Spring Football 2000 Preview, Part 1
by Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 4/3/00

It’s a time for sweatin’, a time for hittin’ (everybody but Michael Vick), and a time for the true studs to step forward and stake their claim on a starting spot. It’s time for Spring football.

The Tech athletic department is ready to rock, producing a nice 42-page Spring Football media guide (called a spring "prospectus" for some odd reason) that they have placed on the HokieSports.com web site. Just click the link, and 5.9 megabytes later (not for the faint of heart or slow of modem), you’ll have a nice guide to the spring football outlook … provided you have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer. Don't worry, it's free, and you can get it at www.adobe.com

As spring practice opened on Saturday, the media horde that followed the Hokies’ run to the Sugar Bowl last year sprang nicely into action. Here are links to a handful of articles on the opening of spring practice, and then we’ll get down to HokieCentral’s Offensive Players to Watch this spring:

Tech set for spring cleaning – The Roanoke Times
Suggs steps into lead role – The Roanoke Times
Question mark stirs Tech – The Richmond Times-Dispatch
Football 101: Hokies spring into action – The Richmond Times-Dispatch
Changes in store for the Hokies – The Daily Press

Randy, Jeff, and Dave all do a nice job recapping what players will be competing for the tons of open spots on defense and special teams, and what the coaches have to say, so I don’t want to tread over that same ground. But here’s a quick recap:

  • Veteran offensive line returns, including three experienced tight ends;
  • Lots of good receivers, some experienced (Davis, Johnson, Parham), some not;
  • Stith gone, Kendrick out but expected back for the fall, and Suggs, Burnell, and Ward getting playing time this spring in his absence;
  • Defensive line wide-open, gutted by graduation and Derrius Monroe’s suspension, anchored by Beasley and Pugh;
  • Sorensen to whip linebacker, Taylor moves from Whip to backer, Houseright is the front-runner at mike linebacker, but is currently slowed by a hamstring injury;
  • Whitaker and Austin at corner, Cory Bird at rover, and safety is wide open;
  • Special teams a huge question mark;
  • Some guy named Michael Vick returns at quarterback.

Every spring, Coach Frank Beamer likes to fret and worry about all the "question marks," but this year, his comments ring true – he’s got some whoppers. Last year, his team, always known for its defense and special teams – the "Beamer-Ball" marketing tag line is only one year old, after all – was returning deep, experienced squads in those two key elements of the game.

Just a few months later, my how things have changed. Now it’s the offense that will come back stacked to the nines, with the defense and special teams manned by just kids at many positions. Normally, Hokie fans would be worried, but they’re still hung over from a run at the national championship, and the bright light coming from Michael Vick is so blinding that no one can see anything else. And that’s okay, because football should be fun, not a source of worry.

Having said all that, it’s a pleasure to once again be talking football. In the HokieCentral office, we can tell that the Hokie football fans are starting to crawl back out of the woodwork, because traffic on the web site is picking up, and we’re starting to get those emails that say, "Hey, Will and James, I forgot my password for the message board … "

Funny how that info can slip your mind when you haven’t used it for three months. Now, let’s talk football. The remainder of this article will focus on a few players to watch this spring on offense, and future segments will cover the defense and some random thoughts for this spring.

Players to Watch on Offense

Lee Suggs: Suggs came out of high school with some impressive stats, rushing for almost 3,000 yards and scoring 30 touchdowns as a senior, leading his team to the state championship game. Suggs is a great kid from a great family, and at the time he signed with Tech, I viewed him not just as a good kid and an impressive football player, but an important public relations "get."

Say what? Well, let me explain. At the time, UVa seemed to have some sort of stranglehold on recruiting kids out of Roanoke, where Suggs is from. One thing about recruiting well in-state is that the local press covers the local kids, and the more of them you can land, the more press you’ll get … and the more players you’ll get .. and the more press you’ll get. It's a great circle, provided your team is the one getting the press and the players.

