As of Tuesday morning, Oklahoma was still involved and Louisville was in there trying. A Cardinals coach had called Jeff Neill, the coach at West Mesquite High, to see if they still had a chance at signing quarterback Chason Virgil, one of the top prep passers still available in the Class of 2015.
In or out? That was the question.
The Cardinals were out. The Sooners, too. Southern Methodist, which had made a late run with new coach Chad Morris, the ex-Clemson offensive coordinator and first to offer a scholarship, did not make the cut, either.
Virgil was making an oral commitment to Fresno State, which was not the big school or the hometown college but in a whirlwind three-week recruitment became the right one.
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How exactly that happened was a product of hard work, some vision, history and persistence with surprisingly few anxious moments.
But it starts and ends with the 6-foot-2, 175-pound quarterback.
Neill will handle the introduction.
“He’s a great character kid. He’s always gone above and beyond from that standpoint,” he said. “Last year around Christmas time, he had his birthday coming up and one of the things he decided to do on his own, nobody prompted him or anything, he decided instead of getting presents for his birthday and everything he asked people to bring a wrapped toy and donated his birthday gifts to a local toys for kids here in Mesquite and in this area. That’s just the kind of kid he is. He’s awesome. I mean, he’s unbelievable.”
Fresno State defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson, who recruits the Dallas area, had heard that story and many more positives in nine months on the outside looking in at the recruitment.
The Bulldogs had offered Virgil a scholarship in April, but so had Missouri, Auburn, Arizona State, Florida, Colorado, Nebraska, Mississippi, Texas and UCLA, among others. Virgil had an offer from at least one program in every one of the Power 5 conferences and was rated one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, leaving the Bulldogs the longest of long shots.
And when Virgil made an early commitment to Mississippi State in May, Fresno State moved on.
The Bulldogs had offers out to other quarterbacks in the Class of 2015, not a lot. “I couldn’t even tell you … it was less than five, if that many,” offensive coordinator Dave Schramm said.
But it is a position where they do not rush.
“My deal, I’m very conservative,” Schramm said. “We don’t make decisions off highlight films. We take our time. I take my time. I want to know as much about the person, what type of character he has, the type of work ethic he has, what type of program he comes from. I watch game film. I want to know what a guy does after he throws an interception. I want to know what a guy does after he throws a touchdown.
“My feeling has always been, you see all these guys getting all these stars (in the recruiting rankings) and there are all these 7-on-7 wonder guys and they go to these camps and they tear it up … well, no one is rushing them, they’re not in football gear and you’re making a decision on a guy that is going to touch the ball on every single play for you? I want to see what kind of a competitor you are and what you do when you get knocked down, when things aren’t going your way. How do you fight when you’re coming from behind? How do you fight when things aren’t going your way?”
All of that came into play when the clock started ticking again.
Mississippi State asked Virgil on Nov. 20 if he would delay his enrollment and come in as a grayshirt, unable to play or even practice with the team, in January 2016. But the quarterback was on track to graduate ahead of his class and had planned to get a jump start on his college career, enrolling in time to participate in spring practices in January 2015.
Just 16 days before his graduation and less than two months before he was hoping to enroll in college, Virgil and Mississippi State parted ways.
Word spread quickly that Virgil was reopening his recruitment. Woodson, who is in his first season on the Bulldogs’ staff and had never recruited in Texas before touching down during the past spring evaluation period, got a heads-up from Neill.
“It was a national news story,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. “So I looked him up on Twitter and followed him and talked to Marcus about, ‘Hey, get in touch with the coach and get in touch with Chason and see where things are at,’ thinking that this is just a flier, but he can always just tell us, ‘No.’ And I asked Dave, where are we on our list? He said, ‘Well, he would be at the top if we could get back in on him.’ ”
Schramm remembered what he had watched on film, and liked, during the spring.
“He’s repetitively accurate and he’s very competitive,” Schramm said. “He’s very athletic, but (being) repetitively accurate and highly competitive are the things that I want to see in a quarterback. He operates in the shotgun, gets the ball out of his hand fast. Those are things that are important for us in our offense, and he’s extremely smart obviously.”
The offer to Virgil in the spring might have been overreaching, given his options. But the Bulldogs were ahead of the curve and wanted in.
Woodson got them there.
Within a couple of days, Virgil had agreed to take an official visit. He first would go to Louisville on Nov. 28. Then it was Oklahoma on Dec. 5 and Fresno State got Dec. 12. All three dates were significant — rivalry weekends for Louisville and Oklahoma, when stadiums are packed, excitement is at a peak, and schools often bring in recruits to showcase both.
The Bulldogs’ visit was important for a different reason. It was the last weekend Virgil had to visit a campus, with an NCAA “dead period” starting Dec. 15 and running through mid-January. By the time the dead period ended, Virgil planned to be enrolled, which made the date a target across college football.
