Virginians headline talented ACC QB class

There’s an old slogan in the Commonwealth of Virginia that says, “Virginia is for Lovers.”

It was launched by the state’s tourism board in 1969 as a measure to attract young people who loved life, the mountains, beaches, history and had a passion for travel. Virginia had it all and the state wanted to promote it.

Scroll forward 43 years and the state could easily launch a new slogan: “Virginia is for Quarterbacks.”

Florida, California and Texas are known for producing mega talents in football, but the Commonwealth is making a push for national notoriety, too. And it begins with quarterbacks, notably the plethora currently starting in the ACC.

Six former high school signal-callers from the land of presidents are returning starters in the ACC, all from teams that posted winning records a season ago. Several other former Virginia quarterbacks are challenging for starting spots. In fact, in last month’s ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro, five of them received player of the year votes.

“We’re bringing the quarterbacks,” said North Carolina junior Bryn Renner, who is from Springfield, Va., located just outside of Washington. “I’ve known all of those guys since we were young. We went to a lot of camps together. It’s great to see them accomplish what they’ve wanted to accomplish. I know we support each other all the time.”

Renner passed for 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns while completing 68.3 percent of his pass attempts last season, and he’s widely regarded as the fifth best prospect of the bunch. At the top, according to many mock NFL drafts, is Virginia Tech junior Logan Thomas.

At 6-foot-6 and 254 pounds, Thomas makes Renner look small at 6-3, 215. Thomas developed into the Hokies’ go-to runner in short-yardage situations last season, yet he can also hurl the ball all around the field. He passed for 3,013 yards and 19 scores while completing 59.8 percent of his passes.

Thomas says having so many starters in the ACC says something about his home state.

“We’re putting them out there, aren’t we,” he said. “I’m excited about it. It’s a testament to Virginia football. We may not get the credit like Florida, Texas and California, but I’d like to think we’re up there with them.”

Northern Virginia, which also produced 6-foot-6 N.C. State senior Mike Glennon (3,054 yards, 32 touchdowns last season), is one pocket of talent, as is the Richmond area. But most of the studs come from the Tidewater area that comprises Hampton Roads, Newport News, Norfolk and Virginia Beach. It’s otherwise known on the recruiting trail as the “757,” which is the area code for the growing region.

“The Tidewater area is an incredibly fertile area for talent,” said Allen Watson, longtime recruiting analyst and publisher of SuperPrep magazine. “Virginia alone produces a lot of good kids, but that area has so many athletes, and it’s not just a recent thing. Coaches have been flocking there for years looking for top-notch players.”

Joining Thomas and hailing from the 757 are Clemson junior Tajh Boyd and Florida State senior E.J. Manuel. Boyd was the No. 4 quarterback in the class of 2009, according to Scout.com, while Manuel was No. 2 in 2008.

Boyd erupted last season, passing for 3,828 yards and 33 touchdowns leading the Tigers’ prolific offense to an ACC championship and trip to the Orange Bowl.

Manuel, who is 6-foot-6 and, according to N.C. State’s All-ACC safety Earl Wolff, is “by far” the most difficult quarterback in the ACC to defend, battled some injuries last fall, but still put forth a nice campaign. He passed for 2,666 yards and 18 scores, and this season is charged with the responsibility of leading the Seminoles back into national title contention.

Michael Rocco wasn’t highly touted coming out of school in Lynchburg, but won the starting job at Virginia last season. However, Rocco is being pushed in camp by another native Virginian, Phillip Sims, who transferred from Alabama. Many observers expect Sims to eventually win the job, which seems logical given how ballyhooed he was coming out of high school and that he nearly won the Crimson Tide job as a freshman last August.

Sims was the No. 2 rated quarterback in the nation by Scout.com in 2010, giving the Commonwealth five ACC quarterbacks who were rated among the top eight in the nation as high school seniors. That doesn’t include Thomas, who was the No. 2 tight end, but switched to quarterback after arriving in Blacksburg.

Needless to say, ACC schools had to fend off comers from all around the nation to develop this group, especially in the Tidewater area. This isn’t a recent phenomenon there, either.

Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden still says Ronald Curry is the best high school football player he ever saw. Curry, who is from Hampton, was the national high school player of the year in football and basketball in the 1997-98 school year and played quarterback and point guard at North Carolina before spending a decade with the Oakland Raiders.

Michael Vick, Allen Iverson, a highly touted signal caller in high school, Aaron Brooks, and Tyrod Taylor are just a few recent quarterbacks from the region. Also, football stars such as Plaxico Burress, Percy Harvin, Al Toon, Bruce Smith, Dwight Stephenson, Dre Bly, DeAngelo Hall, Kenny Easley, Lawrence Taylor and so many more are also from the Tidewater area.

“There’s no mistake as to why other schools from other areas, whether it’s adjoining schools or coming across the country come around here a lot,” said Virginia coach Mike London, who also grew up in the 757. “There’s just a community of coaches and high school players that just develop into really good players when they get into college.”

And right now they are developing as quarterbacks in the ACC. Glennon loves being part of the fraternity.

“It’s exciting for us as a group to be Virginians,” said Glennon, who is from Northern Virginia and attended a rival school of Renner’s in high school just like he is in college. “We’re all proud that half of us (ACC starters) are from Virginia. I think that reflects well on the state and the competition in the state.”

It does. Virginia may still be for lovers, but right now, it’s also for ACC quarterbacks.