Standing alone on the sideline prior to the start of Virginia Tech's game at Rutgers on Oct. 9, redshirt sophomore flanker Andre Davis was approached by offensive coordinator Ricky Bustle. Bustle's instructions were simple: stretch well. Very well.
Although Davis didn't question Bustle, he did not fully understand what Bustle meant until he was in the huddle. The game's first play of the game was going to Davis--and it was going deep. Eighteen seconds and 74 yards later, he had caught a pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick, sprinted into the end zone and begun celebrating the start of what became a 58-20 rout. It was another triumph for a group of players who began this season as unknowns, but have become a major reason the Hokies are 6-0 and ranked fourth in the nation.
The Hokies were idle yesterday and will play at Pittsburgh on Saturday night. They could be No. 3 by then, after Nebraska's loss to Texas.
Before the season, there was no questioning the talent of Virginia Tech's wide receivers, just their consistency. Now, combined with Vick, tailback Shyrone Stith's hard-nosed running and a young but powerful offensive line, the wide receivers are helping Virginia Tech's offense stealthily keep pace with its ferocious defense. Many college football fans know Virginia Tech is leading the nation in scoring defense (eight points allowed per game) and total defense (192.3 yards per game). But Virginia Tech also leads the nation in scoring offense at 43.3 points per game.
One of the offense's most pleasant surprises has been Davis, a track star whose high school football career didn't begin until his junior year and whose college career, prior to this season, had consisted of a redshirt year and five catches in eight games last year. This season, he is leading the team with 16 catches for 438 yards (27.4 per catch) and four touchdowns; he also has scored both times Bustle has called for him to run a reverse.
"Coach Bustle realizes the talent he has out there," Davis said. "We have all of the ingredients to have a balanced offensive attack, and because of that we can air it out and go deep. Mike and I don't talk about it much--it's more like just a vibe. We know we can have something special."
It's special because Davis not only has sure hands but also has speed. The two-time defending Atlantic 10 Conference outdoor champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, he is listed as the third-fastest player in Virginia Tech football history. Delivering the ball to him is Vick, the multi-talented left-hander who is a threat to run but also can throw the ball 70 yards downfield.
"Andre is pure speed," said Vick, who opened the Hokies' game against Virginia on Oct. 2 with a 60-yard touchdown strike to Davis. "The first time I saw him really run was in the 40-yard dash in spring practice, and when they clocked him at 4.28 [seconds] I knew he was going to be a force."
Davis always thought that his speed was going to be his ticket to a college scholarship--but not as a football player. A two-sport athlete growing up, his main focus was always track. His second sport was soccer. Davis said he never thought about playing football until his junior year in high school when his friends' persistence that he try the sport finally wore him down.
At Niskayuna (N.Y.) High School, Davis led the football team his senior year with 26 catches for 471 and 10 touchdowns. Because of the late start, however, Davis was getting interest only from college track coaches. So he asked his high school coaches to help by putting together a video highlight tape that he sent to four Division I schools, including Virginia Tech.
"My cousin, [tackle] Rich Bowen, was playing down at Tech so I just took a chance and sent a tape to him," Davis said. "Since he knew the coaches, I thought I might have a shot."
Davis's cohorts are split ends Emmett Johnson, a sophomore, and Ricky Hall, a senior who transferred from Butler Community College in Kansas two years ago. Johnson and Hall rotate every other possession in the team's two-wide-receiver-set and with Davis form a tough trio on three-wide-receiver sets. Both players are 6 feet 3 and weigh about 210 pounds, and provide bigger targets for Vick than does Davis, who is 6-1, 200 pounds.
Midway through the season, Davis, Hall and Johnson have combined to catch 35 passes for 757 yards and nine touchdowns and have dropped too few balls to matter. Last season the trio caught 45 passes for 743 yards and eight touchdowns--almost all of that by Hall.
"Andre's the fast guy, Rick's the one with the experience and I'm the one that's just coming along and getting in the groove of things," said Johnson, who caught his first pass from Vick in a Virginia high school all-star game in 1997. "We've been working not as individuals but as a group trying to get better and better."