It was becoming embarrassing the way UVa was cleaning up in Roanoke and seemed to be the preferred school among the young athletes there: Curtis Staples and Tiki and Ronde Barber come quickly to mind, and I’m sure there’s a ton of other kids that I’m forgetting right now.

So if you’re a Hokie fan, you want Lee Suggs to do well, for many reasons, not the least of which is that a great Tech career from Suggs might finally stem the tide of Roanoke-area players heading northeast to Charlottesville.

Suggs got very little chance to show his stuff last year, gaining 136 yards on 44 carries for a 3.1 yard average. Hardly impressive numbers for a former SuperPrep and PrepStar All-America, and not really anything you can draw conclusions from, given that he was playing during scrub time.

And now, with Kendrick out for the semester for academic reasons and Stith gone for good, Suggs gets a chance to nail down at least the backup job, and maybe the starting job at tailback. He’s the frontrunner among the backs in camp this spring, whether you’re listening to "the buzz" or the coaches. Show us what you’ve got, Lee.

Ernest Wilford: Talk about "buzz." This kid has never stepped on a playing field for Tech but has generated the most talk we’ve heard since this time last year, when the coaching staff just smiled and laughed at the mention of Michael Vick’s name.

Those who follow Tech football closely aren’t talking about highly-touted redshirt freshman Andrae Harrison at the receiver spot. They’re talking about Wilford. At 6-4, 205, he’s everything: fast, smooth, sure-handed, and the next Herman Moore. I kid you not, that’s what they’re saying.

I say it’s time to take the wrapper off this kid and see if there’s any credence to the hype. Spring football is a hard place to get a read on these things, but we’ll know a lot more by the time May arrives.

Jake Grove: This 6-3, 277-pound redshirt freshman is expected to be the next great Tech center, in the mold of Billy Conaty and Jim Pyne. Whether he develops into that or not remains to be seen, and former walk-on Steve DeMasi, a senior, stands in the way of Grove getting the starting job handed to him this fall.

DeMasi is the only one of the pair with game experience, but Grove is the long-term solution at the position. Don’t be surprised if DeMasi starts in the early games next fall but gives way to Grove as the season wears on. Keep an eye on Grove this spring to see how well he develops and what the coaches are saying.

Jason Davis: when he committed to Tech last fall, Davis was quoted as saying, "I just told Coach Beamer and Coach Bustle. They were going crazy." It sounds like Tech really wanted Davis, who is a 6-2, 185-pound quarterback and by all accounts a great athlete.

Rivals.com reported that he set a record at Kentucky's summer camp for the long ball, throwing it 76 yards, and that he bench presses 370 pounds, which is more than former Virginia Tech QB Jim Druckenmiller, who was considered the strongest QB in the country with a 365 pound bench a few years back. Rivals.com also reported that Davis runs a 4.53 40.

Not one to shy away from competition, Davis graduated from high school early last December (he just turned 18 in February) and is already enrolled at Tech, despite the presence of Michael Vick and his incumbent backup, Dave Meyer.

Why is Davis one to watch? Well, okay, maybe I’m a year early on this one, but between Grant Noel and Davis, one of the two has to step up and stake the claim to the third-string quarterback spot. Whoever wins it may be pressed into service as the starter as early as the 2001 season, when Meyer is gone and Michael Vick may be gone early for the NFL (although HokieCentral.com thinks Vick will play at least two more years).

Although Meyer is a mortal lock for the backup QB spot, Noel struggled mightily in the JV games last year. The one JV game I saw, he was outplayed by Greg Shockley, who was a flanker, so Davis, if he comes in and does well, might be able to unseat Noel for the all-important third-string position.

Also, Davis will get a look at the punter spot, which is far from settled. Redshirt freshman Robert Peaslee current leads for punting duties, and the Hokies have recruited Vinnie Burns out of New Orleans, but Burns won’t be here this spring, and Davis will. It’s not out of the question that this great athlete, recruited as a QB, could be the starting punter next fall.

Coming next, in part 2 of HC's Spring Football preview: players to watch on defense.


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