At 2:30 Wednesday afternoon, Quin Blanding will walk to the stage and take a seat at a cloth-draped table inside Bayside High School’s auditorium. The scene — filled with friends, family members, reporters and flashing cameras — will resemble what Taquan Mizzell looked at seven months ago, what Demetrious Nicholson saw two years ago.
In this setting, both Mizzell and Nicholson announced they would continue their football careers at the University of Virginia.
Will Blanding follow script?
According to recruiting services, all signs point to yes. This means the Cavaliers could land one of their biggest prospects in program history.
“You’re talking about a player who will be, historically, the highest-rated commitment, at the time he actually chooses Virginia, in the modern era,” said Brad Franklin, the managing editor for CavsCorner.com.
Franklin’s site, which is powered by the established recruiting service Rivals.com, lists Blanding, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound free safety, as the No. 4 overall player in the 2014 class. Rivals, Scout.com and 247Sports.com rate him as a five-star prospect.
Blanding’s composite overall ranking, which takes into account the four main recruiting services (ESPN included) and is compiled by 247Sports, is No. 5.
“It would be a tremendous get for Virginia,” said Jamie Oakes, senior writer for Wahoos247.com.
Per NCAA rules, Virginia is not allowed to talk about recruits until they have signed their National Letter of Intent.
In August, when Mizzell, a five-star running back, made his verbal pledge to the Wahoos, he was ranked No. 20 by Rivals in the 2013 class. He was the highest prospect to pick UVa since offensive tackle Eugene Monroe in 2005 (No. 11 overall when he made his verbal commitment).
In 2002, Virginia had three five-stars in its class — defensive end Kai Parham (No. 11), running back Michael Johnson (No. 14) and linebacker Ahmad Brooks (No. 27).
Blanding just might trump them all.
Wednesday, he’ll make his choice. UVa is contending with the likes of Florida State, Ohio State, Miami, Clemson and North Carolina, among others.
But the heavy lean is to Charlottesville.
“What really turned the tides here was the visit he took to Virginia the weekend before last,” Franklin said. “The coaches did everything they could to kind of keep it quiet, but it was basically just him and the coaching staff and his family.
“He got a chance to see the schemes, to have his questions answered. It was within two or three days after that visit when he kind of announced, himself, that he was going to commit at a ceremony at Bayside.”
The Bayside-Virginia connection is strong. Marlin alums on UVa’s current roster include Nicholson, a two-year starting cornerback, safety Anthony Cooper and linebacker Henry Coley. Of course, Mizzell will join the bunch in the fall.
The addition of Blanding would continue to bulk the Cavaliers with players from the talent-rich Tidewater region.
“Quin is not the kind of guy who would only go there because his friends go,” Franklin said. “I think he made a genuine connection with Virginia’s staff. Certainly, it helps that players from Bayside have gone, but I think it’s bigger than that.
“There’s a certain group of kids from the 757 host of high schools who have gone there and all know each other really well and consider themselves family regardless of whether or not they are, regardless of if they went to the same high school and competed against each other. They work out together. They think of each other as brothers, and that’s what they want to do at the next level.
“Virginia’s done a great job, over the last three classes, of building those relationships. ... And for guys like Quin, well before it was even time for them to even focus on recruiting, Virginia already felt like home, and I think that’s going to be a big factor in the decision he makes [today].”
As a junior, Blanding made 111 tackles and had five interceptions while also catching 55 passes for 1,035 yards and six touchdowns on offense.
“He can do just about anything on the football field,” Darnell Moore, his former coach at Bayside, told Rivals.com. “Defensively, he has great cover skills, a nose for the ball and tackles extremely well.”
Franklin, who’s seen Blanding live, as well as on tape, describes him as a player with exceptional cover skills who also has a knack for creeping into the box and delivering punishing blows.
Franklin said it’s not uncommon to hear “Sean Taylor” around the recruiting circles when it comes to comparing Blanding’s skill set. Taylor was a consensus All-American at Miami and a two-time Pro Bowler for the Washington Redskins before his tragic death in 2007.
“If you were to pick out all the perfect qualities for the perfect free safety, it’s Quin Blanding,” Franklin said.
Oakes, who has also studied plenty of Blanding, echoed the praise.
“Blanding is a high-IQ guy with safety size and the ability to cover like a corner,” Oakes said. “He doesn’t make missteps, seems to always take the right angle and is a true ball hawk.”
If Blanding commits to Virginia, it would not only give the Cavs two commitments for the 2014 class (Florida defensive tackle Chris Nelson is the other), it could open the floodgates for more highly regarded prospects.
The state of Virginia boasts three players inside the Rivals top six for ’14. Oscar Smith defensive tackle Andrew Brown, No. 6, has UVa on his radar.
“I think his commitment to Virginia could be the first domino in a series of decisions that could dramatically impact the university going forward,” Franklin said. “And that’s not just hyperbole.”