Leaders lead regardless of the situation, so it's not at all surprising that Virginia Tech quarterback Bryan Randall also had an enormous impact last season on the basketball team. That happened even though he averaged 3.1 points and 1.3 rebounds in 18 games after joining the team about midseason.

"He coached the locker room," said Seth Greenberg, the Hokies' basketball coach. "We started three freshmen and a sophomore -- and he taught the freshmen how to be college athletes, what was expected of them. He's the best I've ever been around in 28 years."

Most memorable to Greenberg and the players was a speech Randall made after a loss to Syracuse that extended the Hokies' losing streak to five games. Randall asked if he could say something, and he thought back to it the other day while sitting near the training room: "We weren't playing consistent enough, playing a good first half and kind of a so-so second half.

"I said that during the course of the football season" -- when the Hokies went from being ranked among the top five after the eighth game to 8-5 following a bowl loss to California -- "we played half a season. You've got to put two and two together. I said if they played hard, played focused, they were capable of beating anybody."

The basketball team had lost six of seven games when Randall came aboard but won six of its final nine after the Syracuse speech ("Best I ever heard," Greenberg said) and clinched its first berth in the Big East conference tournament.

The quarterback needs to be in top form for an extremely young and inexperienced team that opens its season Saturday against top-ranked Southern Cal at FedEx Field. He is a senior, and the start against the Trojans will be his 26th straight.

His coaches have confidence in him, even against a defense of Southern Cal's caliber.

"You never know until [the game starts], but I think he's twice the quarterback he's ever been," quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers said. "I really do. He's throwing the ball extremely well, and his arm strength is really good now. He's on top of his reads, on top of protection, on top of coverage adjustments."

Added Randall, "I feel a lot more poised in the pocket, more comfortable with what I'm seeing, pre-snap and post-snap, and I'm confident where I'm throwing the ball."

Randall is fast closing on several Tech career records. He has 5,259 yards in total offense and with another 847 will break the school record Maurice DeShazo set from 1991 to '94. His average on 800 plays is about 6.6 yards. DeShazo's average was just less than 6.0.

Already, Randall holds the school record for touchdown passes in one game, five against Syracuse in 2002. He needs 21 touchdown passes to break DeShazo's career record and 2,766 yards to break Don Strock's career record for passing yards. However, Randall also is five interceptions shy of Strock's career record of 27.

A quarterback with just five more touchdown passes than interceptions during his career (27-22) usually needs quite a lot of help, but Randall won't have much game-tested experience around him. None of the two fullbacks has a down of game experience. The probable starting wide receivers are redshirt junior Chris Clifton (three catches last season) at split end and redshirt freshman Josh Hyman.

Among the next group likely to see action is redshirt senior Richard Johnson (just 13 catches last season) and a cadre of freshmen or redshirt freshmen, Coach Frank Beamer said.

That means Randall must be a calming influence on the newcomers while almost certainly being forced to throw more by a Southern Cal defense stacked against the run. Teammates who have battled with Randall the past two seasons are confident.

"The huddle is his," said redshirt senior Jon Dunn, a starter at right tackle for most of the past two seasons. "He knows what he's doing."

Randall's most significant work with young players came with freshmen Sean Glennon (Westfield) and Cory Holt during the summer. They will back up Randall now that Marcus Vick has been suspended from school for the season, with Glennon getting first crack.

Holt enrolled in January, went through spring practice and seemed the likely backup until he suffered a sore arm and missed several fall practices; Glennon arrived during the second session of summer school. With the coaches unable to participate in summer drills, Randall guided Glennon and Holt.

"Showed us what to do, told us what we did wrong," Glennon said. "For the month of July, he was more of a coach than he was a teammate. That was the first time I'd been around him very much."

Part of leadership is relaxing teammates -- and Randall once did this by jumping into the arms of the 6-7, 331-pound Dunn after a long gain in practice.

"Just being stupid, having fun," Dunn said.

Randall says he has a sense that team chemistry will be better this season, adding: "Over time you get a feeling for things. I've got that feeling right now."

RANDALL