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January 11, 2012
In fact, it may need only to look in its own backyard.
Virginia Tech has reached four BCS games in the last five seasons largely because of a defense that consistently ranks among the best in the conference - a defense that often features a cornerback from South Florida.
Miami (Fla.) Central's Donaldven Manning, a four-star recruit who has verbally committed to Virginia Tech, may be the next Floridian to fill that role. Manning follows two Delray Beach (Fla.) Atlantic alums to Virginia Tech: Brandon Flowers, a 2004 grad who now stars for the Kansas City Chiefs, and Jayron Hosley, a 2009 grad who led the NCAA in interceptions in 2010.
"Once a kid has success at Virginia Tech - a local kid from the Dade, Broward or West Palm Beach area - other kids think they can go and also be successful there, and definitely when it's at the same position," Miami Central coach Telly Lockette said.
Manning said he liked Virginia Tech because of its history of outstanding cornerback production, which also includes former All-Americans DeAngelo Hall of Chesapeake (Va.) Deep Creek and Victor "Macho" Harris of Highland Springs (Va.) among others.
The fact that Flowers and Hosley both came from South Florida was a bonus, but Manning insisted it didn't play a major role in his decision.
"It was just a good school for DBs," Manning said. "I felt I fit in this system. It's not about South Florida."
Then again, maybe it is.
The Hokies' system relies on its defensive backs to have the type of qualities South Florida recruits often possess in abundance. Virginia Tech doesn't necessarily want cornerbacks who have great size; the Hokies are more worried about quickness and ball skills.
"They're not obsessed with how tall a kid is or how much he weighs," Chris Nee, the Rivals.com analyst who covers Florida, said. "They're more looking for guys they know are football players who are going to do what they're going to ask of them. Athleticism's a big thing for them. So is the ability to understand the concepts of what they're supposed to do in a defensive scheme.''
Manning is listed at 5-foot-9 and 163 pounds. Flowers also is 5-9. Hosley is only an inch taller.
Flowers' lack of height didn't prevent him from getting drafted in the second round. Nor did it stop Hosley from earning All-America honors. Manning believes he can continue that trend.
"One of the things that stuck out to me is a lot of [their cornerbacks] aren't that big," Manning said. "They're about my size. ... I just felt I could be successful there, after watching them.''
One thing Manning doesn't have in common with his two predecessors is that he chose Virginia Tech over Miami. Flowers and Hosley never got that opportunity, as neither received an offer from the Hurricanes.
Miami allowed plenty of talented South Florida players at all positions - not just cornerback - head elsewhere during previous coach Randy Shannon's tenure. The Hurricanes now are taking steps to rectify the situation.
Since taking over Miami's program last year, Al Golden has made a special effort to recruit Florida prospects. Twenty-four of Miami's 31 verbal commitments for the 2012 recruiting class went to Florida high schools.
Miami earned a major recruiting victory over the Hokies last weekend when four-star receiver Robert Lockhart of West Boca Raton (Fla.) High and Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy decommitted from Virginia Tech and chose to play for the Hurricanes instead. The Hurricanes also received a verbal commitment Saturday from Miami Columbus cornerback Deon Bush, the No. 64 overall player in the 2012 recruiting class.
"Miami is a great school, and at the end of the day it was a great situation for me with them losing a lot of DBs [from this year's team],'' Bush told Rivals.com after making his announcement. "I felt I could come in and compete for a starting position, and I'm just ready to get on with the next chapter of my life right now.''
Perhaps Bush's commitment is a sign that Miami wants to make sure potential All-America cornerbacks from South Florida don't leave the area. Miami also offered Manning a scholarship, but he committed to Virginia Tech because of the Hokies' previous success with similar cornerbacks.
"He isn't afraid of being physical, but obviously at that size, he's not really capable of delivering major press coverage and driving people off a spot," Nee said. "His bread and butter is playing in space and using his speed, athleticism and instincts to make a play on the ball. He very much fits the scheme the Hokies like to play on defense, where their defensive backs are allowed to play in space and make plays on the ball.''
That style of play also suited Flowers and Hosley.
Flowers took an indirect route to Virginia Tech. Academic struggles caused him to go from Atlantic High to Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., where he improved his classroom performance. He chose Virginia Tech after also receiving offers from N.C. State and Tennessee.
"Virginia Tech was persistent,'' Atlantic coach Chris Bean said. "They were recruiting him very hard. They were the first ones to offer him. My advice to him was go to the place that wants you the most. Whoever wants you the most and is recruiting you the hardest is the place you need to go. You'll get a better opportunity there. I don't know if it was my advice he took that sent them to Virginia Tech, but they ended up making the choice to go to Virginia Tech and it turned out pretty well.''
Flowers picked off 10 passes in his Virginia Tech career and was named a third-team All-American by The Associated Press. He now is a four-year starter with the Kansas City Chiefs who already has 13 career interceptions. His area connections helped build Virginia Tech's current South Florida pipeline.
"Flowers is kind of a big deal down that way," Nee said. "He puts on a 7-on-7 tournament in the area. He's very popular. And obviously he had great success when he went out [to Virginia Tech]. Anytime you have a kid you can pluck out of an area like that and he has the type of success he did, it pays dividends down the road. It definitely has with him.''
Consider Hosley the biggest dividend.
Hosley arrived at Virginia Tech with a little more advance billing than Flowers. Rated as the No. 11 cornerback and No. 139 overall prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, Hosley received offers from the likes of Clemson, Georgia, Michigan and Ohio State. But his size caused Florida's top programs to shy away from him.
Their loss turned into Virginia Tech's gain.
Hosley earned second-team All-America honors from The Associated Press in 2010 after leading all FBS players with nine interceptions, including one that set up the game-clinching touchdown in a 31-17 victory over Miami. He picked off three more passes this season before deciding to forgo his senior year to enter the NFL Draft. Hosley is projected as a second-round pick by nfldraftscout.com.
"It's almost routine now," said Rob Rang, a senior draft analyst for nfldraftscout.com. "A Virginia Tech defensive back is highly touted entering the pre-draft season.''
Rang said Hosley's extraordinary ball skills will help him get taken early, even though his 5-10 frame will probably keep him out of the first round. In that regard, Hosley fits the profile of many other Virginia Tech cornerbacks who preceded him to the NFL.
"At cornerback, Virginia Tech has shown more of a preference for speed, quick feet and cover skills rather than size or physicality," Rang said. "Other programs across the country are looking for bigger and stronger guys. [Virginia Tech's] safeties are generally bigger than most programs are using. They definitely have a plan in place. They know exactly the type of high school athletes they're targeting.''
And they've found many of them in the neighborhood of one of their biggest rivals.
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