Brian McPherson: True Hokie
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #17

He committed to Tech at a football camp last July, far away from press conferences and television lights and early February hoopla. He was only offered one other scholarship. He played for a mediocre football team that would have been a bad football team, really bad, were it not for him. He easily qualified academically. He stuck to his commitment, he didn't visit other schools, and he didn't decommit.

It was for these reasons and more that Amherst running back Brian McPherson, who will play defensive back at Virginia Tech, is nearly a forgotten recruit. While Hokie fans spent October through February obsessing over heavyweight recruits like Ahmad Brooks, Justin London, Mike Imoh, Jonathan Lewis, and Marcus Vick, McPherson had already made up his mind, and he never wavered.

McPherson stands 6-0, weighs 180 pounds, and runs a 4.5 forty, almost the exact same physical credentials possessed by former Hokie cornerback great Ike Charlton coming out of high school. And like Charlton, the Virginia Tech coaches feel that McPherson's future is at cornerback, where he has the physical tools and footwork to go a long way.

In a year in which the state of Virginia was well-stocked with high school talent, McPherson was rated the #23 prospect in the state by Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times and was not as highly recruited as many of the national names ranked ahead of him in-state. But he got the attention of Virginia Tech coaches at their football camp last July, when McPherson visited the camp, worked out for one day, and was offered a scholarship by the Hokies.

McPherson was noticed by former Hokie defensive back Torrian Gray, who was coaching at Maine last year but was in town to help Frank Beamer out with his football camp. "I got there a little bit late," McPherson recalls of July 17, 2001, the day he went to Tech's camp, "so I was working with his group. He had kind of the younger kids, not the top-notch players. So I worked with him for a while, and we took a break, and then when he came back, he had me work out for (VT defensive backs) Coach (Lorenzo) Ward in the big group with the better players."

Ward and VT Coach Frank Beamer liked what they saw. Boom, done. Scholarship offer extended, scholarship offer accepted, just like that.

"When we put Brian through our defensive back drills, he was simply outstanding," Ward told BeamerBall.com. "His footwork is what sets him apart. He has good size, so he can be physical. But what makes good corners is the ability to swivel those hips and change direction without giving up ground to the receiver."

Amherst High Coach Mickey Crouch thinks that McPherson's ability extends beyond his footwork and smooth hips. "You don't have to see him but one time run and jump, and you know he's an athlete," Crouch says. "As far as athletic ability, he's second to nobody that we've had through the years. His athletic ability is unbelievable."

Once the scholarship offer was extended, McPherson didn't think about it very long. "Tech is my style. Tech is ruthless, with great defense, and I like that. It fits with my attitude well. I love the coaches and the campus, and it's where I want to be."

He's the latest in a long line of Amherst players to sign with Tech in the last five years: David Pugh (1997), Camm Jackson (1997), Tim Sandidge (2001), and now McPherson (2002) have all come from Crouch's program to play for the Hokies.

Says Coach Crouch, who has coached in the state of Virginia for 31 years but is now retiring, "I've been friends with Frank and Rickey Bustle for forever, as long as Beamer's been there. We sort of struck up a friendship, and Rickey was a personal friend of mine. He would come by the house, and we'd have a beer or two and chat.

"The thing about Tech is, those coaches are sincere, and they do care about the kids. They're not just a piece of meat, like a lot of schools. I love all the kids that I've coached, and I don't want them to go somewhere where they're going to be shoved on the back burner and forgotten, and Tech doesn't do that. I'm personal friends with Frank and Rickey, but the rest of the coaches up there, they're great, too. They've really got an outstanding coaching staff, and they've done a great job with the kids that we've sent up there."

A Virginia Tech Guy

The Hokies got in on McPherson early, uncovering a hidden gem, but there is a long time between the hot days of mid-July and the frigid days of early February, when recruits sign their names to their letters of intent. In other words, a lot of time for other schools to try to mine the diamond in the rough once the Hokies had uncovered him.

But McPherson would have none of that, and only a couple of programs continued to try to contact him. WVU was the most persistent. "UVa called me after I committed to Tech, but I wasn't here. I don't know if they were going to offer me, or what. West Virginia did offer me, though. They kept pursuing me, but finally, I told them, no, Tech is where I want to go. They kept saying, we've got this camp you can go to, come visit our campus, and all that stuff, but I just told them no."

Virginia had been recruiting McPherson early, but they never offered him a scholarship and cooled once he committed to Tech. After his junior year, and before he committed at Tech's camp, the Cavaliers recruited him. "At first, UVa was contacting me," McPherson says, "and they really wanted me. There was a lot of interest." McPherson went with the Amherst team to Virginia's camp last summer, "But they didn't offer me."

Then McPherson shows how much of a Hokie he is. "They (the UVa coaches) seemed kind of weird to me. I really didn't like them that much. They seemed kind of arrogant. We're this, and we're that, and all this, and all that. I really didn't like that. I didn't like UVa that much, I didn't like the campus, and when I came to Tech, I just liked the coaches. I fit well with the coaches. I just liked Tech a lot more than I liked UVa."

And with McPherson, his affection for Tech and dislike of UVa go farther back than just last summer. "Growing up, I definitely liked Tech. I really didn't like UVa that much. Whenever UVa and Tech played, I was always pulling for Tech."

Carrying the Team

McPherson started for three years in high school, playing strictly as a cornerback his sophomore season. Then Crouch moved him to offense to take advantage of his ability.

"We moved him into the offensive backfield as a junior," Crouch says. "We were having trouble moving the ball, because we didn't have a very good offensive line, so we threw the ball to him, too. Even though he was a running back, I nominated him for all-district as a receiver, and he was voted first-team all-district as a receiver."

