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August 11, 2009

Five Football Players to Watch in 2009

By: Jimmy Robertson

The polls show Barack Obama’s popularity gravitating toward Earth, the nation skeptical on health care reform, and people generally apathetic on Sonia Sotomayor.

But for those with no interest in politics (or with a general disdain for politics), these same samplings can be applied to the sports world.

And their results reveal the Hokies’ popularity rocketing skyward.

Tech enters the 2009 football season as the overwhelming pick to win the ACC title and as a preseason top-10 selection by nearly all those who vote on such things. From what we’ve gathered, only that rebel Phil Steele did not place the Hokies in the top 10.

He picked them 11th.

That being said, and obviously facing wild expectations, Tech rolls into this campaign with still a young squad and facing arguably the toughest slate in recent memory. Frank Beamer’s charge will be to shepherd this group through this schedule, while also trying to massage expectations.

As the Hokies embark on 2009, here are five players to scrutinize before the Sept. 5 season kick-off:

Tyrod Taylor

Taylor serves as the biggest key to this upcoming season for Tech. He enters his third season in Tech’s system and coaches often point to the third year as the critical year in a player’s progression. Plus, there is no Sean Glennon behind him, and with 15 career starts and 931 career snaps from scrimmage, Taylor possesses the experience.

He’ll need to throw more than two touchdown passes this season (his 2008 total) for the Hokies to reach their potential. But he should easily do that, and we’re betting that he breaks Bob Schweikert’s 45-year record for career rushing yards by a quarterback (1,723) this season as well.

Ed Wang

Wang and fellow senior sidekick Sergio Render return to anchor the left side of the line. Overall, Tech returns 87 starts along its offensive front. Only two other teams in the country – Notre Dame and Texas – return as much experience on the o-line.

As a side note, consider this: a year ago, eight of the top 10 teams in the final Associated Press poll began the season with at least 65 combined career starts by their offensive linemen. Wonder why Utah finished No. 2 in the country? The Utes returned more than 80 starts of experience. Surprised at Ole Miss’ run last season? The Rebels returned more than 80 as well.

Wang’s play, though, is critical because he protects Taylor’s blind side – and we all know the urgency of keeping that guy healthy. Tech couldn’t ask for more than to have a fifth-year senior with 24 career starts under his belt protecting Taylor’s blind side.

Jake Johnson

Brett Warren and Purnell Sturdivant went into last season with just four career starts between them. Now, Tech goes into a season with even less experience (one start) at the critical mike and backer spots – Barquell Rivers started the Orange Bowl.

The guy to watch, though, is Johnson, who plays the play-making backer spot. He played last season as a true freshman, but only on special teams. He’ll need to be able to stuff the run, play in coverage and blitz. The position is demanding, yet fun, and Johnson loves a good challenge.

Both Rivers and Johnson enjoyed excellent spring practices and the Hokies will need for their talent to trump experience for continued dominance on defense.

Rashad Carmichael

The biggest starting job up for grabs heading into this season as of press time was the field corner spot, where Rashad Carmichael, Cris Hill and Eddie Whitley were battling it out. Each brings something to the table, but none of the three put a clamp on the job this spring.

Carmichael is the only one with a career start, taking the field for the kickoff of the ECU game last season when Macho Harris was injured. He’s also the fastest player on the team. That gives him two advantages over Hill and Whitley. He needs to grab the opportunity here.

Matt Waldron or Justin Myer

Take your pick here. Can Waldron or Myer be the next great walk-on kicker, following the footsteps of Brandon Pace, Judson Dunlevy and Dustin Keys? Waldron went a long way toward doing that this spring when he was virtually automatic, but Beamer also likes Myer and his stronger leg. One of them will need to burst from the pack and then hopefully be as consistent as their predecessors.

Overall, the polls say the Hokies will be good. These players will go a long way in determining if that proves true.