The player that coach Travis Noland called Oconee County’s greatest success story will begin his college football career as a Virginia Tech Hokie over a year after his graduation from Oconee County High School.
Da’Shawn Elder was a defensive back for the Warriors during their first of two state championship runs but reclassified at Fork Union Military Academy during the 2020 season. He spent the fall studying and training, but his post graduate year at the Virginia Military Academy did not count against his NCAA eligibility unlike a junior college, or JUCO, program would have.
“I've been wanting to play in college since I was 4,” Elder said. “I didn't think I had a shot till this year, to be honest.”
Reclassifying is not that uncommon among college athletes.
For example, Jermaine Johnson played the past two seasons at Georgia after being featured in season three of Netflix’s JUCO documentary show “Last Chance U,” and was ranked the No. 2 overall JUCO prospect after two seasons at Independence Community College. The senior defensive lineman will play next season at FSU, Johnson announced on Dec. 26, because of the NCAA’s decision not to count 2020 against the eligibility of any athlete due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With an extra year of workouts and practice, Elder started to draw more attention from recruiters while at Fork Union. The process wasn’t easy, and Elder wasn’t sure it would pay off until the end.
“It was very rough,” Elder said. “No phone, and no connection with the outside world. I couldn't leave, so no car.”
Elder received his first collegiate offer from New Mexico State in late October 2020, but his next offer didn’t come until the day before he signed.
According to the 247Sports website, Elder received six more offers on Dec. 15. Most were from Division I schools, like Tennessee State, but Elder also received offers from TCU and the Hokies. When the early signing period opened Dec. 16, Elder signed with Virginia Tech in his old home at Warrior Stadium where his former team welcomed him with other college signees West Weeks, Carsen Stocklinski and Elijah Hamm.
“It's amazing feeling just to be here,” Elder said. “I'm glad to be accepted.”
Despite his military academy and college of choice being in the same state, Elder did not visit Virginia Tech before signing. He will enroll early, and will see the campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, on Jan. 14.
Elder was recruited by Justin Hamilton, the defensive coordinator for the Hokies. Hamilton, a former Virginia Tech free safety who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL draft, began his coaching career in 2011. He’s coached for the Hookies since 2018 and was promoted to the coordination position in December 2019.
Listed as 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Elder will bring size and versatility to the Hokies secondary. He knows that he will have to work for a starting position, but already has his eyes set on special teams.
That will likely be the only way he and former teammate West Weeks, who signed with Virginia, will compete directly against each during the yearly Virginia Tech and Virginia rivalry game.
There have been 102 meetings between the two rivals since 1895, and the Hokies lead the Cavaliers 59-38-5. Virginia Tech has owned the series in the 21st century, winning 18 of the 20 total matchups in that span.
Elder’s unorthodox path of college recruitment set him on a new career track.
Elder will study sports management at Virginia Tech and one way or another, he plans to stick around in the world of athletics.