Running back J.C. Coleman was so amped up for the first day of Virginia Tech’s spring practice he had to take a nap in the middle of the day just so the hours would go by faster. And when he finally did get on the field, position coach Shane Beamer welcomed him to big-time college football with a new drill in which he used a pole with a boxing glove attached to try and jar the ball loose.
The running backs were the story on Day One of spring practice, which was cut short because of lightning Wednesday evening. Whether it was Beamer debuting his ball-security device – an idea he borrowed from Texas after visiting with Longhorns coaches during the offseason – or the fact that redshirt freshman Michael Holmes took the first carry of the year because he’s the longest-tenured tailback on the roster, the competition to replace David Wilson was the center of attention.
Both Coleman and Holmes faced reporters for the first time, and each made their case as for why they belong in the starting backfield next fall.
Coleman, who is just 5 feet 7 and creates an interesting visage standing next to 6-6 Logan Thomas in the huddle, said he had paid close attention to the running back depth chart upon committing to the Hokies during last year’s spring game and figured he would get a chance to compete for playing time right away.
“The main thing I probably need to show to them is pass protection,” Coleman said. “That’s the main thing. If I can pass protect, I can do anything. I can run the ball, I can catch the ball. They already know I can do everything else, but pass protection, if I can do that … I’ll wow them and they’ll have to put me out there.”
Coleman enrolled early at Virginia Tech after several of his former teammates at Oscar Smith High did it successfully, and mentioned Wednesday that he’ll be skipping his senior prom because it happens to be the same day as the Hokies’ spring game this year.
He also made sure to emphasize his small stature – Coleman is listed at just 176 pounds -- won’t be a big issue.
“Going against guys that are much bigger than you in high school, it’s gonna be something to adjust to. But everything else – pass routes, running the ball – all that stuff comes natural to me,” Coleman said. “There are short backs out there that do it all the time. There are short backs out there that succeed at the NFL level. So to say that just because I’m short I can’t succeed or I can’t do a certain thing, I don’t listen to that at all.”
Holmes had been waiting for this moment since arriving at Virginia Tech last summer, and even Coleman conceded that at this point Holmes is atop the running back depth chart. The 208-pound redshirt freshman said a year on the scout team was good for his development and he feels stronger physically and mentally as a result.
“It’s a good experience getting the flow of the game and the practices and how the plays go by and that’s helping me,” Holmes said. “It’s kind of tough, but it’s kind of a plus, too and you just want to get better. There’s good backs here and you’ve got to work hard to get where they’re at.”
When asked if he wanted to be the featured back this year, Holmes said he “did that in high school. I can do whatever they want me to do.” He seemed to make a good impression on his teammates on the first day, with Thomas comparing him to former running back Ryan Williams after one practice.
As for who will win this competition, that remains to be seen. Coleman described Holmes as his best friend on the team so far, and both seem to realize that they will each be able to complement one another depending on who wins the job.
But on Wednesday, Beamer wasn’t making any actual decisions based on a practice that involved shorts and no pads.
“I thought they were very natural, like they’d been there before,” Beamer said. “I know it’s not too big for J.C. Coleman. For a Day One, fresh out of high school and he still should be in high school, he looked like he had been for awhile. Mike had a lot of retention going back to what we did last year as an offense and I thought they both looked confident.
“We want to be able to come out of the spring being able to say we can count on these two guys. They’re gonna be in the rotation, and then if one of these incoming freshmen are a part of it, that’s an added bonus.”