With Virginia Tech’s football season complete after Tuesday’s heartbreaking 23-20 overtime loss to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, many of the Hokies’ players scattered around the country, returning home because spring classes don’t begin in Blacksburg until Jan. 17.
Many of the team’s seniors began to focus on the next phase of their careers.
ACC player of the year David Wilson will announce Friday at 11 a.m. whether he will declare for the NFL draft.
Safety Eddie Whitley said in the Superdome locker room after the Sugar Bowl he planned to head out to California to train for the NFL scouting combine. Tight end Chris Drager will go back to his home town of Pittsburgh and do the same.
Right tackle Blake DeChristopher and wide receivers Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin have also said they plan to play professionally, but all seem to realize they must one again prove their worth at the next level despite strong college careers.
Boykin and Coale, the team’s record-setting receivers, hope to erase some misconceptions about their talents.
“I want to prove I’m not as slow as people think I am,” Boykin said recently. He set Virginia Tech’s single-season record for catches this year with 61. “I’m gonna prove so many people wrong when I run this [40-yard dash]. That’s what I’m gonna work on the most.”
Said Coale, who had eight catches for 117 yards in the Sugar Bowl and finished the year with 60 catches and a team-high 904 yards: “I’m not your 6-foot-4, 225-[pound] kind of receiver. I just play differently and I think there’s going to be a role for me somewhere. I just want to prove to at least one team that I can play. I’ve always been an under-the-radar guy and I’m fine with that. I prefer it that way. I prefer to just fly under the radar and get taken somewhere.”
The Hokies’ injury-battered defense will also get a chance to return to full strength during the offseason. Linebacker Bruce Taylor, the team’s leading tackler before suffering a season-ending foot injury against Boston College, was off crutches and wearing a walking boot down in New Orleans.
Taylor said he has already begun rehab work and expects to be ready for spring practice in April. Linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, who also suffered a season-ending foot injury in October, should be back as well. Defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins (torn ACL) will likely see limited work until next summer’s training camp.
Even without those three, defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s unit held Michigan to a season-low 188 yards. And with nine Sugar Bowl starters returning, next year’s defense is expected to be one of the best in recent memory.
The biggest holes Virginia Tech will have to fill are along the offensive line and, if Wilson declares for the NFL draft, at running back. The Hokies will lose four senior starters on the line, and the battle to fill those holes could stretch into August.
The contenders to join center Andrew Miller in the starting lineup heading into spring practice are left tackle Nick Becton, Georgia transfer Brent Benedict, utility lineman Michael Via, redshirt junior Vinston Painter and guard David Wang (Stone Bridge High), who missed most of this season with his own foot injury.
If Wilson forgoes his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft, the Hokies would have just one running back on the roster that registered a carry this season. That one — redshirt sophomore Tony Gregory — will undergo his second ACL surgery in as many years Thursday after tweaking the injury on his fumbled kickoff return in Tuesday’s loss. Freshman Michael Holmes took a redshirt this year.
Three running backs have given Virginia Tech oral commitments for this year’s recruiting class. J.C. Coleman of Virginia Beach and Philadelphia area prospect Drew Harris are both considered four-star prospects by the major recruiting services, although Harris will be recovering from knee surgery of his own this offseason.
With Boykin and Coale gone, juniors D.J. Coles (36 catches, 480 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Marcus Davis (30 catches, 510 yards, 5 touchdowns) should finally get an opportunity to become featured receivers. Coles will have “maintenance” surgery on his right PCL today after playing in the Sugar Bowl with a heavy knee brace.
The Hokies will also get senior Dyrell Roberts back after he was granted a medical redshirt when he suffered a broken forearm against Arkansas State in September. Roberts participated in the team’s bowl practices and was not wearing a cast.
Next year, though, the focus of Virginia Tech’s offense will be quarterback Logan Thomas. After setting records during his first year starting, and improving steadily as the season wore on, the redshirt sophomore was recently named by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. as one of the country’s top returning signal-callers along with Southern California’s Matt Barkley.
“I just kind of chuckled,” Thomas said when asked last week for his reaction to the praise. “I think I’m a long way off to where I need to be. I’ve got a lot of work to put in between now and, I guess, next year is what they’re projecting. I’m extremely excited about it, extremely blessed by it, but that means I got to work that much harder.”