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August 11, 2009

Celebrating a Silver Anniversary

By: Jimmy Robertson

In the spring of 1984, Doug Waters started the Hokie Huddler, a publication devoted to the coverage of VT athletics. The publication has changed names and formats over the course of 25 years, and this year, we want to celebrate the silver anniversary of the publication by taking a look back at what transpired at VT in 1984.

We’re starting with the 1984 football preview and here is a piece Waters wrote in that preview.

Competitors, and friends

By Doug Waters, Editor

Granddaddy Stallion is gone. So is last year’s No. 1 runner, Otis Copeland. So is No. 5 Stallion Rickey Bailey.

But the spirit lives, and this year’s returning Stallions, Virginia Tech’s version of The Three Musketeers, are ready to gallop into 1984 with more confidence and every bit as much explosive power as in ’83, when the five-tailback rotation accounted for 2,143 yards, 21 touchdowns, and who knows how many broken spirits among defenders who had to contend with a fresh tailback from first quarter through fourth.

Maurice Williams, Eddie Hunter, and Desmar Becton, two sophomores and a junior, combined for 1,208 of those yards last season, along with 11 touchdowns and a 6.9-yard-per-carry average. They’re back, along with a couple of promising new recruits who could push as hard for playing this season and Williams and Hunter did last year.

Are the Hokies deep at tailback, you ask? Does a stallion have hooves?

The term “The Stallions” was started last year by now-departed fullback Tony Paige, affectionately recalled as Granddaddy Stallion.

As the five-back system took shape last year and began running defenses dizzy, sports writers quickly used all the horse metaphors they could muster, and the members of The Stallions assumed an identity and deep pride that formed a bond.
Although they competed fiercely for playing time, they supported each other.

The three remaining thoroughbreds all say jealousy and animosity never has been a problem.

“I’m glad it hasn’t,” Becton said. “Even the other guys on the team would say, ‘Why don’t you guys hate each other? You’re trying for the same position.’ But you can’t win individually. As long as we think as one, we don’t have time for any jealously or tongue-slashing.”

Hunter said, “I don’t see any friction between us. As a matter of fact, we’re always giving each other advice. It’s advice given as a friend. Off the field, we’re friends, too.”

Added Williams, “Everybody’s gonna get his chance. Everybody will have a big game.”
There may be more playing time for each of the three this season, with Bailey and Copeland gone.

Bailey, who carried only 41 times in seven games as a freshman, transferred to Norfolk State, where he could play more and be closer to his home in Onancock.

Copeland, last year’s starter who gained 709 yards on 158 carries, dropped out of school during the spring because of an extended illness. He has re-enrolled for the fall, but is academically ineligible because of too few credit hours last year.

“It’ll be hard this year,” Becton said. “We loved those guys. But we can’t let it get us down. Maybe we’ll each see more playing time now. It depends on who’s the best for which situation.”

The three backs have three distinct styles. Hunter gave this rundown of each tailback’s talents:

“I think Maurice is the hardest runner of the three, with more power; Desmar has more flat-out speed – he can go at any time; I think my greatest asset is quickness.”

That means the offensive coaches can choose Williams when they want some tough yards inside, Becton for a more wide-open sweep, or Hunter for a variety of situations. But that’s too simple a breakdown: All three have great breakaway potential, and all three are tough runners.

They have grown tough mentally, too, after a year of part-time playing.

“At first, it was pretty difficult, because in high school, I played a lot and in college, only a little bit,” Williams said. “But then I realized college was a big change, and I had to adjust. As the year went on, I felt a little better about it.”

Hunter: “It was tough being on the bench and not in the game, but I feel the rotation system was fair. I stayed ready to go in.”
Williams and Hunter are listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart, with Becton a close backup. Pushing them will be two incoming freshmen, Tyrone Branch of Lloyd Bird High School in Richmond and Malcolm Blacken of Mathews High School in Beaverlet.

Football analysts rate Branch above Blacken – analyst Max Emfinger listed Branch as the No. 14 tailback recruit in the nation. Analyst Joe Terranova gave Branch a four-star rating – out of four – and listed Blacken as a two-star recruit.

The Tech coaches are high on both runners. Tailback coach Billy Hite said Branch, at 6-0, 200, is unlike the other Stallions in that he has the physical makeup to become a 35 carry-per-game tailback. That wouldn’t happen until Branch has had time to develop and grow through the Tech weight program, but he already has a blue-chip combination of speed and strength.

Hite called Blacken more a Cyrus Lawrence-type runner – good quickness and strength to run short bursts. Blacken is 5-9, 198.
Might they develop quickly enough that there again will be five Stallions churning up the Lane Stadium sod this season? Not likely, Hite said.

“Last year, I told that they would decide who would play,” he said. “They all did so well that I couldn’t keep any of them out. I don’t want to go through that again this year.”

That means, he said, that one of the five is likely to get redshirted.

All three of the returning Stallions are predicting an even better year for the tailback position. Hunter said that doesn’t mean they are feeling any pressure to outdo last year’s statistics, but said his goal is for The Stallions collectively to finish in the top 10 in the nation in rushing. The entire Tech offense finished as the No. 4 rushing team in the nation last year.

Williams said, “We’re have more experience going in. We’re three pretty good backs. I see this year as better than last. Eddie and I were freshmen, and now we have a little more experience under our belts.”

And, along with it, more apparent pride as a unit.

“It makes me feel proud to be one of ‘The Stallions,’” Williams said. Becton added, “When you classify one of us as part of The Stallions, it gives me total elation. It’s like saying we have pride, dignity, togetherness. The Stallions are all those things.”

Becton described the sense of unity among The Stallions:

“Maurice, Eddie, and I established a beautiful relationship last year. We listen to each other … We have a love for each other. Love is power. What he can’t do, I can do. What one of us does, we all do.”

All for one and one for all. The Three Musketeers would be proud.