Wind: 1.99 m/h
If you’re a “glass half full” kind of person and looking for something to be positive about regarding Virginia Tech football, take a closer look at the recently completed NFL Draft.
I come at this from the perspective of someone who has spent a lot of time in sales, which recruiting basically is. To be successful, I learned over a few decades, you need to have a story. Something simple that you can tell quickly, is easy to understand, and makes potential buyers feel like “OK, tell me more.”
Want to do a quick test on whether a product has a chance to be successful? Ask the person selling it. He or she will quickly either say “I can sell that,” or if you’ve come up with something that might be a borderline lemon, you could hear “that’s a stretch. They’re not going to believe that.”
Which brings us to Virginia Tech football.
If you go back into even the most ancient of Hokie archives, there has always been one recurring topic recruits want to hear confirmation of. While my younger friends will tell you it’s the money spent on salaries or the crystal cathedral facilities you have, I’ve found that while they can be important, the burning question almost everyone wants to hear a good answer to is “if I play at your school, will it help me make it to the next level?”
It was the biggest question for Michael Vick and his family when he was debating between the Hokies and Syracuse in the 1990s. Could he play in Blacksburg and still be seen on television enough to attract the attention of the pros, the advertisers seeking celebrity endorsers, and the movers and shakers of the world?
Fortunately, at that time, Jim Druckenmiller won a Sugar Bowl in 1995, and got the team back to the Orange Bowl the next year. Vick was in his senior year of high school after the Orange Bowl, so while Syracuse was offering their “you can be the next Donovan McNabb” pitch, he could see he could be the original Michael Vick and play in New Year’s Day games on national TV at Virginia Tech.
It's why I still think Druck is one of the most influential Hokies in program history, because if he doesn’t do what he did those two years and the Hokies have 7-4 seasons each year, Vick probably goes to Syracuse and the rest of the Blacksburg football miracle never happens. After Vick, Hokie recruiters had a story they could sell about being in the national championship game, being in 3 major bowls in 5 years, emerging as defensive back university (DBU) consecutive bowl games, consecutive winning season, consecutive years with Hokies drafted in the first round, etc. etc.
Success begat success, but in the last couple of years after Justin Fuente had two good seasons his first two years, the sales pitch has grown as thin as the aging hair on my head. You could no longer brag about the consecutive years of winning seasons. Then the winning streak against UVA went away. Then last year, only one player was picked in the NFL Draft, and that was Dalton Keane by New England in the third round. Finally last season, even the bowl streak ended.
If I’m a sales guy and lose all those selling points, I’m probably going to start thinking “This could be a stretch. I’ll do the best I can.”
In such a case, you need to rebuild the list. It won’t happen overnight, just as you didn’t lose the list of accomplishments overnight. But you need to consistently and methodically start adding wins to the list so you look like you have an upward trajectory. Salesman love this; give many us a few positive data points and we’ll tell you this proves we’re going to the moon in 3 years.
I believe they added one of those positive data points this weekend. They just completed an NFL draft where they were one of only 7 programs in the country to have two players picked in the first round, with Caleb Farley and Christian Darrisaw going back-to-back to Tennessee and Minnesota respectively. Four players overall were drafted, including Divine Deablo to Oakland in the third and Khalid Herbert in the sixth to the Bears.
All four were signed, sealed and delivered to Blacksburg by the current coaching staff. No longer is there the comment “yeah, but those players were signed by Beamer.” This group was recruited entirely by Fuente and his staff.
Does this mean because of this draft everyone should start thinking “all is well” and no longer have any concerns about the direction of the football program? No, not at all. This is not the same as signing the next Michael Vick.
But if I’m a recruiter, it gives me something to sell: You want to make it to the next level? Well, you can do it in Blacksburg. We’ve come off a couple of less than stellar seasons as we transition through some unexpected people leaving early, COVID-19, and injuries. And despite all that, we STILL had two players taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, and three in the first three rounds. The NFL still knows and respects what we do here at Virginia Tech.
Don’t think that’s important? Ask the people doing the recruiting for Washington State, Utah, Rutgers, Kansas, Michigan State and…oh yeah, Virginia. Or, rather, ask the people recruiting against those schools. Each of them had ZERO players picked in the NFL draft. Think that might come up a few times along the lines of “why do you want to go there? The NFL didn’t pick a single one of their players. What makes you think you’ll be noticed?”
Virginia Tech football has its share of issues it needs to fix, and I’m not in any way saying you should put aside money now for a trip to a national championship game trip. But there have been times in this past year I’ve thought “I’m not sure how I’d sell this.” Now, at least, they’ve added another positive data point that allows them to say “You can make it to the next level playing here in Blacksburg. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Caleb, Christian, Divine and Khalil.”
It’s one small step back up the mountain.
And it’s in the right direction.