The state of Virginia has long been considered a hotbed of talent and the reputation of Hampton Roads especially became legendary more than a decade ago when players such as Ronald Curry, Michael Vick and even Allen Iverson, obviously more well known for his basketball prowess, dominated on the gridiron.
In recent years, however, the state of Maryland combined with D.C., has kept pace with the Dominion State when it comes to talent. While Virginia has a longer history and has many more prospects in the NFL, who would win in a game between the top players in the class of 2011?
Both Virginia and Maryland/D.C. boast a five-star prospect early in the rankings for 2011 with Virginia being led by linebacker Curtis Grant from Richmond (Va.) Hermitage and Maryland/D.C. boasting offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio from Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha. And when it comes to the Rivals250, things are a wash there as well with both sides placing seven prospects on the elite list. But when it comes to fielding a team, one side has the slight edge.
Md./D.C. Offense vs. Va. Defense
The Virginia squad is led by a very strong group of linebackers on defense and a big, powerful offensive line on offense. Grant leads a strong trio of linebackers including Virginia Beach Kempsville four-star Travis Hughes and Hampton Phoebus standout Daquan Romero, who plays with his hand down as well in high school but projects as a 'backer.
Charged with keeping the linebackers clean is a front four led by four-star Corey Marshall from Dinwiddie who would be moved inside to tackle and would have to battle some size concerns. His partner in the middle would be Virginia Beach Green Run tackle David Dean and the duo would be flanked by two rangy ends in Ashburn Stone Bridge star Rob Burns and Richmond St. Christopher's sleeper Thompson Brown. Size is an issue along the line aside from Dean so this would be an interesting matchup against a strong Maryland/D.C. offensive line.
Rounding out the defense for Virginia is a very athletic secondary. Four-star cornerback Demetrious Nicholson from Virginia Beach Bayside is one of the best shutdown corners in the country and athlete Dominique Terrell projects as a corner or slot receiver in college but he'd be the ball-hawking centerfielder on this team. Big and athletic, Ronny Vandyke from Lorton South County will play strong safety and Stafford Colonial Forge corner Tim Scott will be opposite Nicholson.
Despite a lack of size along the defensive line, this is not a bad matchup for Virginia against the Maryland/D.C. offense which is led by an athletic offensive line and some playmakers but lacking a strong running game. Kouandjio leads the way at offensive tackle and will be flanked by Washington Ballou tackle Jamar Lewter on the outside. Owings Mills four-star Donovan Smith will anchor the inside and there is plenty of size, but run blocking is not the strength of this unit. Running backs Vernard Roberts from Washington Dunbar and Malcolm Crockett from Washington Friendship Collegiate are both solid backs, but the length of the Virginia defensive line and the speed of the 'backers would keep them in check.
That would put the pressure on Washington Gonzaga quarterback Kevin Hogan to find his top targets in the passing game against a solid secondary. Hogan would have plenty of time as the pass-blocking oriented offensive line would keep him clean and he has some nice targets led by Baltimore Gilman slot receiver Darius Jennings and Washington Dunbar star Daniel Adams. Maryland/D.C. would have some success in the passing game and would be able to move the ball despite the athleticism of the Virginia secondary, but a lack of running game would make them too one-dimensional.
Va. Offense vs. Md./D.C. Defense
The matchup between the Virginia offense and the Maryland/D.C. defense will also be a good one. Maryland/D.C. is led by a strong defensive line and a very athletic secondary but the linebackers could struggle.
The defensive line is led by two stout defensive tackles in Washington St. John's College stud Kevin McReynolds and DeMatha standout Darian Cooper, making things very hard for the Virginia offense to run inside. Big man Vincent Croce from Olney Good Counsel would be flanked by Baltimore Boys Latin star Marco Jones, creating a fearsome foursome up front.
In the secondary, Maryland/D.C. is very deep as well with two terrific corners in Washington Dunbar's Vance Roberts and Good Counsel's Blake Countess, although a lack of size will hurt them against some big receivers. The safeties are raw but very athletic with Damascus athlete Brandon Phelps and Bowie speedster Jeremiah Hendy both able to cover a lot of ground.
However, it's the linebackers that are the concern on defense with size being a big issue. Waldorf North Point 'backer Conner Crowell is very quick and athletic but lacks great size and DeMatha's Darien Harris is a bit vertically challenged and lacks great sideline-to-sideline ability. Two-star Khari Brown mans the middle and brings much needed size, but he is limited in range like Harris.
The gameplan of the Virginia offense would be to attempt to establish a running game behind a strong offensive line and attack the middle of the field with a short passing game featuring big targets. Up front, there is plenty of size and power led by Harrisonburg stud Landon Turner and Virginia Beach Cox guard Ross Burbank on the inside and tackles Grant Jones from Lynchburg Liberty Christian and Isaiah Battle from St. George Blue Ridge. Despite the strength of the Maryland/D.C. defensive line, the big Virginia running backs led by four-star Clifton Richardson from Newport News Menchville would still have a bit of success as the game wears on. However, it would be the passing game that makes the difference.
While Virginia Beach Ocean Lakes quarterback Lafonte Thourogood struggles throwing the ball downfield, he has improved greatly in the intermediate passing game and he has some huge targets. Chesapeake Oscar Smith receiver Quinta Funderburk is 6-foot-5 as is Dinwiddie big man Trey Gardner and Manassas Osbourn receiver Timmy Keith isn't small at 6-foot-0. Tight end Eric Frohnapfel from Colonial Forge is a 6-foot-6 target as well.
Picking a Winner
The key in a game like this is which team is more balanced on offense and defense and that gives Virginia the edge. They somewhat offset a strong Maryland/D.C. defensive line with good size along the offensive line and at running back and its huge receivers would give the Maryland/D.C. linebackers and smallish corners trouble. On defense, the Virginia linebackers would overcome a lack of size along the defensive line with their speed and sideline-to-sideline ability and the secondary would struggle at times but is athletic enough to avoid big plays.
Maryland/D.C. has the advantage in some areas, but overall this is not a great matchup for them against a deep, talented Virginia squad that has very few weaknesses. However, this would still be a close game with each side able to put up points mainly through the air, but Virginia wins this one based on simply having more speed and more playmakers overall.