Amherst went 4-6 that year. Running behind a young offensive line, McPherson ran for nearly 800 yards and caught 17 passes for 435 yards.

His senior year, Crouch played McPherson almost exclusively as a running back. "He rushed for over 1300 yards (1,360) in ten games. He saw very little time as a defensive back, because if we had lost him we probably wouldn't have won a game. I had to do it."

Amherst went 5-5 in McPherson's senior year. "If we didn't have him in the backfield," Crouch insists, "I'm telling you, we wouldn't have won a football game. And every game we lost was by just a few points. We lost five games by an average of five points."

The one game that really stands out to Crouch is McPherson's 17-carry, 243-yard, 3-TD effort against William Fleming in the 2001 season opener. McPherson scored on runs of 9, 55, and 45 yards and set up another TD with a 70-yarder.

"He broke three long runs," Crouch remembers, "and all three times, it looked like he was going to be tackled in the backfield. We beat them 26-17. He just took it on himself to do it. That was as good a performance as I've seen from a running back since I've been here.

"I told our coaches that, you know, they recruited him as a cornerback, and although he's not the caliber of running back they have up there (at Tech), I think he's one of the best running backs I've ever coached. This year, people hit him in the backfield a lot of the times, and he still got big gains and long touchdown runs. He broke a lot of tackles. He's so strong and so fast that he can put a shoulder into you and go, or he can run around you. He's got a little stop move. He can be running full speed, stop on a dead stop, and cut back and change direction. Sort of like Barry Sanders."

Trying to Beat Big Brother

When asked what has motivated him in his life to succeed, McPherson says, "I've had a pretty normal life, but I have an older brother, so I'm always trying to do better than he has done. Like in football, I try to be better than my brother, I try to lift more than him, that kind of stuff."

He's talking about his older brother Kerry, a 1998 graduate of Amherst High who signed to play football with Hampton University out of high school. Kerry only lasted two years at Hampton and is back home now. "He didn't get along with the coach, and didn't like it there," says Brian. "It was just a bad situation for him."

Crouch remembers Kerry McPherson well. "His brother was probably the best hitter we ever had. His hitting was unbelievable. He never tackled anybody, he just hit them. I think we counted four or five kids he knocked out his senior year, knocked them unconscious. One game he knocked himself out. You'd have to see his brother play. He was vicious, I mean he was just a tough individual.

"Brian doesn't have that toughness, but I told him, 'You can be better than your brother.' I don't think he really thought he could be, until his junior year. I think to some degree, he was looking to live up to what his brother accomplished. I think he was trying to go his brother one better, and I think he did."

Looking Down the Road to Blacksburg

Of his ambitions at Tech, Brian says, "I'm going to try to graduate off the field, and on the field, I'm going to give it everything I've got and see what happens. I was going to go to college regardless (McPherson has a 3.2 GPA and scored 22 on the ACT), but I really wanted to play football in college."

Given that McPherson hasn't played much cornerback since he was a sophomore, Crouch thinks he's a sure-fire redshirt candidate. McPherson hesitates when asked if he agrees. "I'm not sure. I'm really not sure. I'm just going to see what it looks like when I get there, and weigh my options."

Crouch says, "I think they (Tech) man up a lot on the corners, and he's going to have to get his mind straight as far as turning and running with the guy, instead of looking upfield. We work on it and work on it, but we moved him to the other side of the ball (offense), so he's going to have to get back in his (defensive) rhythm.

"Our weight facility is the worst facility in the nation," Crouch laughs. "We've got a little ole hole in the wall back here that we use. We don't use a thing but free weights, no machines. I got a whole lot of our workouts from (VT Strength and Conditioning) Coach (Mike) Gentry, and Coach Williams over at Liberty. They're two of the best strength coaches in the nation.

"Our weight program has been great for us. We've never played a team that's stronger than us. Bigger maybe, but not stronger. McPherson's a strong kid. He benches about 350."

McPherson didn't really hit the weights until he was a senior, and he knows he's in for a shock when he arrives at Tech. "The weight room is not a problem for me. I kind of like lifting weights. I talked to Timmy (Sandidge), and he told me I better be working. Before he went up there, he really wasn't doing much, and he told me he about died when he got there. He told me, whatever you do, lift weights and get ready."

If he could change one thing about his high school career, he says, "I would have lifted more before my senior year. Before that, I really didn't lift much. I would have lifted harder than I did, so I would be in better shape than I am now. But I'm doing okay. Before my senior year, I just didn't feel like it. Right before my senior year, I had a weightlifting class, and I got into it. And I don't want to be thinking what if, so I wanted to go ahead and lift and see what I could do."

Crouch adds, "It's just like I told Pugh, and Sandidge, and all that bunch, what I'm doing is a piece of cake compared to what you're going to have to do for Gentry. We don't lift but twice a week, because we're such a rural community. We lift and run on Mondays and Wednesdays, and it's a pretty tough three hours. What we do, I don't think you could do it three times a week."

McPherson, who describes himself as "kind of a quiet guy" (Crouch calls him a "jokester") who likes to read and play video games, knows one thing: he's looking forward to playing in an expanded Lane Stadium, in front of the Hokie faithful. He came to every home Virginia Tech football game last year, and of course, the one game that resonates in his memory is the Miami game.

"It was one of the most exciting games I've ever seen in my life," he says. "I was just sitting there witnessing. It was amazing. It was crazy. When they blocked that punt, everybody went wild."

He tries to imagine the South end zone filled in, and 64,000 Hokie fans cheering him on, and he can't quite get a grip on it, but he knows that he can't wait. "I'm just really looking forward to it. I can't even explain how it's going to be. I'm really looking forward to it."

Sounds like a true Hokie.

 

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