Virginia signs 18-man class — 13 high-schoolers, 5 transfers

By Jerry Ratcliffe

While Virginia’s football recruiting class doesn’t rank high nationally, Tony Elliott is encouraged about the direction his program is going with the addition of 18 players — and more coming — on National Signing Day.

Elliott announced the signing of 13 high school players and five players from the transfer portal. One-third of that class hails from the Commonwealth, a sign of progress, and 11 total planning to enroll in January (seven from the high school ranks), which would be the largest number of early enrollees in program history (see attached chart breaking down the class).

Perhaps the two most dynamic additions thus far are Notre Dame transfer receiver Chris Tyree, a former Thomas Dale (Chester) player, and receiver Kameron Courtney, who flipped from his commitment to Indiana earlier this week. Courtney is from two-time state champion Freedom High School in Woodbridge and plans to be one of the early enrollees.

Virginia didn’t rank high in the national recruiting service ratings and only beat out SMU and Boston College in the new 17-team ACC. Here are those rankings: On3 — 71st nationally, 55th portal; 247 — 76th nationally, 49th portal; Rivals — 71st nationally, 61st portal.

Virginia certainly isn’t finished on this class, hoping to add more from the transfer portal and possibly the high school ranks, looking to beef up certain spots on the roster.

“So we’ll continue to not just recruit the portal, but also go back and see which high school guys may not have signed that push their signing out to see if there’s some developmental guys out there,” Elliott said Wednesday.

Virginia will be looking for a quarterback, although Elliott will be faced with the challenge of finding a prospect who isn’t intimidated by the fact that both of the Cavaliers’ starting quarterbacks from last season — Tony Muskett and rising sophomore Anthony Colandrea — return to the roster. Because UVA doesn’t have another scholarship QB in the program, Elliott would like to add one to the depth chart, especially considering Muskett’s injuries this past season.

While Virginia signed two tight ends Wednesday, Tyler Neville (transfer portal from Harvard) and John Rogers (Episcopal High), Elliott is still shopping for another, and hopes to add at least one more wide receiver, although there are hints that former UNC receiver Andre Greene Jr. (St. Christopher’s/Richmond) may have already committed to Virginia. The Cavaliers signed three Wednesday: Tyree, Courtney and speedy Triston Ward from Deerfield Academy in Connecticut.

Elliott would also like to add a linebacker, and will likely be heavily involved in the transfer portal in terms of seeking experienced cornerbacks who can compete immediately. UVA is also looking for a long snapper.

While Elliott realizes the value and necessity of the portal, he wants his program to build through the high school ranks.

“I think philosophically, you have to make a determination on who you are and what your program is about,” the UVA coach said. “I’ve said from day one that I want to be a developmental program, meaning that the bulk of your guys are going to be high school guys that you recruit and then you develop and they become good players over time. They also help you establish the culture and the environment.”

Elliott said roster management is a daily activity since the transfer portal has grown, and that he wants to supplement his program via the portal as needed. He pointed out that 13 of the present 18-man class are high-schoolers, the kind of balance he would prefer to keep.

“What that also means too, is we’ve got to do a great job of retention of our guys,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to develop our guys so that we can keep that balance. If it gets out of balance, then you may have a year where you’ve just got to react.”

The coach was pleased to point out the strides made within the state, where UVA has struggled over the past eight years in terms of keeping the best talent home.

“So we got six total from the state (four high school, two transfers, presently) and we’re still working and we’ll continue to work throughout this time until the next signing day,” Elliott said. “Virginia is a priority. I want to do it with guys in-state, and I feel like we made a run at all the top players in the state and we got in a race with some of them and came down to the final two, and then some we weren’t able to get into the race because they had already established relationships.

“I think for us, the biggest thing is making sure that the guys that we do have, have great experiences. So far, the guys that are from Virginia are having a good experience here and I think that resonates with the coaches.”

Elliott has an intelligent approach to the transfer portal in attempting to acquire players originally from the state of Virginia to come back home.

“I think that’s going to help us because they create some interest with especially the younger high school guys that may not have had a connection to Virginia, but now see some of these older guys that were high profile coming back,” Elliott explained. “It’s like, OK, well then, maybe let’s take a look at what’s going on at Virginia.

“I think we have to work at breaking some stigmas and some stereotypes about UVA that may have been warranted or unwarranted, right? We have to educate them on what UVA is right now, and the only way we can do that is be consistent in the schools. I want to sign as many guys from the state of Virginia as we possibly can. It’s going to take more time, but I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

The star high school recruit of last year’s recruiting class was 4-star linebacker Kam Robinson, who chose Virginia over Florida State, and quarterback Anthony Colandrea, who wasn’t highly recruited by Power 5 schools, but delivered big time.

Both Robinson and Colandrea delivered, eventually earning starting jobs and making some freshman All-America squads. Elliott believes there are a few freshmen from this new incoming class who could possibly make an immediate impact, particularly the ones who enroll early and jumpstart their careers as did Robinson and Colandrea.

“When I look at the list of guys, I’m excited about Keke (Keyshawn) Adams,” Elliott said of the defensive back from Hartford, Conn. “He’s a guy on the back end, and Myles Brown (linebacker from South Carolina), athleticism, may need a little time in the weight room to develop.”

Both are set to enroll early.

“Kam Courtney, I’m excited about. I think Kam Courtney is a guy that can contribute both in the return game and then at receiver. Kevon Gray may be a guy that might have to [play] at corner. The guys in the trenches, Jewett Hayes and Chase Morrison, we’ll see when they get here. Tyler Simmons is a guy that I could see kind of like a Jason Hammond last year. We’ve got to see where they are when they arrive.”

Virginia’s recruiting class from a year ago wasn’t highly regarded by the national recruiting services, but a dozen of those players ended up seeing the field this past season, several of them making strong contributions to the team. In fact, UVA was No. 6 in the nation for most snaps by its freshman class (2,225) according to Pro Football Focus, so just because the class isn’t highly rated, doesn’t mean that there isn’t talent within its ranks.

See the chart below for a look at the 18-man class.