For the second consecutive season, the Virginia Tech football season will open under a cloud because two players have been suspended for involvement in a summer off-campus incident.

The difference in the most recent incident, in which Damien Russell (H.D. Woodson) and Jeff Gallman (DeMatha) are charged with malicious wounding as a result of a fight at a party in Blacksburg, Va., are charges that there was a conspiracy among several members of the football team to attack.

Russell, a junior free safety, and Gallman, a redshirt freshman tackle, were suspended by Hokies Coach Frank Beamer last week.

Russell, the team's fastest player, has been a starter since his freshman season and already has attracted the attention of professional scouts. Gallman, who is 6 feet 4 and about 300 pounds, hoped to work his way through the depth chart this year.

Russell is described by Woodson High Coach Bob Headen as "a model kid -- the type of kid you would want your son to be like." DeMatha Principal John Moylan said Gallman, other than occasionally being late for class and missing three games one season because of low grades, never was in trouble and "has a good head on his shoulders."

The mystery of what happened in the parking lot of the Clover Valley Estates apartment complex at 1:50 a.m. on July 22 centers on whether Russell and Gallman went to a party seeking trouble, or whether it simply found them.

What is clear is that neither Russell nor Gallman previously knew Bernard Jordan, a 6-3, 185-pound junior electrical engineering major from Chesapeake, Va. But before the party was over, Jordan was in the local hospital with a fractured nose, a bruised shoulder and a sprained left knee.

Jordan said Monday that the incident was over a girl he was dating. He said she formerly dated another member of the football team (whom he declined to name) and that player wished to continue dating her. Jordan said the player verbally threatened him earlier in the week and enlisted the help of other team members to enforce the threat.

Jordan said he was at the party only five minutes when he was approached.

"I had never spoken one word to these guys in my entire life," he said. "When one of them came up to me -- he was the big one {Gallman} -- I knew what was on his mind. I tried to get away, but one guy hit me over the head and some other guy kept hitting me. I don't even know if they were saying anything because I was in and out of consciousness."

Jordan said he identified Russell and Gallman in his police complaint through friends who knew them.

"He has an amazing imagination, considering he told one of the officers who came to investigate that he couldn't remember anything that happened," said Joseph Painter, Russell's attorney.

Gallman will go before a judge Aug. 16; Russell's hearing is set for Aug. 22. Painter and Greg Campbell, Gallman's attorney, have advised their clients not to comment.

The hearings will determine whether the charges will be reduced or if the cases will be held over for a grand jury. If it is the latter, the cases probably will not be settled until at least October and it is likely neither will play this season.

"The reason I dismissed them from the football program is because I wanted to make sure they have the time to have a fair chance to properly defend themselves," said Beamer. "I think I have heard the whole story, and it is a very much different one from what {Jordan} has told. When I get more information, or when a determination of their guilt or innocence is made, then I will reconsider the suspensions."

Last summer Beamer suspended defensive end Jimmy Whitten and defensive back Scott Rice after a police officer was struck in an altercation outside a bar. Whitten was reinstated before the season began; Rice was academically ineligible for the season. Both were required to perform community service for their part in the incident.

Jordan said he had the option of pursuing a civil suit against Gallman and Russell, but elected to seek the malicious wounding charge, which is a felony. That charge indicates intent and a more severe degree of injury than an assault charge.

Jordan says his apartment is adjacent to an apartment where several other football players live. He said he was scared to return until a meeting last week with his parents, Beamer and associate dean Steven Janosik. No mention of a third player, or a conspiracy, was made at the meeting, said Janosik.

"I certainly feel responsible for the players in this program because I recruited them and I went in their homes to do it," Beamer said. "For one or two kids to do something that is out of place, and I am not talking about these two, certainly does not characterize the whole football team."