“Smoke” could signal Virginia’s return to recruiting prominence


Virginia Beach RB Taquan Mizzell became Virginia's 18th commitment in the Class of 2013. Photo: Ross Taylor / The Virginian-Pilot. Virginia Beach RB Taquan Mizzell became Virginia’s 18th commitment in the Class of 2013. Photo: Ross Taylor / The Virginian-Pilot.

He answers to “Smoke.”

That alone should speak to the budding legend of Taquan Mizzell, one of just 22 prep prospects in the Class of 2013 to have received five-star distinction from recruiting authority Rivals.com.

Mizzell verbally committed to UVA last Tuesday, spurning offers from a host of college football’s bluebloods — Miami, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, among the list of nearly two dozen teams. He is Virginia’s first recruit to earn five stars since offensive lineman Eugene Monroe signed a letter of intent more than seven years ago (though freshman defensive end Eli Harold received five on some recruiting ranking systems).

Dubbed “Smoke” during his freshman year at Virginia Beach’s Bayside High School because of his elusiveness — you can’t grab smoke, said an assistant coach — Mizzell’s commitment will give Virginia the elite playmaker so often employed by powerhouse programs. Just as importantly, it serves to strengthen Mike London’s presence in the talent-rich Tidewater region. Mizzell will join former Bayside teammates Tra Nicholson, Anthony Cooper, and Henry Coley at UVA — the sort of pipeline missing in recent years.

The various scouting reports read much the same: Mizzell is versatile, dynamic, and explosive. To that end, Rivals.com has rated him the top all-purpose back in the country (and the 20th-best prospect overall). The 5-10, 185-pounder ran for more than 1000 yards during his junior season, despite being hampered by a sprained ankle for much of the year. Next year, Mizzell figures to compete for playing time with  running backs Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson, though the true freshman could see the field from a variety of positions.

He received his fifth star last Monday and accepted Virginia’s scholarship offer Tuesday, but Mizzell’s finest honor came Thursday when I sat down to lunch with my dad – a sensible man indifferent to the chaotic world of college football recruiting. In an effort to gauge the reach of Tuesday’s announcement, I asked if he had heard about UVA’s latest commitment.

Without pause, Dad smiled: “You mean Smoke?”