At this point, even before redshirt freshman Michael Holmes has taken a snap in an actual college football game, running backs coach Shane Beamer already knows his newest protege is nothing like some of the recent tailbacks to succeed at Virginia Tech.
Unlike David Wilson, last year’s ACC player of the year, Holmes does not perform flips during practice or drive a flashy car around campus. He doesn’t have a wide array of piercings like Ryan Williams or the natural charisma Darren Evans projected.
That, though, is just fine with Beamer and it’s a big reason why Holmes will likely be the starting tailback when Virginia Tech opens the regular season against Georgia Tech in less than three weeks.
“With David, you never knew what you were gonna get from one day to the next, whether it be in the meeting room or the practice field,” Beamer said. “I like that about Michael. He’s steady. He’s consistent.”
Though Holmes has yet to prove himself against another team, these days his ascension to the top spot on the running back depth chart is discussed in a much different manner than when the Hokies entered spring practice without a clear cut favorite to win the job. Coach Frank Beamer has said numerous times in recent weeks he feels the same sort of confidence concerning Holmes now as he did about quarterback Logan Thomas a year ago.
But you won’t hear much gloating from Holmes, whose soft-spoken personality and limited acclaim is in stark contrast to some of his predecessors. Though he rushed for more than 5,500 combined yards as a junior and senior at Harrisonburg High, Holmes was just a three-star recruit with scholarship offers from Virginia Tech, Virginia and James Madison.
“I’ve learned to finish blocks, work as hard as I can, break tackles and just work to the best of my ability,” said Holmes when asked about his rise through the program.
It’s this workmanlike approach that has him in position to be the next in a long line of dynamic Virginia Tech tailbacks.
“I just think he does a lot of things really well,” Shane Beamer said. “Pass protection, he’s really good at it. Running the ball between the tackles, he’s really good at it. Catching the football, he’s really good at it. And to me, there’s a lot of things he’s got to improve on, but you don’t see many glaring weaknesses.
“Whereas with some of these other guys, you like them a little more in pass protection. Or maybe mentally they’re a little bit behind the other guys as far as what to do. Michael, from a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint, is a little bit ahead of those guys.”
That’s not to say Virginia Tech plans on exclusively using Holmes this year. In fact, Beamer hasn’t ruled out any of his tailback options yet, including converted fullback Martin Scales and veteran Tony Gregory. Scales, who Beamer describes as “that bigger, bruiser back that we don’t have,” is currently No. 2 on the depth chart.
But true freshman J.C. Coleman is more relevant than ever after arriving at training camp 16 pounds heavier than when he enrolled in school early for spring practice. Beamer felt Coleman, who is only 5 feet 7, needed the extra weight for pass protection and running between the tackles at the college level. Coleman and/or classmate Chris Mangus could become integral parts of the Hokies’ passing game, because both possess the speed and quickness that can cause havoc in the open field.
“My first go-around, I’d probably eat about two or three plates, and then I’d go back for seconds and thirds,” said Coleman, who now weighs 192 pounds. “At first when I got around 185 and ran around, I was feeling it a little bit, but … I got used to carrying it around.”
The wild card in the mix is freshman Trey Edmunds, who many within the program already predict will be the team’s next star.
Edmunds gained more than 2,500 yards for Danville High last year, but he admitted to being a little too fast for his own good early in camp. Beamer would like him to be more patient hitting the hole, but the future appears bright for the son of former NFL tight end Ferrell Edmunds.
“He’s raw right now, but you can see the size and you can see the speed,” Beamer said.