Twenty-four hours before the biggest decision of his young life, Dax Hollifield still hadn’t made up his mind.
The 6-foot-2, 236-pound All-America linebacker from Shelby High had countless suitors, but he’d narrowed his finalists to four: North Carolina, Stanford, Clemson and Virginia Tech. One of the four would earn his commitment on National Signing Day on Wednesday – he just needed to pick which one.
So on Tuesday afternoon, Dax and his father Aubrey (who is also a football coach and physical education teacher at Shelby) went to Walmart to pick up some things for Aubrey’s afternoon class. On the way, as they weighed Dax’s options, one school – and one man, in particular – kept coming up in conversation.
It was Virginia Tech and the team’s defensive coordinator, Bud Foster.
“I felt like (Virginia Tech has) always been something of a natural fit, from the first day when (Dax) was a freshman and Bud Foster walked into the office,” Aubrey said Wednesday. “He’s the lunch pail guy, and hard work is part of it, and that’s who Dax is.”
Foster has been recruiting Dax to Blacksburg, Va., for four years, and during that time he preached to the Hollifield family how he’d look out of Dax. He wanted the family to be able to watch Dax play, to watch him grow as a man and a player. And as Aubrey and Dax brought that up on their Tuesday trip to Walmart, the decision became clear.
“That’s when I knew it,” Dax said Wednesday, minutes after announcing his commitment to the Hokies. “He started tearing up and I started tearing up, and I was like, ‘Well, I know what it is now.’
“That’s really when I made (my mind) up.”
What exactly are the Hokies getting with Dax’s comitment?
He’s one of the top-ranked recruits in North Carolina, a state that’s become well-known for its football talent. According to 247 Sports, he is the No. 6 recruit in the state and the No. 151 recruit in the country. His penchant for tackling and diagnosing plays should carry over to the next level, where Dax could be in contention to start from his first day.
Dax said a key factor in his decision was the available playing time at Virginia Tech early on. The Hokies’ top two linebackers, Tremaine Edmunds and Andrew Motuapuaka, are gone from last season’s roster, leaving those spots up for grabs. Edmunds is expected to be a high first-round selection in the upcoming NFL draft.
“(Foster) wants somebody who will come in there, work hard, lead by example, and I’m his guy,” Dax said. “I’m probably not going to be the most athletic person on the field from now on, so I rely on my intelligence to keep me on the field.”
By selecting Virginia Tech, Dax continued the trend of North Carolina’s top high school players leaving the state for college. The top recruit each of the past three years, including Scotland County running back Zamir White (who picked Georgia) this season, has played college football elsewhere.
Aubrey said while his son ultimately chose Virginia Tech, the Hokies were not in the lead for the entire recruiting process. Clemson, who made Dax his first scholarship offer as a freshman, made a late surge, and Dax’s close relationship with coaches at North Carolina made the Tar Heels a factor, too.
“I swear, I think he changed his mind between Sunday and today probably seven, eight times,” Aubrey said. “He’s an analyzer, he looks at it, he weighs pros and cons, and then he changes his mind. If you watch him on the football field, he reads it and he goes and gets it.”
Then with a chuckle, Aubrey added, “With this, (Dax) did not read it and go and get it.”
Dax’s commitment elevates Virginia Tech’s overall recruiting class to No. 21 nationally, third-best in the ACC, according to ESPN’s rankings.
“Telling people ‘no’ is by far the most difficult part of the process,” Dax said. “I built so many relationships with the people at UNC, the people at Clemson, the people at Virginia Tech, it’s insane. It’s like I’m losing a family member, to be honest with you, because it’s over now.
“I’ve got to bust my butt now.”