-- When defensive end Darryl Tapp gets his hands on something, it's almost impossible to get him to let it go. That includes quarterbacks, running backs and an important piece of Virginia Tech tradition.

Tapp is among the ACC leaders in sacks (5.5) and tackles for losses (9.5) entering Thursday night's pivotal game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Also, he hasn't relinquished the lunch pail that the Hokies' outstanding defensive player totes each week to practices and games. A couple of players, including last week's winner, backup linebacker Blake Warren (Centreville) have had more pail points. But Tapp acts as though he has retired the honor.

"I gave it to him at the beginning of two-a-days," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said, "because he had the best summer, the best preparation, showed the characteristics of a great leader."

That was especially significant because Tapp is a junior on a unit where much of the leadership is coming from seniors.

"I think he earned [the pail] about every week but two" out of seven games, Foster said. "But he hasn't given it up, [and] I think everybody else is fine with that. I don't think too many people want to mess with him to try and get it.

"He's probably been our most valuable player [on defense] each week."

For the opening seven-plus minutes of Tech's most recent game, a 62-0 rout of Florida A&M, Tapp was more disruptive than even the demanding Foster could hope. He caused a fumble with a quarterback sack and also recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass. Because Foster's pail formula is based on the number of snaps as well as big plays, Warren, who scored a touchdown off an interception, had the most points for the game.

"A technicality," Tapp argued, giggling as usual. "I only had 15 plays. He had 40. Wasn't fair."

Warren agreed.

"No problem," he said. "And it's probably better that he has it. I might lose it. I lose everything at home. He's an awesome player -- determined, fast. The whole package."

Added tackle Jonathan Lewis, who plays next to Tapp, "He's going to be great for years to come."

Tapp is that unusual player who is fulfilling almost every ounce of promise. After amassing 22 career sacks and being rated among the top 15 overall high school prospects in Virginia, he played as a freshman at Virginia Tech. As a sophomore behind a senior last season, he had nine tackles for losses and three sacks during more than 400 snaps.

Along the way, including spring practice, he developed enough experience to play instinctive football, to be able to concentrate this season on opponent's formations instead of technique and assignments, a point that Foster describes as "the mind no longer tying up his feet." That progress has Foster saying that Tapp (6 feet 1, 262 pounds) reminds him "a little bit" of two recent exceptional pass rushers, Virginia Tech's Corey Moore and Syracuse's Dwight Freeney. In 1999, Moore was one of just three Hokies in school history to earn unanimous all-American honors.

"He's bigger than Corey, but maybe not as fast," Foster said. "And he has the same kind of tenacity and playmaking ability."

As for the pail, Tapp says he'll give it up when someone outworks him. That will not be easy, because his full-speed efforts on and off the field have earned him the nickname Fast Forward. What if someone actually does outwork him and earns the pail?

Said Tapp, "I'll work harder than him to get it back."

Hokies Notes: Redshirt freshman linebacker Xavier Adibi will play "early" against the Yellow Jackets in his first game since suffering a torn tendon in his right biceps in the season opener, Coach Frank Beamer said.

Added Foster: "He's a little rusty. . . . I'm not going to throw him to the wolves."

Adibi and Warren will back up Mikal Baaqee at strong-side linebacker. . . .

To keep the players from having too much free time, Beamer has arranged for the team to arrive in Atlanta around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and be occupied in meetings much of Thursday leading up to the 7:45 p.m. kickoff.