Virginia Tech’s defense will return mostly intact next year. A day after cornerback Antone Exum told coaches he would be back in Blacksburg for the 2013 season, Hokies defensive end James Gayle did the same.

The redshirt junior announced via Twitter that he would “postpone my NFL ambitions” and play for Virginia Tech. Gayle had previously submitted paperwork with the NFL draft advisory board to gauge his 2013 draft prospects.

Gayle, a Hampton native, earned second-team all-ACC honors for a second straight season, finishing with a career-high 43 tackles, a team-high 27 quarterback hurries and five sacks. He had seven sacks in 2011.

But his return ensures Virginia Tech will have nine starters back from a unit that failed to live up to preseason hype early on, but came on strong toward the end of the season. After giving up nearly 522 yards per game in losses to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and North Carolina, the Hokies closed the year by holding Clemson and Florida State to a season low in yards and keeping their final three opponents (Boston College, Virginia, Rutgers) less than 300 total yards.

Gayle was a big part of that improvement, as Virginia Tech’s pass rush generated 27 sacks over the final seven games of the season. The Hokies finished the year ranked No. 18 in the country in yards allowed per game.

Virginia Tech is still waiting to hear about the future of quarterback Logan Thomas, who is also pondering whether to enter the 2013 NFL draft. Thomas’s decision could depend on Coach Frank Beamer’s impending offensive staff changes, which remain unclear.