Hokies’ hope, Foster said, is that signing Hunter jump stars a new wave of in-state recruits the likes of which they haven’t had since the start of the decade.
“Targeting the 757 area was big for us with Coach Fu, and Devon was our target guy from Day One. … We’ve talked with him about being the guy that’s gonna impact this program,” Foster said. “Not just this class, but future classes.
“If we could build a fence around this state, and he’s the guy starting this thing, we’re gonna do some special things.”
In addition to fortifying inroads in in-state recruiting — Michigan, Florida State, Clemson, Penn State, Notre Dame and Florida claimed the other seven of the state’s top 10 — Fuente had a few key offensive needs to attend.
The program has to replace two of its all-time best receivers in Bucky Hodges and Isaiah Ford as well as quarterback Jerod Evans after all three declared for the NFL draft this winter. Fuente landed two dual-threat quarterbacks in Herndon Hooker and A.J. Bush, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, as possible successors for Evans. Both quarterbacks arrived at Virginia Tech in January as midyear enrollees.
Hooker is the more touted recruit, having thrown for 6,027 yards and 55 touchdowns and rushing for 2,975 yards in high school in North Carolina. He was named to the Associated Press’s all-state team twice and won two state championships.
Bush offers previous college experience. He attended Nebraska for two years where he sat on the bench before transferring to Iowa Western last summer, where he threw for 602 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 265 yards and five touchdowns in part-time duty. He will have two seasons of eligibility remaining as a redshirt junior.
Hooker and Bush supplement a young group of quarterbacks in Blacksburg featuring redshirt freshmen Josh Jackson and Chase Mummau, redshirt sophomore Jack Click and Kansas transfer Ryan Willis, who enrolled this winter as a walk-on and will sit out a year of competition.
The Hokies added at least four recruits expected to play wide receiver in college.
Virginia Tech Class of 2017 signees, with rankings per Rivals.com:
ILB Rayshard Ashby, 5-11, 230 pounds, Chesterfield, Va. (three stars)
OL Aiden Brown, 6-3, 285 pounds, Silver Spring — Bullis (three stars)
QB A.J. Bush, 6-4, 220 pounds, Alpharetta, Ga. (two stars)*
P Oscar Bradburn, 6-2, 190 pounds, Sydney, Australia (three stars)*
OL Christian Darrisaw, 6-4, 299 pounds, Upper Marlboro, Md. (three stars)
TE Drake Deiuliis, 6-5, 220 pounds, Charlotte (three stars)
OL Silas Dzansi, 6-6, 295 pounds, Woodbridge (three stars)*
ATH Caleb Farley, 6-3, 185 pounds, Hickory, N.C. (four stars)*
DE TyJuan Garbutt, 6-3, 220 pounds, Fredericksbug, Va. (four stars)
DT J’Bril Glaze, 6-4, 270 pounds, Tampa (three stars)
LB Jaylen Griffin, 6-2, 230 pounds, Rome, Ga. (three stars)
WR Hezekiah Grimsley, 6-0, 180 pounds, Williamsburg, Va. (three stars)
RB Jalen Holston, 6-0, 220 pounds, Stockbridge, Ga. (three stars)
QB Herndon Hooker, 6-5, 212 pounds, Greensboro, N.C. (four stars)*
DB Devon Hunter, 6-2, 215 pounds, Chesapeake, Va. (four stars)
LB Rico Kearney, 6-0, 220 pounds, Jacksonville, Fla. (three stars)*
TE Dalton Keene, 6-5, 228 pounds, Littleton, Colo. (three stars)*
WR Kalil Pimpleton, 5-7, 165 pounds, Muskegon, Mich. (three stars)*
DE Robert Porcher IV, 6-3, 255 pounds, Orlando (three stars)
DE Nathan Proctor, 6-3, 230 pounds, Indian Head, Md. (four stars)
LB Dylan Rivers, 6-2, 230 pounds, Stephens City, Va. (four stars)
WR Sean Savoy, 5-11, 180 pounds, Washington (three stars)
DB Devante Smith, 6-0, 190 pounds, Manassas, Va. (three stars)
TE Lecitus Smith, 6-4, 260 pounds, Fitzgerald, Ga. (three stars)
DB Bryce Watts, 6-1, 185 pounds, Toms River, N.J. (three stars)
ATH Terius Wheatley, 5-11, 195 pounds, Ann Arbor, Mich. (three stars) 26
*denotes early enrollee