UVa needs results from 2014 recruiting class

Virginia pulled in a Top 25 recruiting classInsider after landing two of the top 10 high school players in the nation, surprising many because of its recent lackluster on-the-field results.

Five ESPN 300 players signed with the Hoos, including two five-star prospects and four four-star players. The ultimate goal, then, is to rely on these elite players to begin to turn around the Hoos' fortunes without putting exorbitant amounts of pressure on them to produce immediately.

There is a fine balance there, as there is every season when highly touted freshmen are expected to contribute in a meaningful way right away. When they cannot, disappointment generally sets in. UVa knows that feeling all too well.

This is the second time now that coach Mike London has pulled in a Top 25 recruiting class. Back in 2011Insider, London put together the No. 20 class in the country, complete with five top 150 prospects and six total four-star athletes.

Despite all the elite prep athletes signed, UVa has struggled mightily the last two seasons with six total wins. Several of the most highly-touted players in the class have not quite lived up to the lofty expectations. Here is a quick look at how the five ESPN 150 prospects have performed:

  • Cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, No. 92 in ESPN 150. Nicholson has been the most productive, with 30 career starts. Only started five games last season after getting hurt. Has 136 career tackles with 27 pass breakups and three interceptions.

  • Receiver Darius Jennings, No. 98 in ESPN 150. Has 22 career starts with 106 career receptions for 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns receiving. Lost his starting job at one point last season.

  • Receiver Dominique Terrell, No. 122 in ESPN 150. Only has six career starts. Has 60 career catches for 641 yards and one touchdown receiving.

  • Safety Brandon Phelps, No. 135 in ESPN 150. Has 22 career starts with 96 total tackles.

  • Running back Clifton Richardson, No. 142 in ESPN 150. Transferred to Liberty after the 2012 season. Played in 20 games for the Hoos with no starts.

Of the 26 players signed in the class, nine are no longer on the roster. Seven were starters in 2014. The most successful player to date has been safety Anthony Harris, whom ESPN listed as a two-star athlete out of high school. Harris led the nation in 2013 with eight interceptions. He is the only player from the class of 2011 to receive a first-team All-ACC honor.

As every recruiting cycle shows, high school ratings are an inexact science. Recruiting always produces hits and misses. While there is always some caution when dealing with elite prospects and the expectations that come along with them, there is little doubt UVa is banking on this new crop of elite rated players to come in and help change the program’s direction.

“Although you appreciate all the accolades all these young men have, you don't want to put too much on them with the expectation that now you've got to produce on the field, you've got to get 15 sacks or make all the catches,” London said during his signing day news conference. “They still will have to practice and learn the systems and learn the schemes. Ultimately, in all the recruiting classes and all the rankings, there has to be production on the field and they have to play and they have to contribute.

“And you don't figure that out sometimes until a year or two after they’ve been in your program. But to have players of some ability ... it is important to make sure that we give them every opportunity to play.”