Much of the national attention surrounding the Virginia Tech football team's run to Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl has centered on consensus all-American defensive end Corey Moore. That has been just fine with Moore's counterpart on the line, senior end John Engelberger. In fact, it has been perfect.
The differences between Moore and Engelberger are astounding. Moore, who is smaller than most team's linebackers, is 6 feet, 225 pounds. Engelberger, who played at Robert E. Lee High in Springfield, is 6-4, 262.
Even more glaring is the contrast in their personalities. Moore is a talker. On the field, he is known for having a rapid-fire tongue; off the field, he has become a media favorite for his frankness and his tendency, though he claims it is unintentional, to stir up trouble--and fire up opponents.
Engelberger does not like public attention and doesn't much care for individual awards, either. He was unimpressed with being named second-team all-American and first-team all-Big East. But what he especially dreads is talking to members of the media. Last year, when he refused, all season, to talk to reporters who wanted to explore the tale of his second consecutive second-team all-Big East season, his teammates nicknamed him "Silent but Violent."
But behind the curtain of silence, which Engelberger lifted just a little bit today, there is a terrific story--the story of a player who lettered in football for only two years in high school, joined Hokies in the fall of 1995 as a 209-pound walk-on tight end and now is widely projected by pro scouts to become the first Virginia Tech player selected in the 2000 NFL draft.
This season, despite having a nagging ankle injury late in the year, he has been credited with seven sacks, six other tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hurries. Although he is listed as an end, he started five games at tackle when starting tackle Nathaniel Williams was injured.
"John, to me, is one the of most unselfish players I've ever seen," Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "He's worn several hats for us. Whatever we've needed, he's done, and done well."
Said Engelberger: "I guess I still like defensive end best, but I'd play any position they put me at. I'd even play tight end again if they put me there. It doesn't matter to me, what's important is being a part of this team."
Charlie Wiles, Virginia Tech's defensive line coach, said Engelberger should have no fear of moving back to tight end, but thinks he could, if he continues to grow, play either defensive line position in the NFL.
"The key is that he plays the run equally well as he rushes the passer," Wiles said. "And he is a tremendously hard worker, one of those guys who has worked and worked and worked since he first set foot on campus. You never know how these drafts are going to play out, but I'll be disappointed if he doesn't go in the first two rounds."
If Engelberger ends up being disappointed by when he is picked in the draft, few people likely are to know--although probably not as few as most fans think.
"Nah, Engelberger's not quiet all the time," Moore said. "He's not totally quiet on the field. You know we're having fun if Engelberger is trash-talking out there."
Said Chris Cyrus, a senior who is the top backup to both Moore and Engelberger: "We could tell you some stories about Engelberger . . . Around us he is really light-hearted, always joking around. Me and John stretch together, so as practice gets tougher and as the season goes on we always find new things to laugh about and joke about to keep ourselves from going crazy."
And the butt of some of those jokes this week has been Engelberger himself. His teammates, who have uncovered his enjoyment of the waterfront casino in New Orleans, have ridden him hard about his lack of success there.
"See, man, I'm getting a bad reputation for gambling," Engelberger quipped, his teammates on the defensive line behind him, laughing and prodding him about his losses. "When it comes to gambling I have no comment."
Then, he added: "I'm down right now, but I'll be back. They can't get rid of me that easy."
At the craps tables--or on the field. While Moore is known for using his quickness to get around offensive linemen, Engelberger is known for powering through them.
But in addition to his strength, another of Engelberger's assets--and this is something he and Moore share--is the quickness of his reactions once the ball is snapped. Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden has said he will double-, or even triple-team Moore to prevent him from getting to the quarterback, but as Moore has said repeatedly this season: "If you focus just on me, then you're stupid because John is just as capable, if not more so, of taking over a game than me."
Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt has noticed. He says that with Moore and Engelberger at the ends, one of the Seminoles' main priorities will be getting off the ball quickly on the snap count.
"If you don't do that, they beat you off the snap and you're dead," Richt said. "We'll have to use different combinations of double-teaming them--backs, tight ends, tackles, guards--whatever it takes to get it done."
But Engelberger is equally determined.
"I thought we had a chance to be [playing for the national championship] and I think we deserve it, but I'm just happy to be in any bowl game," he said. "I'm just happy to have a little more time to spend with these guys. I'm going to take all of these memories with me."
Even the ones from the casino?
"Like I said," Engelberger continued, a hint of a grin forming on his lips. "It's not over till its over. I'll leave here a winner."
CAPTION: John Engelberger, who played at Robert E. Lee High in Springfield, was walk-on tight end. He has played end, tackle this season.