Former Virginia Tech running backs coach Billy Hite sounded like a proud father during Tuesday’s practice, gushing over the breakthrough performance redshirt junior Tony Gregory enjoyed against Bowling Green last weekend.
Hite had seen firsthand the sort of obstacles Gregory had to overcome as he waited his turn behind future NFL running backs Ryan Williams, Darren Evans and David Wilson over the years.
“Every time it’d look like he’d be coming on, he’d have another injury,” Hite said. “I couldn’t be happier for anyone.”
Those words sound prophetic now. According to Coach Frank Beamer’s official Web site, Gregory won’t travel with the team to FedEx Field for Saturday’s game against Cincinnati. Gregory, who rushed for a career-high 68 yards last weekend, was limited in practice this week because of soreness in his left knee.
In fact, Gregory was in the midst of returning to form after the third ACL surgery of his career. The Virginia Beach native tore his right one while playing at First Colonial High and has seen his past two seasons at Virginia Tech end prematurely because of ACL tears to his left knee.
Last year, his most recent ACL injury occurred when the Hokies beat Virginia in the regular season finale. But Gregory managed to play in the ACC championship game and complete Sugar Bowl practices before his knee buckled during a kick return against Michigan. He was forced to watch the second half of the bowl game from the sideline.
Before stepping onto the field every practice these days, Gregory goes down on one knee to pray for his own health and that of his teammates.
“I try not to think about it. It’s just something that has happened and I try to do as much as I can to prevent it,” Gregory said about his knee injuries earlier this week. “Football is the love of my life. I’ve been playing it since I was six. I love the work. I love being out there.”
Running backs coach Shane Beamer said on Tuesday that Gregory was in a blue (limited contact) jersey as a precaution because of his heavy workload against Bowling Green and the rainy conditions that afternoon. He joked that the weather must be “affecting those bones.”
Though Beamer said redshirt freshman Michael Holmes would once again start against Cincinnati, he expected Gregory to see plenty of action. The Hokies have begun using Gregory and freshman J.C. Coleman whenever they go with a two running back formation.
More importantly, Gregory was the only member of Virginia Tech’s running back committee with any college carries before this season. Beamer said the plan was to lean on him in the fourth quarter of the Pittsburgh loss two weeks ago, but he didn’t see many touches because the Hokies were forced to throw so much playing from behind.
Gregory carried the ball 11 times and also had two catches for 20 yards in 27 plays last Saturday.
“He’s got a burst. He’s got some juice to him and he’s experienced,” Beamer said. “J.C. was in high school a year ago at this time. Michael Holmes was on the scout team a year ago at this time. Martin Scales was playing fullback a year ago at this time. Tony’s the guy that’s been playing tailback . . . and it shows. He’s got a confidence back there and when the ball is in his hands, he’s gonna play fast.”
Note: Beamer’s official Web site did say left guard David Wang (ankle) will travel with the team. His official status for the Cincinnati game won’t be known until Virginia Tech releases its injury report later this evening.