BLACKSBURG, Va. — For the first two days of preseason practice, Kalvin Cline’s new Virginia Tech teammates had a field day with his name. It was the joke of training camp, and even tight ends coach Bryan Stinespring got in on the fun, noting he initially held Cline out of the lineup in hopes of “trying to parlay a discount at the Calvin Klein store, but quickly realized we’re in the same family.”
Cline took it all in stride — “It’s a good laugh for everybody,” he said — a true freshman swallowing his pride as he tries to fit in. Not to mention he’s heard the same barbs about his name his entire life.
But now that Cline has emerged as more than just a punch line for the Hokies, quarterback Logan Thomas has started calling him by another name: “122,” as in Cline’s locker number.
“He don’t like that,” Thomas said this week.
If Cline continues his rapid rise up the depth chart, he won’t be anonymous for long. In fact, the under-the-radar prospect from Boca Raton, Fla., could be the answer to Virginia Tech’s tight end issues.
Against Western Carolina this past Saturday, Cline caught four passes for 46 yards in his first collegiate game. After Cline didn’t play in the Hokies’ season-opening loss to No. 1 Alabama, Stinespring made the decision last week to place him into the mix as the Hokies’ second tight end.
He originally told Cline in August that he would redshirt this season. But the reversal was the result of the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by starting tight end Ryan Malleck on Aug. 20. Cline described the process as a whirlwind after practice Tuesday.
“Last week I was watching the game in my dorm and a couple days after that, they’re saying you’re gonna get a couple reps in practice and we’re gonna see how you do it,” he said. “Those reps came and we were making plays on offense with those reps, and then they came to me two days before the [Western Carolina] game, ‘Hey, second series of the game, we’re thinking about putting you in there.’ ”
Stinespring believes Cline is “closer to the mold of Malleck,” with natural skills as a route runner and receiver. Though redshirt junior Duan Perez-Means remains the team’s No. 1 tight end, he is a converted defensive lineman and a non-threat in the passing game.
Cline is currently splitting the No. 2 reps with redshirt sophomore Darius Redman (H.D. Woodson), but offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said often this offseason that he planned to make the tight ends an integral part of his attack.
“It’s not so much what other guys haven’t done,” Stinespring said. Cline “understands the passing game. That makes sense to him a great deal.”
Part of that comes from Cline’s basketball background. His father, Mike, played football at Arkansas State and was later drafted by the Green Bay Packers, but Kalvin Cline played football only during his senior year at Pine Crest High. Instead, he used his 6-foot-4, 238-pound frame on the hardwood, where he played alongside Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Knight.
Cline had scholarship offers to play basketball in college at Richmond, Tulane and San Francisco, but quickly decided the mid-major route wasn’t for him. The same went for football after he caught 19 passes for 411 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012. (Cline notes now that he always had it in the back of his head that football could be an option given his father’s background in the sport.)
Rather than take a scholarship at a Football Championship Subdivision school, Cline planned to walk on at Miami until the Hokies came calling with a scholarship offer in late May, almost four months after National Signing Day.
“Still love the game,” Cline said of basketball. “But football, I’ve got an itch for it. And when I went out there, I fell in love with that, too. And football, it came. A lot of the technique and footwork [from basketball], it just transferred great and it worked out.”
Stinespring noted it was offensive line coach Jeff Grimes that first got hold of Cline’s film late in the recruiting process, and his discovery suddenly appears to be a potential game-changer for the Hokies.
Facing Western Carolina, Cline was given a limited playbook that included about 70 percent of the game plan. He wasn’t asked to shift much, and his blocking remains a work in progress. His only big error came when he dropped a potential touchdown catch.
But all kidding aside, Cline is making a name for himself faster than anybody expected.
“Malleck being out didn’t spark a light,” he said. “My light has been sparked since the first day of camp.”