With just one decision, Menchville High running back Clifton Richardson nearly turned March 10, 2010, into what could've been one of the most important days in the history of Virginia football recruiting.
On that day, Richardson was on U.Va.'s campus for an unofficial visit with several other coveted recruits, including linebacker Curtis Grant from Hermitage High in Richmond, cornerback Demetrious Nicholson from Bayside High in Virginia Beach, defensive tackle David Dean from Green Run High in Virginia Beach, linebacker Travis Hughes from Kempsville High in Virginia Beach and linebackers Daquan Romero and Caleb Taylor from Phoebus High.
"Coach (Mike London) was calling us out one by one to go talk to him in his office," Nicholson said. "When guys started coming back (from London's office), they were all like, 'Clifton committed.'
"All the guys were a little surprised. We started looking at each other and saying, 'Are you going to commit?' We just all had that funny look. It was a lot of pressure to commit. After you see that one person commit, you could see yourself committing, too."
Of course, Nicholson wound up committing in December to U.Va., but Richardson's move made a huge impression. Dean followed in Richardson's footsteps and also committed that day. Romero and Taylor also ultimately committed to U.Va. When he saw how elite level recruits responded to his decision, Richardson essentially became an unofficial recruiter.
Grant is considered by recruiting analysts to be one of the nation's top 10 linebacker prospects, and a top 50 overall recruit. With National Signing Day coming up Wednesday, he's still looking at scholarship offers from Ohio State, Florida, U.Va. and North Carolina. U.Va. may not wind up any closer to getting him on board than it was the day Richardson committed.
"A lot of those guys had to leave, or they would've committed with me," Richardson said. "Curtis had to walk out, get in his car and go. That's how close he was. Every time we get together, we talk about that (day)."
Since that day, Richardson estimates he has met one-on-one with 10 players that ended up committing to U.Va., much like former Hampton High quarterback Tyrod Taylor did with future Virginia Tech commitments in the summer of 2007 when he committed to the Hokies.
Richardson said he got motivated to chat with in-state players when he read a story about how Miami really focused on in-state recruiting after going 5-7 in the 2007 season, which was former coach Randy Shannon's first with the Hurricanes. In the '08 recruiting class, Miami ended up signing 33 players, including 22 from Florida.
Though Miami ended up having three consecutive winning seasons after '07, it wasn't enough to save Shannon, who was let go in December. Still, Richardson is convinced the in-state route is the way to go when trying to turn around a program.
Richardson leaned on Romero heavily after Romero committed in May to North Carolina. Richardson wouldn't refer to his conversations with Romero as guilt trips — just strong convincing.
"I told him, 'You're at UNC now, but all your homeboys are going to U.Va' " Richardson said. "I said he was going to be like, 'Man, I should've gone to U.Va.' In the long run, he was like, 'Man, I still like U.Va.' Then, all that stuff with the (NCAA) investigation was going on with UNC, so I think that helped (Romero) change his decision."
Richardson hasn't ignored out-of-state recruits. When highly-touted athlete Darius Jennings from Gilman School in Baltimore, Md., played in late December in the Chesapeake Bowl, an all-star game for players from Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., Richardson said he had spies speak to Jennings on his behalf. Jennings is considering U.Va., Ohio State and Wake Forest.
Richardson isn't done yet. He still has targets in mind.
"I'm still working on two more," Richardson said.
Those two are Grant and Jeremiah Hendy, a highly-regarded cornerback from Bowie, Md., who is considering offers from U.Va., Maryland, N.C. State and Iowa. Richardson's time to do as much recruiting as he can is growing short, so he's focusing on the essential need-to-know selling points.
"I just try to be honest," Richardson said. "Coach London and his staff are going to treat you like a family. As players, they're going to look out for you. I want people to know that."
Richardson commits early, then takes on recruiting role for U.Va.
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