The town of Mineral, with a population listed at 499 in the 2017 census, is not accustomed to hosting the kind of visitors that have passed through the area in the past year.
Mineral, located in Louisa County in the geographic middle of the state, is perhaps best known as the epicenter of an earthquake that rocked the East Coast in the summer of 2011.
That was before Brandon Smith came along.
Smith, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound outside linebacker, is this year’s choice as the No. 1 recruit in the Roanoke Times’ annual rating of the state’s top senior and junior prospects.
For more than a year, recruiting services have wavered between Smith and North Stafford High School running back Devyn Ford as the top senior prospect in the state.
Remarkably, they played at schools that are located approximately 40 miles from one another.
They’ll be seeing a lot of each other as fellow Penn State signees during a recently concluded early signing period, the first for football.
Ford and Smith orally committed to Penn State within three days of each other in mid-May.
Louisa went 25-2 over the past two years with Smith, who had 134 tackles as a senior and was named Gatorade state player of the year.
“I’ve known about him since the sixth grade,” said Will Patrick, who was the offensive coordinator at Louisa before taking over as head coach. “You could see what an athletic kid he was.”
In 2015, Smith elected to attend Fork Union Military Academy in nearby Fluvanna County. He was a rare day student at FUMA before electing to return to Louisa for his sophomore year.
“I remember our first scrimmage before the 2016 season and remember thinking to myself, ‘I’ve never seen a kid go side to side like that,’” Patrick said. “His junior year, he blew up and the next thing you know, there was Nick Saban in the office.”
Actually, that was a figure of speech. Saban, the head coach at Alabama, never made it to Louisa County, but then-Alabama assistant Mike Locksley, now the head coach at Maryland, paid a call.
To the best of Patrick’s memory, the list of coaches that visited Louisa included Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, South Carolina’s Will Muschamp, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Penn State’s James Franklin.
“And, of course, Justin Fuente and Bronco Mendenhall,” Patrick said of the coaches at Virginia Tech and Virginia. “You name the school and at least a coordinator from that school was there.”
This marks the second year in a row that two of the top five players on the Roanoke Times list will be heading to Penn State. Last year it was top pick Ricky Slade, a running back from Hylton High School in Woodbridge, and No. 4 choice Nana Asideu, an offensive tackle who had opened holes for the above-mentioned Ford at North Stafford.
This year’s haul includes the No. 12 player on the list, defensive end Hakeem Beamon from L.C. Bird in Chesterfield.
In analyzing the success of Penn State’s football program in recruiting Virginia high schools, Patrick was quick to point out the role of assistants, not just at Penn State, but elsewhere in the process.
From what he has seen, Patrick says he hasn’t been surprised by the success of Brent Pry, who is the Nittany Lions’ defensive coordinator and also coaches the linebackers.
If the name rings a bell, that’s because Pry is a former Lexington High School football player who was the son of Jim Pry, an Altoona, Pa., native who was the offensive coordinator from 1984-88 at VMI. The Keydets’ 1984 team set 13 school passing records and one NCAA record under the senior Pry.
At Lexington High School, subsequently renamed Rockbridge County High School, Brent Pry was an all-region quarterback and defensive back for a staff that included future Virginia Tech assistant Bryan Stinespring.
Years later, it was Stinespring, a dogged recruiter in his own right, who helped land Pry a position on the Hokies staff as a graduate assistant from 1995-97. Pry also lived with the Stinesprings for part of one year.
Pry later worked at Western Carolina, Louisiana-Lafayette, Memphis and Georgia Tech before ending up on the staff of then-Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. He followed Franklin from Vanderbilt to Penn State in 2014.
“We can see the kind of recruiter [Pry] is from what he’s done at our school,” Louisa’s coach, Patrick, said, “but it’s not just us. It’s not hard to see the success he’s had all over Virginia.”