SPORTSFootball preview - Success hinges on young players
With last year's winning campaign under their belt, the Virginia Tech Hokies are looking ahead to a new football season with optimism.
During Coach Frank Beamer's third year at the helm last year, the Hokies scored stunning upset victories over West Virginia and N.C. State on the road, took on a total of five bowl-bound teams, and finished with a 6-4-1 record.
"We can be a good football team if all the pieces fall into place," says Beamer. "I feel good about the ability we have at each position, but our success will be determined by how fast our young players develop."
Thirteen senior members of last year's team graduated, leaving the Techmen with some young, less experienced players at several positions.
Gone are such blue-chip performers as tackle Scott Hill; linebackers Randy Cockrell, Bobby Martin, Jock Jones, and Sean Lucas; cornerback Roger Brown; split end Myron Richardson; tight end Brian McCall; offensive guard Skip Pavlik; and fullback Rich Fox.
The Hokies have 12 returning starters, seven on offense and five on defense. Leading the charge will be a number of all-star candidates, game-breaking Marcus Mickel at flanker, big Eugene Chung at offensive tackle, Al Chamblee and Jimmy Whitten at defensive end, speedster Damien Russell at safety, and Mickey Thomas, the placekicker.
Mickel suffered a dislocated kneecap midway through spring practice, but is expected to be back in top shape by the fall.
Injuries to top performers leave the quarterback position uncertain. Will Furrer, who started in 1988 and at the beginning of last season, has undergone a lengthy rehabilitation period following knee surgery and is expected to return to the team this year.
Rodd Wooten started spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback, but underwent surgery, which revealed that his rotator cuff was partially torn. He sat out spring practice and hopefully will be ready to play this season.
The quarterback duties were handled this spring by rising sophomore Tom Zban, Eros Sanchez (who was transferred from wide receiver), and Eric Smith.
Maurice DeShazo, a highly-recruited freshman from Bassett, could emerge into the picture, especially if Furrer and Wooten fail to report in top physical condition.
Beamer has listed two areas -- defensive tackle and inside linebacker -- as critical because those positions lost the most senior members.
One departee, tackle Scott Hill, was the ramrod of Virginia Tech's defense for three seasons, and it is still uncertain as to who will replace him.
Among the candidates: Stephan Holloway, who was a top backup last season; Don Davis, who was shifted from defensive end last fall; and Tom Collins, Richard Saunders, Jerome Preston, and Jeff Gallman.
The Hokies have one returning starter at one tackle position. Bryan Campbell was a steady player last fall and contributed a total of 64 tackles to rank sixth on the team in that category.
Cockrell, Martin, and Leslie Bailey, the Hokies' top three players at inside linebacker in 1989, must be replaced. Beamer is hopeful that two rising sophomores -- Melendez Byrd and Rusty Pendleton, who saw limited action last fall -- will be able to take over.
"They are excellent athletes and it's difficult to knock them off their feet," Beamer says.
Another hot candidate at inside linebacker is Anthony Pack, who is being shifted from defensive end where he was a backup last fall.
Virginia Tech has veteran players at most of the other defensive positions. Whitten and Chamblee are solid defensive ends and should be headed for a banner season. Archie Hopkins and Darwin Herdmen were top backups last season at outside linebacker and are expected to take over the starting jobs this year. John Granby joins Russell to give the Hokies two returning starters in the secondary.
On the defensive side, Virginia Tech welcomes back the team's top two rushers from last fall, tailbacks Vaughn Hebron and Tony Kennedy. Hebron made a big impact in his freshman season, gaining 625 yards while Kennedy rushed for 569.
Lamar Smith, a solid backup at tailback, also is back in the fold. Jon Jeffries started the 1989 season as the No. 1 tailback, but underwent knee surgery after suffering a major injury. He is scheduled to return to the team in the fall along with Ralph Brown, a steady player in 1988 who sat out the 1989 season.
Fullback Phil Bryant, who rushed for 198 yards last year and proved to be an excellent blocker, is headed for another fine season with Shon Grantz as the backup.
Marcus Mickel, who caught 26 passes for 320 yards last season and made the big plays that helped seal wins over West Virginia and N.C. State, should head the receiving corps at flanker. He has 4.4 speed.
Chung will be a leader on the offensive line this year. At 6-foot-5 and weighing 280, he has the size to be one of the best linemen in southern football. Two other veteran linemen, Jimmy Bryson and Todd Meade, had major injuries last fall but are due back this year. Marc Verniel is a solid performer and lined up opposite Chung at tackle this spring.
William Boatwright, now in top physical condition, looks like a real winner at offensive guard. Rob Vaughan, who started as a walk-on and has made it big, is the returning starter at center.
Mickey Thomas gives Virginia Tech a brilliant performer in the placekicking department. He made 21 of 25 field goal attempts last season and accounted for all of Virginia Tech's points in two wins. He kicked four to beat West Virginia 12-10 and had a record six field goals in an 18-0 decision over Vanderbilt.
Chris Baucia is back to handle the punting duties. Although his 37.5 average was not sparkling, Baucia had the knack of delivering his best punts when they were needed most.
The Hokies' schedule for 1990 is demanding as usual. Virginia Tech will play four Atlantic Coast Conference teams -- Maryland, N.C. State, Georgia Tech, and Virginia -- and will tangle once again with Florida State, one of the nation's best teams.
Virginia Tech Magazine Volume 12, Number 2 Fall 1990