Virginia Tech defensive end James Gayle put on some weight this summer — 17 pounds to be exact. But he admitted with a sheepish smile last weekend at the Hokies’ recruiting camp that at one point, he almost went too far.

“For a second there, I was a little chunky,” said Gayle, who now weighs 267 pounds. “Just lifting and eating, it was like every other summer. Every summer I work hard, but this year I got swipes to the buffet. I’ve been grubbing.”

The extra weight has turned Gayle into an even scarier specimen and should prove beneficial considering he already had prodigious athletic ability. This spring Gayle recorded a 39.5-inch vertical jump and ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash during Virginia Tech’s testing period.

He also finished last season tied for sixth in the ACC with seven sacks despite missing time because of an injured ankle and earned second-team all-ACC honors. That, though, has just left him wanting more.

“I feel like the injury last year really messed up my season. I still finished all right, but I feel like I can do better than that,” Gayle said. “I feel like I’m still growing into the position. I’m nowhere where I want to be in terms of being a pass rusher, even knowing what’s gonna come with the offense.”

The redshirt junior also wants to take on more of a leadership role this season, and with 10 starters and all four linemen back from a unit that ranked 10th in the country in total defense, Gayle wasn’t shy about what Virginia Tech is capable of accomplishing on the defensive side of the ball this year.

“My opinion is we’re the best defense in the nation,” he said. “I feel like we’re gonna get started where we left off. When we played U-Va., we shut them out. I think Clemson just had our number last year, and then we played Michigan and pretty much shut them out [in the Sugar Bowl]. I’m still not sure how they beat us.”