“He could have gone to a lot of places on an official visit this past weekend, because a lot of people tried to get him to bump us,” Woodson said. “But he stayed true to his word and told them all, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ ”
Virgil made his official visit to Louisville and the following week was at Oklahoma, which was considered a danger, likely trying to press for a commitment.
“You’re always crossing your fingers,” DeRuyter said. “You don’t want to get that call on Sunday saying, ‘Hey, coach, I committed,’ because a lot of times, especially at a position like quarterback, they’re going to put pressure on a young man to, ‘Hey, you’re our guy, but we have to know …’ ”
While Virgil was at Oklahoma, the Bulldogs were playing in the Mountain West Conference Championship game. Three days later, with all of the coaches on the road recruiting, Woodson and Schramm were at West Mesquite, just east of Dallas, to meet with Virgil and his parents.
Coaches from Oklahoma, following up on the official visit, were at the school as well, waiting their turn.
The meeting went well. They hit all the right notes.
“I love Coach Schramm,” Virgil said, after his commitment. “He’s honest and that’s what you want from a coach. You want somebody to just be brutally honest with you. They hold you accountable and that’s what you need. That’s what you want.”
Woodson and Schramm played up the Bulldogs’ history of sending quarterbacks to the NFL, the scheme and passing game concepts and the freedom and responsibilities for the QB who plays in it. Woodson came away feeling good about where they were.
“He’s a super-intelligent kid, so he went and did his research on the history of quarterbacks at Fresno State and, you know, it’s a pipeline of quarterbacks that have come from Fresno State,” he said. “He had a chance to meet Trent Dilfer in person, dealing with the elite quarterbacks in Texas, the Elite 11 (camp) is what Trent Dilfer does, so he was there. Obviously knowing Derek’s situation and the David Carrs of the world, he knew all about the quarterbacks that have played at Fresno State and he also knew Coach Schramm’s résumé as well as far as developing quarterbacks.”
He also knew that Virgil was looking for a program that would feel like home, had a family atmosphere.
The official visit to Fresno then cemented a lot of pieces together. Virgil was hosted by freshman cornerback Malcolm Washington, who is from Houston, but everyone on the team played a part.
“I loved everything about it,” Virgil said.
“Our kids did a good job hosting him and making him feel a part of us,” Woodson said. “That’s what he wanted, a family environment and that’s what we have here. I told him, you’re going to get what you see and he felt right at home once he came on his visit.”
Fresno State still was considered a long shot outside the Duncan Building. One recruiting website gave the Bulldogs a 4% chance of signing Virgil, lower than Mississippi State.
But by that point, DeRuyter, Woodson, Schramm … they all knew they had a chance.
“Marcus kept telling me, ‘Coach, he is seriously interested,’ ” DeRuyter said. “A lot of times you hear that Louisville is going to bring him in and Oklahoma is going to bring him in, especially with a Texas kid, they have a great draw there, you start thinking, ‘Well, does he just want a trip to California and he doesn’t realize we’re not actually on the beach?’ I said, ‘Make sure he knows where we’re at,’ and he said, ‘Coach, I’m telling you, he knows about Fresno State football, he’s seen us on TV, he knows about Derek Carr and he thinks that’s really intriguing as a draw for him.’ ”
Woodson never got discouraged, stayed on task:“It doesn’t matter what options a kid has, you have to attack it like you’re going to get him.”
“I knew when he told Oklahoma, ‘I’m going to Fresno State to see what they have to offer, I’m not committing right now,’ I knew we had a chance and I approached it every day like we were a better option than Oklahoma. Bigger is not always better. You have to know what you’re looking for. You have to know what situation is best for you and the kid understood that.”
Virgil flew home Sunday, and two days later became the highest-profile recruit the Bulldogs have had with DeRuyter and staff — now working their third full recruiting class.
Neill spoke to Virgil when he returned. The report: The trip went great.
He signed a grant-in-aid agreement Tuesday afternoon.
“It was fast and furious the past couple of weeks with Chason graduating in just a couple of days, and it has been quite a whirlwind for sure,” Neill said. “I’ll tell you that he’s handled it great. It’s hard enough for high school kids to go through that process once and he’s gone through it twice. It says a lot about his character and his ability to handle those pressure situations.
“He had some other choices as well, some other schools that really liked him and some other schools that are maybe a little higher profile than Fresno State in some ways, but I think Chason felt like it was the best fit for him. He has always been a very levelheaded kid from that standpoint. He’s going to lay out everything and just see what the best path is to go down and in this case it’s going out to the West Coast and hopefully competing for a position at some point at Fresno State.
“I do know one thing. He’ll make you proud, I promise you that.”