Not long ago, Greg Stroman was one of the anchors of the Virginia Tech football program, serving a starring role as a kick/punt returner while also developing into a high-quality (and eventually NFL-draftable) cornerback. Now his legacy has a chance to live on through his brother Jalen.
Greg and Jalen aren’t substantially different players, but Jalen may not play quite the same role(s) Greg did at Tech. On top of that, Jalen also bucked a significant trend in Prince William County football, and it has a chance to become something the Hokies revisit with some degree of regularity.
The Stonewall Jackson Pipeline
If you follow Dwight Vick on Twitter, then you know all about the impact ex-Hokie defensive back Loren Johnson has had on Tech’s recruiting.
The pipeline started with star running back Ryan Williams, whose high school head coach at “SJ” (which is what I, as a former attendee, am allowed and encouraged to refer to the school as) was Loren Johnson. The coach’s standing with Tech was likely a key factor in getting Williams into the program, and Williams’ overwhelming collegiate success has kept Tech’s eyes on SJ ever since — even though Johnson moved on to Highland Springs in Henrico, Virginia (where he has since won four State Championships) in 2009, immediately after Williams graduated from high school.
As recently as 2017, the Hokies had three SJ alumni (Tim Settle, Reggie Floyd, and Greg Stroman himself) starting on their defense, in spite of the fact that SJ hasn’t had a lot of success in terms of on-field wins and losses.
The Insertion of Patriot
Part of the reason why SJ has struggled recently is the opening of Patriot High School in 2011. In fact, if Greg Stroman had following the zoning realignment the new school created (like I did), he would’ve become a Patriot Pioneer. There were benefits to staying at SJ, though, not the least of which was the fact that Patriot was ineligible to field a Varsity football team in its inaugural season, so he stayed put.
Fast forward to 2017, and Jalen Stroman stepped outside of the mold Greg had created by enrolling at Patriot. That may sound like a small thing, but considering the Pioneers’ limited history and lack of Power 5 prospect potential (coupled with the impact his brother made a few miles down the road, and what he was also doing on the field in Blacksburg), Jalen’s presence was somewhat of a groundbreaking achievement for Patriot’s football program. He didn’t technically have to pick Patriot, and he supposedly almost didn’t.
All in all, Jalen has lived up to the precedent his brother set. In his first season, Jalen was declared first-team freshman All-Cedar Run District on both offense (wide receiver) and defense (safety). As a junior in 2019, he was named first-team All-District on defense and second-team All-District on offense. Regardless of where he is on the field, he has a knack for making himself noticeable in a major way.
Jalen Compared to Greg
If a lot of what I’ve said sounds familiar, that’s because it should. Greg Stroman also played a substantial role on offense in high school, and he has built himself into an NFL-caliber defensive back.
Even with that said, Greg probably wouldn’t have found himself at Tech without the SJ pipeline. His Power 5 offer list was limited (per ESPN, his only other Power 5 offers were Duke, Virginia and Wisconsin — which seemed like a reach and a school he wouldn’t have seen the field at), and as Andy Bitter’s quoted tweet above indicates, Greg fell outside of the top 1,000 in the Class of 2014 and ranked 36th within the state of Virginia according to 247.
The same outlet rates Jalen inside the top 700 nationally and 19th in Virginia in the Class of 2021. Per 247, Jalen also received better offers (Duke, Virginia and Indiana in addition to Tech, plus Temple and Kent State as noteworthy secondary Group of 5 options). In other words, Jalen is considered more ACC-ready than Greg was, which is an evaluation that I agree with, having watched both of them in person a handful (or two) of times as high schoolers.
All Tech fans will remember Greg for his pure athleticism as much as anything else. Jalen certainly possesses a similar ability in that regard, but he doesn’t necessarily have the same “top handful of collegiate return specialists in the nation” look to him. That’s not to say he won’t return kicks — he very well might — but he likely won’t have the same game-changing potential if/when he touches the ball.
What I believe sets Jalen apart from Greg as a prospect is his more pure football talent. Greg’s primary role in high school was as an option quarterback, allowing him to simply have the ball in his hands as much as possible because it was frankly foolish to not do so. Jalen is much more than that.
Not only can Jalen play a lot of positions, but he can actually play them all quite well. Officially listed at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, he has the bulk to play safety, the length to more than hold his own at cornerback, the catch radius to make some impressive plays at wide receiver, and the speed to be a factor anywhere you line him up. And if you want to take something away from him filling in as a punter, consider what kind of team-first mentality it takes to do that, knowing it could easily make you look silly.
