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January 8, 2010

Hokies look good heading into next season - and into the future

By: Jimmy Robertson

The sounds of hammering, the crackling of welding and the sights of heavy construction equipment behind the Jamerson Athletics Center are a constant reminder of the investment being made in the Virginia Tech football program, as workers continue building the Hokies’ new locker room.

This athletics department certainly is building for the long haul in football, doing everything possible to maintain the success that is approaching two decades.

And from this perspective, the Hokies do look good for the long haul.

Tech played arguably its toughest schedule this past season and still came away with 10 wins following a truly impressive 37-14 performance over Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Hokies handcuffed the Volunteers for 60 minutes, and particularly the final 30, in an all-around performance that ranks among the best in the first decade of this millennium.

But it shouldn’t be the last time Tech fans see this type of performance.

With the exception of Tyrod Taylor, the guts of this team return for at least the next two years. But first, looking ahead to next season, 13 starters return. But more importantly, 21 players return who have started at least one game. Thirty-four players return who played at least 100 snaps this past season.

The interesting part, though, is that Tech’s senior class for next season numbers only 16. Of those 16, only seven are “major” contributors.

Defensively, Rashad Carmichael, John Graves, Jason Worilds and Davon Morgan all return for their senior seasons. Barquell Rivers, Cris Hill, Jake Johnson and Eddie Whitley all return for two more seasons, and both Lyndell Gibson and Jayron Hosley return for three seasons. Five of those possess starting experience.

Yes, Tech needs to rebuild some on the defensive line. Outside of Worilds and Graves, only Chris Drager, Antoine Hopkins and Kwamaine Battle have played more than 100 snaps in their careers.

But who bets against Bud Foster, who captained Tech’s five-game stonewalling of its opponents to end the season, including the holding of an SEC opponent to 240 yards in the bowl game?

“You’ve got to give Coach Foster credit,” Cody Grimm said. “He’s brilliant at what he does. He made some adjustments at halftime that really helped us in the second half. He’s been doing it all year and we’ve been getting better as a defense. To go out like this means a lot to us.”

Offensively, the Hokies appear to be in even better shape. Taylor, Andre Smith and Beau Warren return for their senior seasons. But a bunch of others return for the long haul.

Blake DeChristopher, Jaymes Brooks, Andrew Lanier, Danny Coale, Dyrell Roberts and Jarrett Boykin all return for two more seasons. All started games this past season.

Ryan Williams and Michael Via return for three more seasons – well, at least on paper for Williams. Also, several without starting experience actually have playing experience. That group includes guys like David Wilson, Josh Oglesby, Marcus Davis and Greg Nosal.

Oh yes, let’s not forget about Darren Evans. You guys remember him, right? He’ll be around for two more years.

“I think this [the Chick-fil-A Bowl win] was a great confidence-builder for the offense as a whole,” Coale said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how camp goes in the spring. I know we have a lot of talent coming back and let’s see what we do with it.”

“There’s a confidence,” Williams admitted. “Tyrod is back and our receiving corps will be a year older and wiser. Having Tyrod being the captain of the offense, what he says, we listen to him and we’ll follow him. We’ve got a great group around him and that makes the offense just that much better.”

Tech’s long-range plans, though, center on what happens post-Taylor. The quarterback position is the crux of a team, and this spring figures to be all about the backup quarterback spot.

Does Ju-Ju Clayton take the steps in progression that a third-year player should take? Or does Logan Thomas’ immense skills, honed after a year of redshirting, enable him to slide past Clayton on the depth chart? Or does an incoming freshman take the program by storm?

Clayton returns for the next three seasons, while Thomas comes back for four. Their development goes a long way toward determining the Hokies’ long-term future.

For 2010, though?

“We’ve got a lot of talent coming back,” Taylor said. “This is certainly a great confidence-builder, winning this bowl game.”

From this perspective, the foundation has been built, and the future, both near and far, looks bright.