VIRGINIA BEACH — Some 15 minutes before the announcement, Quin Blanding entered stage right in a white button-up and pink tie. It was a quick tease for the several who were already finding their seats inside Bayside High School’s auditorium.
In a dash, the 6-foot-2, 196-pound man of the moment hid behind the curtain.
“If I had put the shirt underneath, you could see through it,” Blanding said. “There was no point in having this thing if you guys could already see it.”
But speculation was overflowing at this point. By all accounts, that shirt was going to be some form of navy and orange.
Blanding couldn’t say no to Taquan Mizzell, who was eagerly waiting in the fourth row. He couldn’t do it to Corwin Cutler, who made the journey across town.
After a brief introduction from his coach, Blanding unzipped a black track jacket and didn’t let his friends down.
He couldn’t hide it any longer. The blue-chip safety was rocking Cavalier gear.
“It is with great anticipation and excitement that I will be committed to the University of Virginia,” Blanding said to a rousing ovation on Wednesday afternoon.
Credit Mike London with another 757 prize. The UVa coach picked up one of the country’s top athletes from one of the state’s most talent-rich areas.
Blanding is the No. 4 overall player in the nation, according to Rivals.com. He has a five-star rating from Rivals, 247Sports.com and Scout.com. He had scholarship offers from countless powerhouse programs, including Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State.
But the rising senior is Charlottesville-bound, giving the Cavaliers their biggest commitment since offensive tackle Eugene Monroe in 2005.
“I picked UVa because it’s close to home and my friends and family can come see me,” said Blanding, whose play has drawn comparisons to former Redskins great Sean Taylor. “But I mainly picked it because it’s the start of a new program there. I just feel like I can contribute there. I just feel like that environment fits me the most and it’s just family.
“That’s what I like.”
That’s what Mizzell and Cutler enjoyed hearing.
The recently signed Wahoos might have clapped the loudest when Blanding pledged to Virginia.
A reunion is rapidly forming at Scott Stadium.
“This is like my family,” said Cutler, a three-star quarterback from nearby Ocean Lakes High School. “We’ve all been on the same Wolfpack team since we were little. ... It’s a great feeling to be back together again.”
The whole scene was familiar for Mizzell. Just seven months earlier, the Bayside five-star running back announced his decision to attend Virginia.
Throw in Wednesday’s news and the 2014 Cavaliers will have five former Marlins on their roster — cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, linebacker Henry Coley, safety Anthony Cooper, Mizzell and Blanding.
“We built a great bond here,” Mizzell said. “Even before Tra [Nicholson] left, we built a great bond. Anthony Cooper and I, we still have a great relationship now. Us being able to go to the college level and do the same things we were doing at Bayside, it’s great.
“We can really change that whole program around.”
And Blanding could very well be the defensive centerpiece.
“Everybody says he’s a five-star,” said recently retired Bayside coach Darnell Moore. “If they had a sixth star, he’d be a six-star. He’s a football player. When I say that, he just does so many things on the football field.
“He’ll contribute to your team in so many ways and then he’ll contribute to your university as a person. When you get a good student, a good athlete and a good person, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Blanding made 111 tackles and had five interceptions as a junior. The new Bayside coach, and former Marlin assistant, Jon White described his field presence as one that “opponents can’t stand to go against.”
There was a time in the mid-1990s when Virginia had a safety that drew similar praise.
Blanding will wear Anthony Poindexter’s former No. 3 at UVa.
“Filling in his shoes, he did a lot for UVa when he played,” Blanding said of Poindexter, who still serves as the Cavs’ safeties coach. “But now, I don’t want to be known as the ‘Young Dex’ or the ‘Young Poindexter.’ I just want to go in there and make a name for myself with the No. 3 on.
“It just feels great.”
Blanding is Virginia’s second verbal commitment for the 2014 class. He is the only one of the prospects ranked in Rivals’ top 10 to already make his decision.
“I did it to get a load off my shoulders,” Blanding said. “I feel like it was needed to be done. Now I can really focus on my schoolwork and other activities.”
Like recruiting the rest of UVa’s class.
Cavalier targets Jamil Kamara, a four-star receiver, and Jalyn Holmes, a four-star defensive end, were in attendance on Wednesday.
“I hope that people now see the picture that I see,” Blanding said, “so they can commit there with me.”