Virginia Tech’s spring practice begins Wednesday, and the start of a new season brings about new challenges to overcome. Last year attention focused on quarterback Logan Thomas, but this time around the Hokies have holes to fill all over the field. Here’s another story as part of our series trying to answer the various questions that face Virginia Tech this spring.
Question No. 2: Who will replace David Wilson, the J.C. Coleman edition
Whenever offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring thinks about true freshman running back J.C. Coleman, the first thought that pops into his mind is often what Coleman gave up to be a part of Virginia Tech’s spring practice this year.
“He should be in government class at Oscar Smith High School, getting ready for the senior prom,” Stinespring said this week. “Instead of the prom, he’s gonna be at our spring game. There’s a little bit of a difference.”
But Coleman has proven early on in his tenure with the Hokies that he came here with a mission. He graduated a semester early from high school so he could enroll at Virginia Tech this semester and get a jump-start on the battle to replace last year’s starting running back, David Wilson.
Running backs coach Shane Beamer has been taken aback at times with how often Coleman stops by his office to pick up video in order to learn the nuances of the Hokies’ running game. Coleman has also thrived in Virginia Tech’s 6 a.m. conditioning workouts the past two weeks.
“I knew he was quick, but I probably didn’t realize just how quick he was,” Beamer said of his initial impressions. “Granted we’re out there running around on turf without pads on, but he’s got really, really quick feet and he’s not a guy who’s afraid to get in there and take charge. Those morning workouts are a big deal and it’s not easy for a new guy. J.C. jumped right in and he looked like he’s been there forever the way he’s blended in and not afraid to get in there and kind of lead the way.”
The biggest challenge facing Coleman – and it’s one he has dealt with his entire career – is his size. The Chesapeake, Va., native is just 5 feet 7 and 170 pounds, and though he was considered the No. 3 all-purpose back in the country by Rivals.com and racked up nearly 1,500 rushing yards as a senior despite missing three games, he still must prove that his small stature won’t be a liability at the college level.
To that end, Beamer said strength coach Mike Gentry has already been impressed with how prepared Coleman was physically when he came to Virginia Tech. So far, it seems, he has been a workout warrior, and it’s this dedication that has the Hokies excited for what could be when he takes the field in pads this spring.
“There are some negatives about being that small, but there are some positives as well,” Beamer said. “He’s a guy that plays with great leverage. He’s got a strong lower body. He can get in there and overcome a lot of his weaknesses just with toughness and strength and great vision and things like that. We don’t put a whole lot of stock in how big or tall they are. Now granted we don’t want a whole roster full of 5-7 running backs, but there’s a place for them and J.C. certainly has shown that he is a productive guy [in high school].”
Coleman’s main competition in the spring will come from redshirt freshman Michael Holmes, but a bevy of talented recruits — Drew Harris, Chris Mangus and Trey Edmunds – will also arrive in the fall. In addition, the team has moved fullback Martin Scales to running back this spring, and veteran Tony Gregory will be back in the summer after recovering from offseason knee surgery.
Both Beamer and Stinespring said this week that the decision on a starting tailback — or whether the team will go with a by-committee approach — likely won’t occur until fall training camp in August, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for Coleman to gain when spring practice begins next week.
“I think they can certainly kind of set themselves above the other guys,” Beamer said of Coleman and Holmes. “I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s tough for a guy to come in here and in three weeks, learn pass protection, learn pass route, all that stuff. Now don’t get me wrong, we’re gonna have to have some running backs that come in and play right away that are true freshmen that aren’t here right now, but I think J.C. and Michael can certainly establish themselves coming out of the spring that they’re two guys — they may not be the starters — but they’re certainly going to be in this running back rotation and they can certainly do that.
“And at the same time we’ll tell them at the end of spring practice: Look this is where you are right now, but this competition is carrying over into August and you’ve got to work your butt off over the summer as well because we’ve got guys coming for your job that are in high school right now also.”