On the cusp of National Signing Day, programs around the country are preparing to welcome the players who could define their success, or failure, in the years to come. One school that may be poised to surprise? Virginia, which has secured commitments from two five-star prospects, safety Quin Blanding and defensive tackle Andrew Brown.
Blanding, who starred at Bayside High in Virginia Beach, Va., verbally pledged to the Cavaliers last February and has remained firm in his commitment ever since. SI caught up with him to talk about his decision and his expectations once he arrives on campus.
SI: You committed to Virginia last February. What made you so certain it was the program for you?
Quin Blanding: Since day one I knew Virginia was a great place for me. From the beginning, Virginia seemed like a family and that’s what I’m all about. Having friends up there made it even more special. And there’s nothing like staying in your home state.
SI: Did you follow the Cavaliers growing up?
QB: To be honest, no. My family always liked Florida State and Miami, so I grew up watching them. But I came to the conclusion that UVA back in the day used to be ranked No. 2 in the country, and I felt like I could help put us back on the map.
SI: How much did proximity factor into your decision?
QB: It played a part. It’s better for my family to take a two and a half hour drive to see me play college football rather than a long flight. It’s basically like I’m here at home.
SI: You were recruited by a number of big-time programs. How did Virginia coach Mike London compare to some other coaches on the recruiting trail?
QB: He was the realest and that’s why I stuck with him. With him, I knew [the Cavaliers] were there to recruit me, but they also let me breathe while recruiting me. Some coaches were always on my back worrying about everything. But Virginia let me breathe and told me they wanted me and came to me as a real person instead of just making promises.
Coach London always told us we can be the greatest player ever and all of that, but he’s also telling us that he wants to make us a better man at the end of the day.
SI: London has come under a lot of scrutiny recently, particularly after last season's 2-10 campaign. How important was it for you that London stay in his role at Virginia?
QB: Yeah, they only won two games last season, and that was tough. I know his name was up there on the list for coaches that could be fired, but we feel like with all the talent coming in, we’re about to change the program.
SI: Did you have any second thoughts about going to Virginia when the team kept losing last fall?
QB: I’ve always been about Virginia. Yeah, they didn’t have a great season, and I thought about other places. But I stuck with Virginia no matter what.
SI: When you heard last summer that defensive tackle Andrew Brown, another highly touted prospect, had also decided to attend Virginia, what was going through your mind?
QB: Andrew and I are really close. We played together on a rec team. It feels good knowing that we’ll have a front line that is going to be amazing. Basically, I can just have a ball-out year with interceptions.
I didn’t play against Andrew my first two years of high school, but when he transferred to Oscar Smith [High], I played against him two years in a row. Virginia is getting a big guy in the middle that can fly off the ball.
SI: How good do you think Virginia’s defense can be?
QB: I feel like we’re going to make a run for the top defense in the whole conference. We’re going to work hard and we have talent.
SI: On Nov. 8, Virginia will travel to Tallahassee to face reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and defending national champion Florida State, a school that made you an offer. Are you looking forward to that game?
QB: I’m very much looking forward to it. We’re going to play the best of the best. That’s what we want to do. That’s how we are going to get better. That’s how we’re going to show people we are here to play, too. It’s an opportunity to go out and shine.
SI: Do you have any extra motivation to prove yourself, particularly playing against top-flight competition, because of Virginia’s recent struggles?
QB: Yeah -- that’s all it is. Especially coming in as a young guy, other teams are going to try me. That’s what all teams will do. Going against a high-powered team and just going out there and shining against them shows that no matter how young I am, I’m ready to play.