LORTON, Va. -- Devin Vandyke is a heavy-hitter with broad shoulders.
But don't go thinking that's simply a compliment about the four-star linebacker's physique. At just 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he could be bigger.
No, those shoulders are what he uses to carry his South County High School team, which only came into existence in 2005. Although it took Vandyke some time to get playing time and become the player he is today.
Vandyke openly admits he wasn't one of South County's best freshmen. Then as a sophomore in 2009, coaches told him that he would be strictly a junior varsity player. Perhaps he could play some special teams for the varsity if he was really fortunate. Then fortune proved to be on his side.
Two safeties who were above him on the depth chart suffered shoulder injuries. Vandyke had his chance.
"I was the only guy there," Vandyke recalled. "They didn't have any backups. I led the team in tackles. I guess it showed the coach I could do the job."
For the next two seasons, after eventually moving to linebacker he posted 101 tackles, 11 for a loss, six pass breakups and four forced fumbles, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
"We tried to instill a tradition," assistant coach Adam Neff said. "That's been an ongoing process. It's really the Class of 2012 that we have that tradition. The point man for setting up that tradition is Devin.
"He has an extremely strong personality. He's a born leader. He was doing it as a sophomore. He was already in a leadership role."
As a sophomore, he proved he was a hitter by knocking at least four opposing players unconscious and his highlight tape is littered with shaken ball-carriers.
"He has a heavy shoulder, meaning when he hits you it's different than when other people hit you," Neff said. "He's a K.O. artist. When he and another young man collide, Devin doesn't go back. Even if it's a big, thick kid, Devin doesn't go back."
However, Devin wasn't the only Vandyke laying the wood in South County's linebacker corps. His older brother, Ronny, manned the other outside linebacker spot. The two formed a formidable duo last season. Ronny was the big-play, highlight type and Devin was just waiting for teams to test him.
"He was hooking his brother up," Neff said of Ronny, who will be a freshman safety at Virginia Tech this fall. "Seriously, people were very scared of Ronny. He's a playmaker. He scored touchdowns. But on the other side with Devin, they were getting clean knocked out. It was a good situation for us having the Vandyke brothers at outside linebacker. There's not a lot of programs that can say that."
When Devin started to become a college prospect, it was easy to envision him following his brother to Blacksburg. Yet it wasn't that simple.
Devin admitted he once hoped LSU and Florida State would come calling, but they never did. He had plenty of offers -- Boston College, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Maryland, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and West Virginia -- but none fit better than Virginia Tech. At one point he traveled to Blacksburg six times in seven months.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "You've got 70,000 in the actual stadium and then you've got 10,000 people outside the stadium wishing they were in the stadium. Everybody loves football down there."
Oddly enough, a trip to Nashville to visit Vanderbilt sold him on Blacksburg. In Tennessee, he noted how much he liked a slower pace of life. He wanted a small-town feel, but also wanted to compete for a national championship. So Vanderbilt was out. The city of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech's consistent success were the perfect combination.
"As you can see, everything is fast here," Vandyke of Washington D.C., while snapping his fingers quickly. "Traffic is fast. Restaurants are fast. Hi. Bye. You've got to hurry up and go."
In Blacksburg, Vandyke said the laid back atmosphere will allow him to focus on school and football.
Shoulder to shoulder
Devin and Ronny played high school football together. They'll attend the same college. They're obviously from the same family. That might be where the similarities end.
"Personality-wise, those guys can't get much more different," coach Neff said. "Ronny is a quiet guy. He keeps to himself. He'll talk to people if they want to talk to him but he's not nearly as outgoing as Devin.
"But Devin, oh my God, it's nonstop. He doesn't shut up. Devin will talk to anybody. He has the gift of gab. Ronny would prefer to go 24 hours a day without talking to people."
Devin, who Neff says has an obvious little-brother chip on his shoulder, admits that his older brother is faster. Strength-wise, Devin has the advantage. Neff says Ronny is the better athlete but as for the better football player, that has yet to be determined.
"That's the question right there," Neff said. "Maybe it's too soon to tell. Maybe in the next couple of years, we'll figure that out."
Both brothers said playing together in college will be nice, that there's an advantage to having a close friend on the team and someone to travel home with. But both also said that wasn't a major factor in Devin's decision.
"A little bit," Ronny said when asked if he recruited his brother to Virginia Tech. "But I didn't care where he went. I wanted him to feel comfortable and be happy because he'll have to be there for four years. But overall I'm happy with his decision."
Bound for Blacksburg
Committing to a major school like Virginia Tech might well get college recruiters' attention even though the calls have slowed down recently. An outstanding senior season would garner some more major college scholarship offers. Vandyke is ready for that.
"If I have a good year, maybe some more calls will come through," he said. "Miami was on the verge (of offering a scholarship). Michigan State showed up here. Connecticut was on the verge. Northwestern was. I talked to Michigan too. There were a lot of schools that were on the verge."
Despite discussing the possibilities, Vandyke maintains he's bound for Blacksburg.
The stability that Hokies coach Frank Beamer offers is hard to pass up. So what if the 24-year Virginia Tech coach decides to retire? Vandyke isn't worried about that.
"I see him coaching for another 10 years. I really do," Vandyke said. "I don't think he's going to leave until he gets his national championship. And that's going to be soon."
Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for over a decade. Email him at email@example.com.