DATE: Friday, September 12, 1997            TAG: 9709120813



DATELINE: BLACKSBURG                        LENGTH:   95 lines


Ken Oxendine is the featured back in Virginia Tech's offense. But as the Hokies demonstrated in their opener, they really have a double feature that already is playing to rave reviews.

It may be the year of the Ox on the Chinese calendar, but it was not the day of the Ox on Aug. 30 at Rutgers. Scarlet Knight defenders appeared to key on Oxendine, holding the tailback to 14 yards on eight carries.

Unfortunately for Rutgers, the Hokies nevertheless managed 501 total yards and 59 points.

``That's why (quarterback) Al Clark and myself had a pretty good game, because everybody was real worried about Ox,'' fullback Marcus Parker said. ``They didn't know anything about Al, that being his first start, and people weren't even worried about the fullback.''

They will be now. Tech demonstrated that it takes more than one key to lock up a good offense.

Parker rambled for 101 yards and Clark rushed for 118 and threw for 147, diversity that should give defensive coordinators pause. Oxendine already has a reputation, having led the Big East in scoring last season and finishing second in rushing with 98.9 yards per game.

``It's good to show we have several other guys in the offense who can produce at any given time,'' Oxendine said.

That will give Syracuse something to ponder when the Orangemen come to Lane Stadium on Saturday to meet 22nd-ranked Tech, a game that figures prominently in the Big East title chase.

After surrendering 341 rushing yards in losing to Oklahoma last week, Syracuse should be skittish about a team with three backs who are proficient runners.

``Obviously, we have not done a good job in stopping the run, and that's something that we have to do,'' Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said.

If Oxendine and Parker live up to their buildup, they will be tough for anyone to stop. Running backs coach Billy Hite calls the two seniors the best backfield tandem he's had in 20 seasons with the Hokies.

Head coach Frank Beamer said they may be one of the best combos in the nation, if not the best.

``They can both run and they can both block and will - they're very unselfish - and they both can catch the ball coming out of the backfield,'' Beamer said.

What they can't both do is play tailback, to Parker's chagrin.

Parker was a two-time all-state tailback at Salem High in Roanoke County. But Oxendine was a high school All-American at Thomas Dale High in Chester, just outside of Richmond. As a senior, he was named state player of the year by the Associated Press, USA Today and Gatorade.

Parker's options seemed clear: move it or sit.

``He didn't want to make the move; no tailback wants to make that move,'' Oxendine said.

Said Parker: ``I really would like to be playing tailback, but I've adjusted to it.''

Parker has spent most of his career as a backup, first at fullback and then at tailback last year. He started the Orange Bowl at fullback in place of the suspended Brian Edmonds and was shifted back to the position for his senior year.

``Marcus Parker is a fantastic runner and is sometimes overlooked by all the press that Kenny gets,'' Tech offensive guard Gennaro DiNapoli said.

Parker isn't a big fullback at 5-foot-10 and 227 pounds, but he's faster and is a better ballcarrier than most. ``He's the most unselfish football player I've ever been around,'' Hite said. ``But at the same time, Marcus understands what those people at the next level are looking for. . . . Maybe now he'll even be drafted higher than if I'd kept him at tailback sharing the position. Who knows?''

There's something else Hite and Tech fans would like to know: What kind of year could Oxendine have if he stays healthy? It's never happened, and Oxendine said he was hampered in the opener by a neck injury. He said Tuesday that he's still experiencing muscle spasms and is about 90 percent healthy.

Hite said Tech's all-time leading rusher, Cyrus Lawrence, may have been a better runner than either of his current backs, but he said Lawrence struggled to catch the ball and was never called on to block.

Parker and Oxendine make the most of their carries, as their career yards-per-carry averages illustrate. The Tech record is 5.42 set by Maurice Williams from 1983 to 1986, but both Parker (6.12) and Oxendine (5.77) could break that.

Statistically, the best year turned in by a pair of Tech backs came in 1973, when Phil Rogers (1,036) and J.B. Barber (927) combined for 1,963 yards. But Hite said statistics only tell part of the story of a complete back.

``These guys can do all three phases of the game,'' Hite said. ``They're excellent ball carriers, they get the job done blocking all the time, they're good pass receivers coming out of the backfield and they run excellent routes. When you're talking about the total package, they're definitely the best I've ever had.'' ILLUSTRATION: [Color Photos]


Ken Oxendine led the Big East in scoring and was second in rushing

in 1996.

HUY NGUYEN/File photo

Marcus Parker rushed for 101 yards in Tech's opener against Rutgers.

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