Woodbridge High School offensive lineman Matt Lehr enrolled at Virginia Tech with what to him seemed like ambitious aspirations--to play a down or two every so often during his college career.
When Osbourn Park grad Jimmy Kibble, a kicker whose high school varsity teams never reached the playoffs, arrived in Blacksburg, what he most yearned for was the opportunity to play in a postseason game.
So it would be a great understatement to say that Lehr, a starting guard, and Kibble, a three-time all-Big East punter, are thrilled to be mainstays on the Virginia Tech team that on Tuesday will play Florida State in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. Both teams are 11-0.
"It's amazing the way things turned out," said Kibble, a senior who had not punted competitively until a high school all-star game that Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer happened to attend. "Everything's gone from good to better to great. Ending your senior year with the national championship at stake . . . you can't really explain it. I wish everybody could experience something like this."
"I knew Virginia Tech was coming up in the rankings and all that," said Lehr, a junior. "But I didn't think it would be this fast."
The Hokies, who posted the school's first 11-0 record in the 109-year history of the football program, are making their seventh consecutive bowl appearance, but none has carried the ramifications of this one, not even the 1995 Sugar Bowl win over Texas.
Lehr and Kibble have received so many pats on the back the past few weeks that the congratulations have been a contact sport in itself. Kibble was in Miami a couple of weeks ago and was surprised at the level of Hokies support there.
"I've started wondering what kind of following [the Seminoles] have because everybody I've bumped into is cheering for us," Kibble said. "You can't go anywhere without people saying, 'Hey, good luck' or 'Great year,' or people just wanting to talk to you."
Lehr, a second-team all-Big East selection, said the possibility of winning a national championship registered with him after Shayne Graham kicked a 44-yard field goal as time expired in a 22-20 win at West Virginia.
"It told me and everyone else on the the team that this is destiny," Lehr said.
Coming from a military family, Lehr never was quite sure of his destiny, or how long he was going to stay at any given destination. He estimates he moved a dozen times during his childhood, bouncing around California, Florida, South Carolina and Rhode Island, among other states, before settling in Woodbridge for all four years of high school.
"I've lived more places than I can remember," Lehr said.
Reticent about his skills, Lehr tried wrestling and eventually drifted into football and track. But his sagging confidence belied his promising ability. Vikings football coach Ron Davis recalls Lehr wanted to play on the junior varsity team as a sophomore instead of on the varsity, where Davis, who coached the offensive line, thought Lehr should play.
"He always had the size and the athleticism, he just didn't believe in himself," said Davis, a Virginia Tech defensive back from 1972 to '76. "I had the joy of coaching Matt for three years and watching him develop."
But when Lehr, an All-Met as a senior, went to Tech, he felt much like he had early in his high school career--glad to be part of the team but not sure if he belonged.
"I was just hoping to be on the field a couple times," said Lehr, a finance major. "I was hoping to play a down every now and then. A lot of people thought I wouldn't be big enough, fast enough or smart enough to play at a school of that caliber. The coaches had confidence in me. I was the one with the lack of confidence. I've surpassed my expectations."
The 6-foot-2, 275-pound Lehr starts on the nation's highest-scoring offense (41.4 points per game) that features the top-rated quarterback, freshman Michael Vick, who finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Kibble's ability was apparent early in his Osbourn Park career, but he diversified between high school graduation and the beginning of college. Kibble had signed with Tech by the summer of 1995 when he competed in a state high school all-star game for seniors. There, he was asked to punt. A successful outing showed Beamer, whose son, Shane, was playing in the all-star game, that Kibble could do more than deposit kickoffs in the end zone and boot field goals.
Former Osbourn Park coach Chuck Hornfeck knew Kibble could punt but said the Yellow Jackets had a decent punter, and it was probably more beneficial for Kibble to concentrate on kicking while in high school.
"I can recall seeing him out in practice making field goals with the holder at the 50," said Hornfeck, who earlier this week watched another of his former players--Marshall University senior Llow Turner, a career 2,000-yard rusher--complete an undefeated season. "As a kicker, he had the strongest leg of any kid I'd ever seen."
The left-footed Kibble, whose brother, Mike, kicked for Osbourn Park this season, was skilled enough that he could have played a variety of positions. He has continued to show that versatility on special teams, by recording five tackles this season, running his career Tech tackle total to about 20. An overzealous stop last year against Virginia almost started a tussle on the sideline.
"I put my pads on the same way everyone else does," is the 5-10, 189-pound Kibble's pat response about not shying away from contact.
Kibble, a physical education major, redshirted his first season and has handled both the punting and kickoff duties since the middle of his freshman year. His punting average has dropped from 45.1 yards to 41.5 as a junior to 38.4 as a senior, but opponents returned only nine of his 46 punts this season, totaling just 36 yards on the runbacks. Both the number of returned punts by Tech opponents and the number of return yards are national lows and a major reason why the Hokies have given up just 10.5 points a game, another national low.
The notion of winning a national title registered with Kibble after the third game of the season, against Clemson, a victory far more meaningful than the ones against James Madison and Alabama-Birmingham the first two games.
"We're always the underdog because the team for quite a few years has been knocking on the door," said Kibble, who will play in the Hula Bowl. "This year we're not knocking, we're tearing down the door and saying we're for real. We've proved it. We just need to prove it one more time."
CAPTION: Osbourn Park alum Jimmy Kibble, right, with teammate Shayne Graham and Hokies Coach Frank Beamer, will play Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. Guard Matt Lehr also has ties to the area, having been an All-Met at Woodbridge.