JAMES CITY ——If Curtis Grant and Travis Hughes seem a little too comfortable with the recruiting process, maybe even positively giddy at times when discussing their options, it probably has a lot to do with the fact college football coaches from coast-to-coast are salivating over them.
Grant and Hughes, both of whom are rising senior linebackers, arguably are the two most coveted recruits in the state that have yet to announce their college decisions. Chances are the suspense is going to last a while, because neither player is close to making a decision.
The big question is will their respective decisions please fans of one of the in-state Atlantic Coast Conference members – Virginia and Virginia Tech – or will they follow what has been somewhat of a recent trend by top players in the state and head outside the Commonwealth for college?
Right now, the verdict on both players is very much up in the air, but both players are at least considering heading outside the state.
"I'm trying to wait until about midseason to make my decision because I want to get my official visits in," said Hughes, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound prospect from Kempsville High in Virginia Beach who is considered by most recruiting analysts to be among the nation's top 15 linebackers. "I'm lucky because my brother (Trenton) plays football at Maryland, so I talk to a lot of guys up there. All of them tell me to get my official visits in. It's the best thing. My brother said he regrets not taking all his official visits. He tells me I earned it, so why not take all my visits."
If Hughes and Grant leave the state, it won't be a new development in terms of state football recruiting. Several established out-of-state college football programs have consistently returned to the state since 2006 to mine its talent, according to the Daily Press' annual Fab 15 football recruiting rankings.
In '06, out-of-state schools pulled in all five of the best players on the Fab 15 list, including No. 1 ranked Percy Harvin to Florida, and 11 of the top 15 recruits. In '07, U.Va. and Tech bounced back by getting four of the top five players, including No. 1 Tyrod Taylor to Tech, and 11 of the top 15.
The '08 Fab 15 featured three of the top five players heading outside the state, including No. 1 E.J. Manuel to Florida State. In '09, U.Va. and Tech again recovered by taking three of the top five, including No. 1 Morgan Moses to the Cavaliers, and 10 of the top 15.
Last year, four of the top five players left the state, including No. 1 J.R. Ferguson to Louisiana State. None of the top 15 ended up at U.Va.
On this year's early Fab 15 list released July 4, six of the eight players that have made their college decisions thus far have chosen U.Va. or Tech, including four that have picked the Cavaliers. Only one in the top five (Menchville High's Clifton Richardson) has committed to U.Va. or Tech, but three in the top five (including Grant and Hughes) are still undecided and considering U.Va. and/or Tech.
Hughes admits North Carolina, which has offered him a scholarship, is his favorite. He's also considering offers from Tech, Louisiana State, Maryland, Clemson, U.Va., Southern California, Michigan and Tennessee.
The presence of USC on Hughes' list may be at least in part to positive reviews he has received from Grant, a 6-3, 220-pound recruit from Hermitage High in Richmond who is considered by most analysts to be one of the nation's top three linebackers.
Earlier this month, Grant called Hughes out of the blue. Grant was visiting USC. While sitting in USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's office, two names written on a board caught Grant's attention.
"He was telling me they've got me and him at the top of their board," Hughes said. "He said 'It's serious out there. They really want you.' He said he sat down there with Monte. (Grant) called me while he was sitting right there in (Kiffin's) office and said 'I'm looking at their recruiting board right now and they have you and me at the top of the board.' That was pretty crazy."
In addition to USC, Grant has spoken favorably about meeting Florida coach Urban Meyer, which left Grant in a star-struck state. Grant is still considering offers from an enormous list of suitors, including U.Va., Tech, Alabama, Florida, Southern California, Oregon, Ohio State, West Virginia, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas Tech, UCLA, Boston College, Michigan, N.C. State, Duke and Maryland.
"I'm not far from cutting the list down," said Grant last week at the Football University Top Gun camp at the Warhill High Sports Complex, where he and Hughes were two of nearly 1,000 campers. "I'll probably do that right before the school year starts and then figure out what the next step is after that."
Though U.Va. coach Mike London and his staff have done an admirable job infusing a lot of enthusiasm in the Hampton Roads, Richmond and Northern Virginia areas about the Cavaliers' rebuilding program, and Tech continues to develop long-standing relationships with high school coaches around the state, there's a sense that none of the out-of-state raiders are going away anytime soon.
"I think some of those (out-of-state) schools just want you to come to their school so much they recruit you harder than anybody else and give you as much attention as they can," Grant said. "It's like (the out-of-state schools are) all trying so hard. That's not saying the in-state schools aren't trying hard, because they definitely are."