So Bronco just proved once and for all he's hopelessly lost recruiting the state of Virginia.
What did it? Or more specifically, who? Oscar Smith DB Cam'Ron Kelly, that's who.
The background. Kelly was the 2019 class' "4-star in-state kid that's UVA's to lose," following Mekhi Becton in 2017 (Louisville) and Ronnie Walker (Indiana) in 2018. A top-10-in-the-state prospect that Bronco and staff jumped on early, formed a great relationship with, hosted for a visit multiple times over, and was at some point primed to be "the first big in-state recruit to pledge to Bronco."
In late April, Kelly released a Top 8: (link). A lot of heavyweights, which is to be expected of a Top 250 player, but the thought was that UVA at least had a puncher's chance to keep him from going to one of the traditional powers and keep him local. And hey, no VT, so that's nice.
So here's how the last few weeks played out.
Visited Penn State in late April. Left hella impressed. All the 247sports.com crystal balls (CB's) flipped to PSU. He took a chance that he could take a few more visits. In that interim, they took a commitment from another stud DB and closed him out.
Visited Virginia two weeks ago. Virginia felt good. Some CB's flipped to UVA. Announcement date was set for June 7th.
Visited Clemson over this past weekend. Clemson felt good (why wouldn't they?). All the CB's flipped to Clemson.
But it leaked yesterday that Dabo and Kelly disagreed over his position. Dabo wanted him as a Safety, Kelly wants to be a Corner. And that's that. Could it be that UVA could be falling back asswards into its first 4-star commitment of the Bronco era? Certainly beggars can't be choosers, pop the champagne!
Kelly picked up the phone and called Notre Dame. "Hey, uhh, can I commit to you tomorrow?" ND: Um, you haven't even visited us yet. Why don't you postpone your announcement and come up some weekend this summer. "But I want to commit tomorrow!"
Kelly then picked up the phone and called Virginia Tech, "Hey, um, I really don't want to go to UVA. I know I didn't include you in my Final 8 in April and you haven't been recruiting me anymore, but... can I still commit to you tomorrow?" VT: Hahaha, sure kid.
And that's that. He committed to VT this morning. An in-state stud, who listed Virginia as one of his finalists, was so desperate to go anywhere but UVA that he called multiple teams begging to be allowed to pick them, including a non-finalist. And this comes on the heels of fellow Chesapeake 4-star defender Ben Smiley's rapid commitment-decommitment (google it), which similarly stinks of Bronco's inconsequential stature in Virginia high school football circles.
VT may not even want him, but of course it's so ingrained in their mentality to enjoy sticking it to UVA that of course they took him anyways. And why wouldn't they? They just publicly humiliated Bronco and UVA, and you can bet every major HS coach and player saw it happen.
Bronco has no credibility in Virginia high school circles. None. Becton was strike 1. Walker was strike 2. This is not only strike 3, but it's a nasty one, swinging and wildly missing on a curve-ball for all the state to see. It's time to accept that without massive changes to his staff, we've lost the state of Virginia.
It's up to you to decide how important that is to a foundation of long term success as a state public U. Maybe you think he can build us into a long term winner, and climb back to respectability against VT, rebuilding the brand around the commonwealth, on the backs of kids from Utah, Hawaii, Texas, Florida... while only minimally culling from the bottom of the 3-star barrel of in-state kids. Maybe you think he can. Only time will tell.
But for today, Bronco's a loser. One who just got punked by a teenager. One who strung him along for months, only to BEG our biggest rival to take him at the eleventh hour rather than be forced to suffer the indignity of going to UVA.
Look, I get that UVA's become a shit program. I get that the umpteen straight losses to Virginia Tech, and the losses to FCS William & Mary and Richmond, and the embarassingly empty Scott Stadium crowds make us one awfully tough sell. I'm not expecting Bronco to go out and start swinging with Alabama and Michigan.
But at the end of the day, in MY opinion, you need to at least be able to sell at least one hometown stud on your vision. Forget his other failings, London could do it. London and his staff could connect with in state players and coaches and convince them that they could be the faces of Virginia's resurgence, and tons of local kids bought in. It can be done, but it underlines why recruting has to be more than "Hi, I won a lot of games at BYU, want to come ride horses at my ranch?" Personality and vision and message and charisma matter. Coaches have to simultaneously be salesmen capable of appealing to 18 year old star athletes and their families, like it or not.
Bronco has never seemed to either understand what it takes to recruit in Virginia, or valued it enough to prioritize it in his coaching hires. Other than Marques Hagans (who reportedly was forced on Bronco by Jon Oliver), Bronco's only hired one east coast guy, Ruffin McNeill, for one season only. Other than that, he's continually hired from the West Coast, people "in the family", with complete disregard for the regional nature of college football recruiting.
I'll back off for a second here and caveat this particular rant with the fact that, yes, Cam'Ron Kelly was one hell of a wishy-washy recruit. The kid seemingly wanted all the heavyweight offers, loved the attention, which by itself isn't all that uncommon. But the red flag was when he gave Rivals four different versions of his "commitment quotes" this week, contingencies for UVA, PSU, Clemson, and one other. Not included? VT. And frankly, no one is confident that he'll stick with VT. If an Auburn or Ohio State comes knocking in November, no one will be shocked if he chases the bigger program on National Signing Day. Kelly by himself isn't necessarily a miss; he's a flake, and his interest in UVA was beyond disingenuous, and in many respects it's good that it's over relatively early in the cycle.
Come September, yes, this recruiting miss will have no effect with the one field results, so no I'm not treating it as some nail in the coffin, or some reason to ultimately jump off the bandwagon and/or demand a regime change. I want Bronco and the boys to succeed, I really do.
But at the end of the day, this is a big deal because of the optics, and because of its place in a trend. This is simply the latest, most high profile example, and one that to me any many other ultimately proves, that Bronco is totally lost when it comes to recruiting a state that George Welsh, Al Groh, and Mike London all understood was crucial to building a long term winner. This high profile whiff will be filed away with Bronco's poor in-state results in 2017 (where he got commitments from only 2 of Rivals' Top 30 in the state, none in the Top 20) and 2018 (2 out of the Top 35, none in the Top 20). 11 of the Top 20 for 2019 have pledged somewhere, none to UVA.
No one's saying Bronco's not working hard. But he's not getting paid $3 million a year to try. This is a results-oriented situation, and now well into his third recruiting cycle, there are no results to brag about.
What happened today was a massive embarassment to the program; will Bronco actually learn anything from it?