Son of a Preacher Man
by Neal Williams
TSL Extra, Issue #2

Earlier this month, Lee Suggs traveled to Richmond to receive The Dudley Award at a banquet at The Downtown Club.

The Dudley Award is named in honor of a Virginia Cavalier, "Bullet" Bill Dudley. It is symbolic of the player of the year in Virginia and is voted on by 15 newspaper, television and radio reporters around the state. Each school can only nominate one player. Suggs was Virginia Tech's choice and was the unanimous choice of the voting panel.

Receiving the award meant posing for a lot of pictures, shaking a whole bunch of hands and - finally - speaking to a crowd of several hundred people after dinner was served.

Pictures? Fine. Handshakes? Fine.

Speaking to a big group? That's a whole 'nuther thing right there for Suggs, a quiet man who considers "Hello" a long conversation.

But to the surprise of no one who knows him, Suggs got the job done.

Looking resplendent in a gray pinstripe suit, Suggs made his way to the podium and spoke a few well-chosen words. He thanked his parents, he thanked his teammates, he thanked his coaches, he thanked God and he thanked The Downtown Club. Then he took his trophy and went back to his table.

Suggs' speaking style is like his running style. There's nothing fancy, he just gets the job done.

"Lee's not a showy-type person at all," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "But he sure can put on a show."

The Dudley Award was just one of the rewards Suggs got for his amazing sophomore season. He was the Big East Conference's tri-offensive player of the year. (Tri? He shared the award with Pittsburgh's Antonio Bryant and Miami's Santana Moss.) He was a third-team Associated Press All-America honoree. He was the Roanoke Times' state offensive player of the year.

And it was an amazing year.


  • Suggs rushed for 1,207 yards on 222 carries - it's the best season yardage-wise for a back in Frank Beamer's 14 years in charge.
  • Suggs scored 28 touchdowns in 11 games, doubling the previous Tech best for touchdowns in a season. Doubling it. His 15.27 points per game led the nation.
  • He rushed for at least 100 yards six times to tie a school record.
  • He set a Big East record for touchdowns in a game with five against Central Florida. He added four more the following week against Virginia to give him nine in the final two games of the season.

But there's one stat than stands tall above all the others. Suggs didn't lose a fumble all season. Not one. Playing a position where big, strong, fast guys plow into him regularly, carrying the ball 222 times, he dropped it only twice, and both of those were recovered by the Hokies. It's like a quarterback never throwing an interception. It's like a pitcher never allowing a home run.

It's one of the many reasons Tech running backs coach Billy Hite loves Suggs so much. "The last thing I say to them at every meeting is protect the football," Hite said. "Ninety-five percent of the time, when there is a fumble it is a mental mistake. Occasionally you are going to get the hell knocked out of you where you will fumble the ball. Usually, it is a problem with the way you're carrying it. And Lee almost never put it on the ground."

His other numbers are impressive, too.

Twenty-eight touchdowns? While it is well short of Barry Sanders' national record of 39 in 1988, it is still an eye-popping number. Is it just because Tech gave him the ball when it got close? Or it is the other way around - because he was so good, Tech gave him the ball whenever it got close. For the regular season, Tech scored a touchdown 75 percent of the time it got inside the opponents' 20-yard line. The average in the National Football League through 12 weeks was 59 percent.

Think about all the times you've watched a team get a first-and-goal and struggle to score. The bumbling Redskins had six cracks from inside the three in a recent game and settled for a field goal.

Not the Hokies. They get down there, and they're in the end zone. That's Suggs.

"He has an amazing nose for the end zone," Tech quarterback Dave Meyer said.

Suggs' yardage total is also impressive, considering it came on just those 222 carries. That's about 20 a game. Given his 5.4 per-carry average, Suggs might have been over 1,500 yards with another 10 carries a game. But there's a flip side to that as well. He might not have been able to maintain his average or been such a force near the goal line. He might have worn down.

Hite will never give too many carries to one back. He learned his lesson, he said, 20 years ago with Cyrus Lawrence.

"If you let a guy carry it too many times, something's bound to happen and it is usually bad," Hite said.

Suggs has always had big numbers. He rushed for 5,056 yards and scored 50 touchdowns during his career at Roanoke's William Fleming High. But he didn't do much as a redshirt freshman at Tech and the magnitude of his sophomore season was something of a surprise.

Suggs, like all good running backs, first credits his offensive line for his successful season. His role, he said, was maturing as a back to the point where he could pick up and follow his blocks. Added strength also helped. A well-chiseled 207-pounder, the 6-foot Suggs said he really felt the benefits of his offseason strength work. He has lifted weights in the past, but this year, he reached a level where it made a significant difference.

Getting that much out of Suggs about himself takes some work. He can be in a room and no one will know. He got his quiet nature and work ethic from his parents, Lee Sr. and Juanita Suggs.

"I'd like to think my wife and myself had an influence in the final product that Lee is now," Suggs Sr. said. "We try to take everything in stride. We're appreciative of all the accolades but I don't think you'll ever find us patting ourselves on the back or drawing attention to ourselves."

The elder Suggs stays pretty busy, though he does find time to see Lee Jr. play and will be on hand for the Gator Bowl.

By day, he works for the Virginia Employment Commission in Roanoke. He's also the pastor at Schaefer Memorial Baptist Church in Christiansburg. That's two full-time jobs.

"That's my situation and we make the best of it," Suggs Sr. said. "I don't complain. I just try to do it to the best of my ability."

Which is the way his son goes about his business of carrying himself and carrying the football. Hite said the image of Suggs as a quality young man is not a mirage.

"He's wonderful. Terrific family background, very unselfish," Hite said. "With all the success he's had, he makes sure to pass along the praise to everyone who is responsible.

"You hate the old cliche, but it is true. If you had a daughter, Lee's the type you'd like to see come through the front door."


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