Just three years ago on National Signing Day, eight Peninsula District products sat down with letter of intents bearing the insignia of a Bowl Subdivision football program in front of them.
The district recruiting scene won't be quite so glamorous today. While that day was a high point for district signees, today will represent one of the low points. Barring the unforeseen today, Bethel High cornerback Rijo Walker will be the lone player from the district to sign with an FBS program when he scribbles his signature on a letter of intent to Virginia.
It won't be the first time in recent history the district has had a lean showing in terms of FBS signees. In 2008, Heritage's Lawrence Turner signed with Temple, making him the only district player to sign with an FBS program that year. Is the district in the midst of a talent void, or is it a lean period simply representing an odd blip in district history?
"I think it goes in a cycle," Phoebus coach Stan Sexton said. "There for a while, it looked like we were having all the big name guys coming out. We had (Xavier) Adibi and Phillip Brown and D.J. Parker just at Phoebus. Then, you had (Hampton High graduate) Tyrod (Taylor) and a bunch of other guys. Every year, it seemed like you had eight or nine schools in the area that always had a big-name guy coming out. I think the caliber of play is still the same, but I don't think you're getting the huge, big-name player as much anymore."
Sexton is right. It's not as if the talent has completely vanished. Last year, six players from the district signed scholarships with FBS programs.
In addition, there has been a slight redistribution of power in recruiting circles, as Bay Rivers District schools and a few prospects from area Group A schools and Christchurch School have had fair showings of late in terms of producing elite-level recruits.
Josh Lovell, a tight end who transferred from Gloucester High to Christchurch, will sign today with Marshall. Last year, Lafayette High defensive end Will Hill signed with U.Va. and enrolled in January.
In '08, Smithfield High wide receiver Dyrell Roberts went to Virginia Tech, Christchurch receiver Deion Walker headed to Notre Dame and Jamestown offensive lineman Michael Netherland received an appointment from Army.
The influence of some of the state's more prominent Championship Subdivision programs also has affected the area's recruiting landscape. Heading into today, Hampton University, Old Dominion and Richmond already had commitments from seven Peninsula District, Bay Rivers District or area Group A prospects.
"I think there's so much more exposure of players now, and there are so many smaller places around the country looking at players," Walker said. "Maybe 10 years ago, players wouldn't have gotten looked at that are getting looked at now. With the Internet and all this added information out there, players can be seen and it's going to make the recruitment pool wider. Coaches are going to go to different places, and focus on different places, to fill different needs now."
Though it's doubtful the Peninsula District will soon regain the level of recruiting success attained in the '02 and '03 recruiting classes, when a combined 11 players signed with FBS programs, a reversal of fortunes for the district could be on the horizon next year.
With Menchville High running back Clifton Richardson, Hampton quarterback David Watford and Phoebus defensive end DaQuan Romero and linebacker Caleb Taylor all about to enter their senior seasons, the Peninsula District figures to have a bounce-back year. If Watford winds up signing with an FBS program, he'll be the first player from Hampton High to sign with an FBS program since Taylor in '07.
"For whatever reason, we just haven't had that caliber of player here in recent seasons, but I really think that's going to change soon," Hampton coach Mike Smith said. "We've got some pretty good players coming along. Sometimes it just takes a little time to develop a player like that."