One of the major reasons both quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson have had so much success this season is Virginia Tech’s battle-tested and consistent offensive line. Featuring four seniors, the Hokies have had just one game (Arkansas State) in which all five of their starters haven’t finished with a coach’s grade above 80 percent.
But after playing with the same starting lineup for 11 games, Virginia Tech is preparing as if it will have a new center heading into Saturday’s matchup with Virginia, a contest that will decide the ACC’s Coastal Division. Redshirt sophomore Andrew Miller, the usual starter, is battling ankle and hip injuries following last Thursday’s win over North Carolina and didn’t practice on Monday.
That brings redshirt junior Michael Via, the team’s utility offensive lineman, to the forefront this week. He stepped in ably after Miller went down in the first half against the Tar Heels, earning an 88 percent grade and finishing with four knockdowns. In fact, offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring believes it was Via’s steady performance that got the Hokies’ offensive line back on track after it allowed North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams to sack and strip Thomas on the first play of the game.
“He played with a lot of poise; he was on top of everything,” Stinespring said. “I think for the whole offensive line, I think it meant a lot, because when he was in there and he was sure of himself, they could kind of go on business as usual and not feel like they were compensating or concerned about what was going on. I think that relaxed the whole group.”
Via, as you might be well aware of by now, wears several hats for this line. During the summer, he stepped in at right tackle when Blake DeChristopher was nursing a shoulder injury. Since backup lineman David Wang went down with a broken foot back in September, Via has mostly spelled starting right guard Jaymes Brooks.
But it’s easy to forget that two years ago, the 6-foot-7, 292-pounder started three games at center for an injured Beau Warren. And from the sounds of it, there’s a good chance Via will reprise that role when the Hokies take on Virginia Saturday.
“In meeting rooms and practice, I try to be ready for every position because I know there’s always a chance of me having to step in somewhere,” Via said. “It can be a little complicated sometimes but for the most part I don’t have a whole lot of trouble with it.”
What impressed the coaching staff and his fellow offensive linemen last week was that Via came in the game and handled all the line calls as if he’d been playing center all season long. Via said Monday that he came into the game prepared to step in after Miller had trouble in practice leading up to the game.
“After you practice it so much, it doesn’t really leave you,” Via said, referencing the amount of time he has spent at center during his career in Blacksburg. “You kind of remember it.”
This is all the more impressive considering the fact that after coming into training camp in what he called “the best shape of my life,” Via suffered a left knee injury before this year’s season opener against Appalachian State. And yet he has played through it, establishing himself as a valuable cog and a prime candidate to start on he offensive line next season.
Via isn’t considered the typical reserve by the rest of the Hokies’ linemen, either, a good sign since DeChristopher says Virginia’s defense likes to load the box to stop the run.
“Michael played a helluva game and for him to step in like that, not having played much center this season says a lot about his character and his athletic ability. We’re all real proud of what he did,” DeChristopher said. “He’s a starter. We consider him that and he approaches it like that in practice and he’s just a good guy to have on your team.”
Whether Miller plays this week is still up in the air and Coach Frank Beamer said the team will know more later in the week. But his injury comes at an inopportune time, and not just because the stakes are so high this weekend. Though the first-year starter, a former wrestler known for providing a mean streak in the trenches, had graded above 80 percent in every game this season, he had been above 90 percent in his past four games.