Jalen’s Projection at Tech
Aside from special teams, Tech didn’t know what to do with Greg when he first entered the program. That won’t be true with Jalen. There’s a chance he’ll get some reps on offense at some point, but the primary focus will undeniably be on using him as a defensive back — and I do mean defensive back, not necessarily safety.
When strictly discussing defensive utility, Terrell Edmunds is — albeit at a higher level — a much better comparison to Jalen than Greg is. Keep in mind that Greg played corner because that’s the only spot he could’ve held up at, considering he had a fairly small frame. Edmunds played all over the secondary at various points of his college career, and I could see Jalen developing fairly similarly.
In fact, he’s appeared more technically sound at corner than you’d likely expect a primary safety to look when he has lined up outside. Much of that presumably stems from his relatively uncommon physical traits (size and speed), as well as the physicality and ball skills that help him thrive at safety and wide receiver, respectively.
He’s played mostly free safety at Patriot, but that’s partly as a means of letting the star player see the entire field and be the prototypical “last line of defense.” He’s more than willing to tackle, though, and he’s solid in coverage. If he doesn’t end up playing cornerback, he could line up at any of Tech’s safety positions (whip/nickel, rover, or true/free safety). Which spot he plays at will be dependent upon whether he adds more weight — and if he does, how much he adds.
All personal biases aside, I think Jalen Stroman is an underrated prospect. There aren’t a lot of prospects that possess the array of skills and attributes that he has, and I can promise you that he’s also already familiar with Blacksburg, the lunch pail mentality, and Tech alumni — including ones from the beloved SJ pipeline.
The Hokies Needed Jalen
Jalen Stroman’s commitment helps in a few areas. To start with, it reestablishes the philosophy of retaining familial talent that Frank Beamer stuck to for so long and Justin Fuente had seemingly strayed from. I’m uncertain of how important it ultimately is on the field, but it seems to appeal to the fan base if nothing else, and family ties are probably also among the easiest ways to curry initial favor with a prospect.
Another topic that I’ve previously hinted at is the Hokies’ dire need to add some young, talented defensive backs. Beyond 2020, the future is incredibly uncertain.
At a minimum, Divine Deablo’s eligibility runs out and Caleb Farley enters the draft. At worst, the other three starting defensive backs could also leave. Devon Hunter seems less likely to do so, but Jermaine Waller and Chamarri Connor easily could.
No. 4 safety Khalil Ladler has transferred to Lousiana Tech, his replacement Tyree Rodgers will be a fifth-year senior in 2020, and cornerback Jeremy Webb entered the transfer portal on Thursday. The Hokies would — and probably do regardless — have to hope that either someone takes a massive leap forward or that they could land a notable transfer player.
It’s still a dicey situation, but Jalen Stroman at least adds a little bit of much-needed certainty to the equation.
Lastly, Tech simply needed a boost in recruiting. The 2020 class wasn’t exactly eye-popping, and the decommitment of Dematrius Davis left the Class of 2021 at risk of being cripplingly bad.
By 247’s metrics, Stroman is tied for the highest-rated commit the Hokies have secured in those two classes, and it’s not as if they’d made up for a lack of quality with a higher quantity of players either. Jalen doesn’t fix everything, but he certainly helps.
A Patriot Pipeline?
Virginia Tech may very well continue to look at SJ as a feeder school for their program. However, here’s a quick look at each school’s win/loss record since Settle and the elder Stroman graduated from SJ — bearing in mind that the two schools play in the same division, district, and league:
- 2015: 0–10
- 2016: 2–8
- 2017: 3–7
- 2018: 6–7
- 2019: 8–3
- 2015: 4–6
- 2016: 7–4
- 2017: 9–3
- 2018: 7–4
- 2019: 10–2
It also doesn’t hurt that Patriot cut into the home base of Battlefield High School, winners of at least 10 games every year from 2008–11. Patriot has been the most successful school of the three in more recent years.
SJ’s recent struggles might allow Patriot’s close proximity and better on-field performance to outshine them, but much of this starts with Jalen Stroman. He’s one of the first players from the school to sign on with a major university.
If Jalen can be an impactful player at Tech, don’t be one bit surprised if the Hokies shift their road trips from Manassas to the nearby Nokesville, Virginia. He has a chance to leave a mark in quite a few ways. And who knows; maybe he’ll be even better with the Hokies than his brother was.