On Tuesday, Ocean Lakes defensive end Eli Harold made official what everyone had suspected for a long, long time: He is a Cavalier.
Harold, ranked as the state's the No. 2 prospect by Rivals.com, publicly chose Virginia over Penn State and Florida at a press conference at his high school on what would have been his mother's 57th birthday.
"I chose this day specifically," Harold said. "I thought it was a fitting tribute to my mom."
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Harold has experienced a lot of loss in the last year. Not only did the then 16-year-old lose his mother to pancreatic cancer in January, he also lost his nephew to an enlarged heart the November before.
"It's been a hard process," Harold said. "But I just didn't let it break me down. I knew I just had to keep pushing forward."
A devout Christian who said the fact that "the Lord called her home" helped him deal with the loss of his mother, Harold said he connected with Mike London, who he called a "man's man."
Harold is as athletic a defensive end as UVa has ever gotten. In addition to offers from his three finalists, he also had offers from a host of schools, including North Carolina, LSU, Miami, NC State, Ohio State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
Considered UVa's top priority in this recruiting class, along with DeMatha defensive end Michael Moore and Norfolk Christian linebacker Kwontie Moore, both of whom are now committed to the Hoos, Harold fell in love with Virginia and what head London had to offer when he visited Charlottesville.
That relationship with London has seemed to be what has carried the day so far in his recruitment, as he has consistently maintained UVa was far and away his favorite, in spite of an extensive offer list and the fact that he has opted not to make a decision to date.
"They kind of came on late for me but given the relationship I've built with the coaching staff, especially Coach London and my lead recruiter, Coach (Chip) West, it was an easy choice," Harold said.
The Rivals Top 100 prospect said that UVa also offered a nice mix of things he wanted, such as a closer location so his family could see him play.
Recent commitments Anthony Cooper of Bayside and Kyle Dockins of Landstown were both players with whom Harold was close. In fact, Harold said he was the ringleader in getting those players to Charlottesville.
"We talked a lot about going to the same place," he said with a smile. "And I guess I was the head honcho in that, really. After I really started feeling Virginia, I talked to Ant and to Kyle and at first, Kyle wasn't into it. He wasn't seeing it. And so I told him, 'Man, do you know what we can do together? We can be part of something special. People will look back and say those were the guys that helped get Virginia football back to where it should be."
When he visited the university, Harold said he really connected well with current Cavaliers Morgan Moses, Henry Coley, and incoming freshman Daquan Romero and Caleb Taylor. The final three of those four are players from the vaunted 757, just like Harold.
"I just think the 757 is the place," he added. "If you look at it, a bunch of us from this area are going up there. The 757? Yeah, we're going to UVa and we're going to be the ones that turn this program around."
While Harold said his mother would at times pull him off of teams when his grades suffered, his goal now is to graduate high school and make the most out of his education.
"That's what I know she'd want and that's what I have to do," he said. "I want to be a real student-athlete."
If possible, he said he hopes to wear No. 7, which was his mother's favorite number.
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