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May 7, 2010

NEW FACES TAKE CENTER STAGE - A group of young and inexperienced players shine as the Hokies conclude spring practice with the Maroon-White game

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tony Gregory capped a terrific spring by running for a game-high 37 yards and scoring a touchdown in the Maroon-White game.

Perhaps the only person frustrated with what transpired during Virginia Tech’s annual Maroon-White game that concluded this year’s spring practice was the most important person on the Hokies’ squad.

“When guys run past me …,” Tyrod Taylor said, shooting a glance at Steven Friday during the postgame news conference, “that’s not a tackle. I talked to Coach [Beamer] and he said, ‘We’re just trying to keep you healthy.’ I actually tried to get one of the equipment managers to get me a white jersey so I could play ‘live,’ but it didn’t happen.”

Taylor was making reference to Friday’s second-quarter “touch” sack of Taylor, the source of his frustration. Taylor was the only player who wasn’t allowed to be hit during the game. But keeping Taylor healthy superceded his own desires, as Tech’s staff now gears up for summer preparations toward the 2010 season – with its star player fully healthy.

Other than that, everyone else was giddy with what transpired during the Maroon-White game played in front of a large throng at Lane Stadium on April 24. The primary reason centered on the plethora of young players who stood out, such as Logan Thomas, Tony Gregory, Antone Exum and Bruce Taylor, who made this normally boring event much more entertaining.

“You’ve got choices with spring games, and I like playing a game,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “I like letting things happen as they happen, as opposed to offense versus defense and having point systems and all that. I like playing games because I think some people will step up. It always seems to happen when you do that.

“I think a good example of that was Antone Exum. He came out in a game-like situation and really stepped up. Another guy was Tony Gregory. I’ve been impressed with him. You see things like that in a spring game.”

Friday, a veteran only by age and class, along with Thomas and Gregory, accounted for the game’s scoring, a 16-0 decision claimed by the Maroon.

Thomas, a 6-foot-6, 238-pounder from Lynchburg, Va., played well despite feeling ill – he actually vomited on the field early in the fourth quarter. But that incident didn’t come before giving fans a glimpse of his immense skills.

Thomas guided the Maroon team to a score on the first drive of the game. A 12-play, 57-yard drive ended when Thomas hit Danny Coale in the corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown play. Chris Hazley added the extra point to give the Maroon team a 7-0 lead.

Thomas, who went 5-for-5 on the drive, switched over to the White team at halftime because Tech’s staff decided to shelve Taylor for the remainder of the game. He finished the game completing 6-of-12 for 34 yards, with the touchdown, and more importantly, no interceptions.

Thomas and Ju-Ju Clayton battled all spring for the backup job behind Taylor. Clayton completed 3-of-7 for 25 yards and an interception, and the battle will continue into the fall.

“I’m just trying to put as much pressure on Ju-Ju as I can,” Thomas said. “We’re both fighting for this job as hard as we can. It’s a friendly battle, though, and I think we’ll be proud of each other no matter who comes out on top.”

Antone Exum (left, maroon jersey) was all over the field this spring and that was the case in the Maroon-White game as well when he recorded four solo tackles and three pass break-ups.

“Both of them do some good things,” Beamer said. “I think we’ve got to sit down and decide who gives us the best opportunity to win. We’re going to study this video hard and go over what happened during all of spring practice. I’m not sure we’re going to make a decision, but we’re going to be further along in our evaluation.”

Friday accounted for the Maroon’s next tally, sacking Thomas in the end zone for a safety late in the third quarter. Friday, a redshirt senior, finished with four tackles, including one for a loss, and two sacks, and wrapped up a big spring by winning the Dr. Richard Bullock Award, which goes to the player who shows the most improvement during spring workouts.

“I feel like it is my time,” Friday said. “I’m banking on it now. Congrats to Jason Worilds for going to the league [Worilds left early to enter the NFL Draft] and giving me an opportunity to play. I’ve got to make the most of it.”

Gregory had the last score in the game. He scored on a 6-yard run early in the fourth quarter. The redshirt freshman rushed for 37 yards on a game-high 10 carries.

Statistically, Gregory and Taylor led the way offensively. Taylor completed 4-of-8 for 76 yards, while Jarrett Boykin caught three passes for 50 yards and Xavier Boyce caught three for 43 yards. Coale and Marcus Davis also caught three passes each, and Ben Barber, Dyrell Roberts and Andre Smith each caught two passes.

Defensively, Exum was around the ball a lot, recording four solo tackles and three pass break-ups. Eddie Whitley finished with five tackles and the game’s lone interception, and Bruce Taylor recorded five tackles, including 1.5 for a loss, to wrap up a tremendous spring in which he took advantage of Barquell Rivers’ injury that cost Rivers the entire spring.

“The game has slowed down for me,” Taylor said. “When you’re young, your mind is tying up your feet when you’re thinking about the coverages and gap assignments and what you’ve got to do. But when you get older, you figure out tendencies and what the offense is going to do and read the offensive linemen’s stances. Things have become easier for me, slowed down, and I’ve started to make some plays.”

The game also marked the return of Darren Evans to Lane Stadium in front of a large crowd – Evans has participated in the scrimmages, but the crowds were sparse. He finished with just eight yards on five carries, but on his first carry, he ran over Exum and received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Hopefully, it’ll be a sign of things to come for Tech fans, who appear to be anxious to see Evans and Ryan Williams, last year’s ACC Rookie of the Year and the school record holder for rushing yards in a season, work in a tandem. Williams did not play in the spring game because of a slightly bruised knee.

“I think it could be pretty big as long as we’re rotating and staying healthy and keeping each other fresh,” Evans said of the upcoming fall. “With Tyrod, the way he’s passing the ball, it will open up the field for us – and I guess vice versa.”

The Hokies will find out Sept. 6 when they open the season against Boise State at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

The following is a list of award winners from the 2010 spring practice:

Paul Torgersen Award (top newcomers during spring practice) – Offense: Logan Thomas; Defense: James Gayle
President’s Award (players who demonstrate the most outstanding leadership during the offseason program and spring workouts) – Offense: Tyrod Taylor; Defense: John Graves
Dr. Richard Bullock Award (players who show the most improvement during spring workouts) – Offense: Marcus Davis; Defense: Steven Friday
Frank O. Moseley Award (players who exhibit the most hustle during the offseason and spring workouts) – Offense: Bo Gentry and Danny Coale; Defense: Eddie Whitley.
Coaches Award (players who had an exceptional spring) – Offense: Andre Smith and Blake DeChristopher; Defense: Lyndell Gibson
George Preas Award (MVP of spring practice) – Offense: Tyrod Taylor; Defense: John Graves
Don Williams TEAM UNITED Award (the offensive and defensive player who put the team first) – Offense: Greg Nosal; Defense: Rashad Carmichael