A Momentary Lapse in Judgment
by Neal Williams
TSL Extra, Issue #10

The big day is almost here. Virginia Techís 2001 football season kicks off Sept. 1. Connecticut, a future full-time football member of The Big East Conference, comes to Lane Stadium and the house will be packed full of Hokies fans eager to see how their favorite team looks as it goes for its ninth straight bowl bid.

Derrius Monroe may be in a Tech uniform. He may not. He may play. He may not.

If not, heís liable not to be missed anyway. The Hokies are rich with talented young defensive ends.

Monroe? The former or current Hokie (depending on how things shake out in the days leading up to the opener) has learned many lessons in the past two years. Among them is this: When your little corner of the universe comes to a screeching halt, the rest of it proceeds without you.

"Itís a shame, because no matter what happens heís paid a big price," said one source inside the Virginia Tech athletic department. "I think heís a good kid. He was never in trouble before. He hasnít been in trouble since. But he made a very big mistake."

The Monroe saga is pretty well known among Hokie faithful. Hereís a brief recap:

Not long after Techís appearance in the 2000 Sugar Bowl, Monroe was arrested for selling cocaine to an undercover policeman. Under the policy outlined in the schoolís Comprehensive Action Plan, that meant an automatic suspension, since it was a felony charge.

The caseís ultimate disposition was this: Monroe pled guilty to a lesser charge (though still a felony). Under the sentence handed down, he received probation and community service along with a bonus: If he took care of the community service (word is he is almost done with it, having just a week or so to go) and stayed out of trouble, his record would be cleared.

In other words, heíd get a clean slate.

With that, Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver allowed Monroe to return to practice and continue to have his progress monitored by the athletic department. He was never activated during the 2000 regular season. This seemed to fly in the face of the CAP, since pleading guilty to a felony meant dismissal. Weaverís reasoning was that Monroe would have no record (eventually), therefore the CAP was not violated.

During all that, nothing was ever said about the 2001 season.

Monroe entered Tech in the fall of 1997 as a partial qualifier, meaning he lost a year of eligibility. Under new NCAA rules, athletes can now get that year back if they graduate in four years. Monroe had until the end of summer session 2001 to do so.

At "press" time, it was uncertain whether Monroe had passed the classes he needed to pass to graduate. Several sources said he had. No one in the football program is talking about Monroe. He didnít take part in spring drills, heís not listed in the media guide, heís not on the depth chart.

But, sources said, heíll likely be added to the roster, if he has indeed graduated.

"I think theyíre looking at it as trying to do something to help a kid who has worked pretty hard since his trouble. It would be a positive thing for the kid," a source said.

Monroe has been unavailable. He didnít respond to emails. His listed phone number in the Blacksburg directory has been disconnected, and there is no new listing in Blacksburg or surrounding areas under his name. The phone number listed for Monroe on the Virginia Tech web site at his home in Tallahassee, Fla., is no longer in service.

One day, perhaps, heíll just join the Hokies for practice as if nothing ever happened.

"And I think his teammates will welcome him back with open arms," a source said.

Or perhaps he wonít see the field again at Tech. Either way, the whole situation leaves many questions:

1.) Is Monroe paying for sins of others?

The CAP was put in place in 1997, a positive reaction to a disturbing series of incidents involving Tech players. Tech players were showing up way too often on police blotters. Since then, incidents have been very few.

What Monroe did deserved punishment. No one questions that. But is a total banishment too severe? If Tech hadnít had problems earlier, would Monroe already be playing again?

The issue has divided Tech fans Ė check the TechSideline.com message board any time the topic of Derrius Monroe comes up Ė and Tech officials. Some want the door shut in his face, no questions asked. Others want to let him back. Coaches, too, are said to be divided on whether Monroe deserves another chance on the team.

2.) What purpose would it serve to have him back now anyway?

If he returned in 2001, Monroe would only have one season left, and Tech doesnít have a senior in its two-deep rotation at defensive end. Nathaniel Adibi, Cols Colas, Jim Davis and Lamar Cobb have solidified themselves at the position. Where would Monroe fit in? As of August 16th, he hadnít practiced at all, with the opener just fifteen days away. So the chance of him being ready for the first couple of games is remote.

"There might be some things he could to do help, some things he could show the young guys," one source said.

Said Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, "We have a good chemistry, we have a good group. We would not allow him to be disruptive. I know this: If he does come back, he can help this team in some capacity. I would hope for him that it does work out."

3.) Just how good could Monroe have been?

This is the question that causes the most pain. He apparently could have been very good.

He was a backup his first two years, one who performed fairly well and showed plenty of potential. One play that stands out occurred against Syracuse in 1999, when Monroe zoomed across the field from his defensive end position and tackled a running back 20 yards downfield.

Monroe is 6-4 and reportedly up to 270 pounds. He also is said to have covered 40 yards in less than 4.4 seconds in a timed session last winter. That, in a word, is spectacular.

Had he not lost so much time, he probably would have been a pro. "Heís that talented," Foster said. "But, from a football standpoint, he has missed a lot of time."

The situation troubles Foster, because heís among those who think Monroe is a good kid who made a whopper of a mistake. With so many kids in their program, coaches understand that they wonít reach all of them. It doesnít make it easier to take when one goes astray.

"It does bother you," Foster said. "We really emphasize with these guys that everything they do, theyíre going to be scrutinized. You talk to them about making the right decision. You feel like a parent when something like this comes up. Youíre disappointed. Itís frustrating because you feel like you didnít get through to this guy.

"There are some kids who are bad kids. Thatís not the case with this kid. Heís worked hard to graduate, to get that degree, to have that extra year. Heís lost a lot, too, including the trust factor among his peers and people like us."

Even if he never suits up at Tech, there may be some football in the future for Monroe. If he ran that fast at his size in February, heís obviously stayed in some kind of shape.

Monroe showed up on NFL draft lists last April. He didnít declare for the draft (and therefore forfeit his eligibility) -- he didnít have to, since his original class was eligible.

He had no takers.

Perhaps next season, someone will give him a look. It would help if he were able to play this season at Tech. Even without that, there may be a spot. Or not. Perhaps the football world has spun too far away from him. Perhaps NFL teams will shy away, given his previous trouble.

With the Monroe story, thereís only one definitive truth:

A momentary lapse in judgment is all it takes.

 

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