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August 11, 2008

Two seniors with huge shoes to fill, but finally glad to see their time come

By: Jimmy Robertson

Every year, players come and players go. Most fans realize this, too. They know that college football is a cyclical entity.
Yet even though they know this and fully understand it, they feel a sense of anguish when certain players – great players – see their eligibility expire.

Such is the case for Tech football fans, who saw some great players move on following the Hokies’ loss to Kansas in the Orange Bowl. And none of those players were more critical to Tech’s success the past four years than standout linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall, arguably the greatest tandem of linebackers ever to don the orange and maroon.

Even with Hall missing four games last season, the two of them combined for 215 total tackles (92 solo), including 18.5 for a loss. They also had 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. Hall finished his career with 404 tackles, leading the Hokies in tackles two of the past three years. Adibi finished his career with 291 career tackles and led the Hokies in tackles this past season.

And that’s not counting the number of difference-making plays each one of them made during their respective careers.
So as Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster planned to replace Hall and Adibi, he focused his effort on two rising seniors returning – Purnell Sturdivant and Brett Warren. Perhaps surprisingly, and definitely quietly, the two of them flourished this spring.

“We know what the expectations are here and we know what people are thinking,” Sturdivant said. “Our goal is to try and be as prepared as possible and to do everything we can to help this team win.

“We know it’ll be a challenge. But I love a challenge. I’m up for it. This is an opportunity for me and Brett to go out and have a helluva year.”

Sturdivant, a 5-foot-10, 235-pound redshirt senior, takes over for Adibi in the play-making spot at backer. He gave fans a glimpse of his abilities in the William & Mary game last season when he played 55 snaps and recorded 10 tackles and three sacks. He also intercepted two passes – the first of his career – in the Hokies’ lopsided win.

“I think I showed what I’m capable of doing,” Sturdivant said. “But I still think I’ve got a lot to prove. I’m not satisfied at all.”
Sturdivant finished with 12 tackles on the season, but played in all 14 games, so he possesses a lot of game experience. He resembles Adibi in a lot of ways. He weighs the same, and he possesses the same type of speed and athletic ability. He also may actually be stronger than Adibi.

“Our height is the main difference,” Sturdivant said. “He’s 6-2, and I’m 5-10.”

He spent the entire summer working on his conditioning. The first part of it, he stayed in Virginia Beach, working out with a personal trainer, who tortured him with workouts at Mount Trashmore, a city park, and by doing running drills on the sand at the beach. As a result, he came back for the second summer session in fantastic shape.

“I feel great,” he said. “I’m very comfortable. I know the defense and I’m confident in what I’m doing.”

Warren, a 6-1, 237-pound redshirt senior, will be lining up beside Sturdivant, taking over Hall’s vacant mike linebacker spot. Warren is more of a known presence after starting four games last season while Hall recovered from a broken wrist. He recorded 43 tackles (23 solo), including 5.5 for a loss, and 3.5 sacks. He also had an interception and recovered a fumble.

Depth at the backer and mike linebacker spots, though, remains a concern. Of those reserves, only Jonas Houseright, a walk-on from Gate City, Va., has played a snap from scrimmage and he only played 12 last season (he played 89 on special teams).

Houseright, a redshirt senior, goes into the season as the back-up behind Sturdivant, with redshirt freshman Hunter Ovens third on the depth chart. Ovens improved over the spring, but still has a long way to go in learning all the demands of the position.

Barquell Rivers, a redshirt freshman, goes into the season as the top back-up behind Warren. Rivers reminds Foster and the staff of Hall, with his 5-11, 229-pound frame. He got better with every practice, though he still needs some work in pass coverage – something common among young linebackers. Mark Muncey, another walk-on, goes into the fall as the third reserve at mike linebacker.

The wild card in all this could be Cody Grimm, a whip linebacker with some experience at backer. Tech’s staff, though, has no plans of working him at both spots heading into the season.

Tech’s depth issues at these two spots make it imperative for Warren and Sturdivant to stay healthy, as they figure to play a ton of snaps. And that’s OK with them. When you’ve spent four years behind the top tandem in the school’s history, you’re ready to play.

“It’s been tough,” Sturdivant said. “Brett and I have talked about that. I guess it was in God’s plan. At times, I’ve thought about transferring and all that, but that’s hard to do because we’re all a family here. I think God wanted me here, so I’m going to stick to His word and plan, and let everything else work itself out.”



33 Brett Warren (6-1, 237, r-Sr.) – Established himself as a big-time player last season while starting four games in Vince Hall’s absence. Blends a nice combination of size and strength with terrific instincts for the position.
52 Barquell Rivers (5-11, 229, r-Fr.) – Reminds many of former starter Vince Hall. A stocky and strong player who has worked himself into better shape and only needs to be more consistent to receive some playing time this season.
36 Mark Muncey (5-11, 231, r-Jr.) – A hard-working walk-on who may figure in on some special teams this season.


45 Purnell Sturdivant (5-10, 225, r-Sr.) – Has huge shoes to fill in replacing Xavier Adibi, but enjoyed an outstanding spring. Not the biggest guy in the world, but he’s extremely strong and powerful. He also has some speed.
89 Jonas Houseright (6-0, 224, r-Sr.) – Has added much-needed weight and strength, and now the senior has put himself in a position to help this team this upcoming fall.
40 Hunter Ovens (5-11, 203, r-Fr.) – Needs to get bigger and stronger, and become more assertive on the field.