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May 12, 2009

Young standouts shine in Maroon-White game as Tech wraps up spring practice

By: Jimmy Robertson

More than 40,000 Tech fans attended the game and left excited about the upcoming 2009 season.

Normally, spring games simply serve as tailgating practice for avid college football fans; an excuse to eat and drink with little expectations of an entertaining affair within the stadium walls.

Tech supporters, though, got the best of both worlds with the recent edition of the annual Maroon-White game.

The maroon-and-orange throng, estimated at 41,000 – the most ever to watch a Tech spring game – received a glorious day in which to indulge in the parking lots around the Tech campus, and then witnessed some of the Hokies’ younger generation put their talents on display on the Lane Stadium stage. The end result was a game that left Tech fans, and more importantly, the coaching staff, feeling satisfied as the 2009 spring practice came to a close.

“The encouraging thing today is that I think we’ve got some playmakers out there,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said following the game. “We’ve got some guys who can do it. Dyrell [Roberts] had a good day and Ryan Williams had a good day. Tyrod can make plays with his arm and his feet … I think we’ve got some playmakers.

“Defensively we’ve got to keep going. We may be an end short or a linebacker short. But the good thing is we’ve got some time. Guys can get with Coach [Mike] Gentry and get physically better and they can get mentally better. We’ve got time, but we understand we’ve got a lot of work to do, too.”

Just not as much as in years past, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

Tyrod Taylor won two awards this spring and closed out practice by throwing for 188 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.
Tech’s offense displayed some firepower all spring and it was no more evident than in the spring game. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw for 188 yards and a touchdown; redshirt freshman tailback Ryan Williams ran for a game-high 85 yards; sophomore receiver Dyrell Roberts caught four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown; and Marcus Davis, who had just been moved from quarterback to receiver a few practices before the spring game, caught three passes for 48 yards. Tight end Chris Drager’s performance is worth mentioning, too, as he caught four passes for 41 yards.

“I think we could be very explosive,” Taylor said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to get everyone meshing with each other and making sure that everyone knows their assignments. We’ve got work to do, but that’s what we’re going to take care of during the summer.”

On the other side of the ball, the Hokies also have some young players looking to make a name for themselves. That list includes Rashad Carmichael, a cornerback who led everyone with six tackles in the spring game, and Jake Johnson, a sophomore linebacker who recorded four tackles.

The young guy who came up with the biggest play in the spring game, though, was defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins.

Hopkins, a 6-foot, 295-pound redshirt freshman from Highland Springs, Va., had five tackles and recorded two sacks – both in the second half – and also scored the game-winning touchdown when he returned a fumble 20 yards for a score with 2:54 left in the game to lead the Maroon team to a 13-7 victory. Hopkins scooped up the pigskin after Kam Chancellor knocked it loose with a jarring hit on walk-on running back Zac Evans.

The game itself ended in thrilling fashion, with the Maroon team stopping the White team inside the Maroon 10 on the final play of the game. Taylor had guided the White team on a 73-yard march on the final drive. His 12-yard scramble to the Maroon 10 gave the White team a first-and-goal with six seconds left. On the next play, he tried to hit receiver Xavier Boyce coming across the back of the end zone, but the pass fell incomplete with a tick remaining.

On the final play of the game, Taylor looked to pass, but decided to scramble. White team linebacker Barquell Rivers and defensive tackle Demetrius Taylor both touched Taylor – Taylor wasn’t live in this game, so he wasn’t allowed to be tackled – at the Maroon 2. Officials blew the play dead at the 2 just as Taylor crossed the goal line.

“I don’t know. I thought the ball was over the goal line as the contact was being made,” Taylor said with a smile.

He was all smiles after this one. The rising junior completed 16-of-33 for 188 yards, with the touchdown. At halftime, Taylor was presented with the President’s Award, which is given to the player who demonstrated the most outstanding leadership during the offseason program and spring workouts. He also earned the George Preas Award, which is presented to the MVP of spring practice.

“As far as the offense, I feel I am the No. 1 leader and that’s how I carry it,” Taylor said. “Of course, we have Darren Evans [who did not play in the spring game because of an injury] and some linemen who are going to lead, but I try to go out there and lead by example and show the guys that they can follow me.”

The Maroon team’s other score came on its first play from scrimmage when Williams gave a glimpse of his immense potential, taking a screen pass from Ju-Ju Clayton 56 yards for a touchdown. Justin Myer missed the extra point, but the Maroon team took the early 6-0 lead.

Williams, who had an 80-yard run for a touchdown in an earlier scrimmage, finished with 85 yards rushing on 10 carries, including one run of 36 yards. He caught two passes for 66 yards as well.

“When I get on the field and it’s my opportunity to shine, I want to be the big ‘X’ factor,” Williams said. “When it comes to crunch time, I want people to depend on me. I feel like I’m a clutch person. I feel I can always make big plays and I know what I’m capable of doing.”

“Explosiveness is the word with him,” Beamer said. “He runs with quickness, but the pile kept moving a couple of times there. One guy usually doesn’t bring him down.”

The touchdown pass to Williams was the highlight of the day for Clayton, a redshirt freshman from Richmond. Clayton, who had played so well in two scrimmages, completed just 4-of-15 for 103 yards, with one interception, and he also fumbled once.

“I take this as a learning curve,” Clayton said. “The spring game is important, but at the same time, this is just preparing for the season coming up. I’m going to watch the film and learn from my mistakes and go from there.”

The White team’s only score came late in the first half when Taylor led the White on an 80-yard march. The drive ended when Taylor found Roberts for a 3-yard touchdown.

The only downer for the Hokies as a group in the game was the play of the special teams. The two squads combined to miss an extra point and a field goal, and neither punter averaged 40 yards a punt. Part of that, though, goes back to the snaps, which were poor at times.

“We need to have a talk with that special teams coach,” Beamer said, needling himself since he handles much of the special teams. “I know it was sloppy today. What that tells me is that we need to settle on people and get them in there working. In the spring, you work everyone, but it’s not going to be that way in the fall. We’re going to make some quick decisions and go and make sure we’re better special-teams wise than we were today.”

Tech opens the season on Sept. 5 when the Hokies travel to Atlanta to take on Alabama in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff. They also take on Nebraska and Miami in the month of September, making for a difficult first month of the season.

But the Hokies, like their fans, left the stadium after the spring game feeling optimistic about the upcoming 2009 season.
“Our expectations are as high as ever,” Roberts said. “If we put the work in, we can go as high as we want to go. There are no limits. We’ve just got to put in the work and time to get the job done.”