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January 8, 2010

2009 recruiting class hopes future is now

By: Jimmy Robertson

Logan Thomas
It was a rather odd autumn for Logan Thomas.

One of the most talented prospects out of Tech’s 2009 recruiting class and arguably the most sought after, Thomas arrived in Blacksburg in July fully anticipating on playing this season either at receiver or tight end.

But Tech’s staff liked his potential at quarterback, the position he played at Brookville High in Lynchburg, Va., so the coaches decided to keep him there. Then Thomas ended up redshirting after not being able to edge out Ju-Ju Clayton for the No. 2 job behind Tyrod Taylor. Yet he still went on every road trip this fall, even though he never got on the field.

“At first, it [redshirting] was tough,” Thomas said. “But as the season went along, it wasn’t a big deal. I knew it was for the better.

“I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot about defenses, and I’ve learned a lot about our offense. I’ve learned a lot from Tyrod and Ju-Ju. I feel like I’m a better player now.”

Thomas is one of 21 prospects who signed with the Hokies last February; 16 of whom enrolled in August (three deferred enrollment voluntarily until January and two others were taking care of academics in hopes of coming in January). Of those 16, 13 – like Thomas – redshirted. Tech’s staff played just three true freshmen this fall (David Wilson, D.J. Coles and Jayron Hosley) after playing six true freshmen in 2008.

Thomas, though, will probably be scrutinized more than any of his fellow classmates mainly because of the speculation surrounding his future position. Will he stay at quarterback – the most important position on the field? Or with Taylor around for another season, do the coaches try to take advantage of Thomas’ 6-foot-6, 233-pound frame by playing him as a receiver or tight end?

“I’ll probably stay at quarterback,” Thomas said. “I played it for two years in high school. With Tyrod around for another year, that will give me more time to learn for when I do get my chance. I’m sure there are a lot of questions to be answered, but I’m happy where I’m at.”

Aside from Thomas, a lot of the focus this spring will be on the defensive side of the ball and on special teams. And obviously, several of these freshmen who redshirted will be analyzed closely.

On defense, graduation wipes out two starters in the secondary (three if one counts Dorian Porch), two defensive linemen and arguably Tech’s best defensive player in Cody Grimm. Their departures leave an opportunity for some of the defensive players who redshirted to get on the field quickly in their young careers.

In the secondary, Tech’s staff redshirted three defensive backs, including two cornerbacks in James Hopper, a 5-9, 179-pounder from Fayetteville, N.C., and Jerrodd Williams, a 6-0, 185-pounder from Central, S.C. The one to watch, though, may be the safety, Antone Exum, a 5-11, 209-pounder from Glen Allen, Va.

Exum served as the quarterback at Deep Run High during his days there and he projects as the future quarterback of Tech’s defense. Kam Chancellor, an All-ACC performer, departs, and his backup this season, Eddie Whitley, has bounced from cornerback to safety.

“At first, when they [Tech’s coaches] told me I was redshirting, that was shocking,” Exum said. “But it’s helped me a lot. I’m bigger, faster and stronger. I’m more educated on how to play free safety, which I think is the hardest position on the defense to learn. You’ve got to put the entire secondary in the right spots, and you’ve got to make all the calls. You’re reading off of what the offense is doing.

“I thought I could come in and contribute right away. But I didn’t want to waste a year and it gave me time to learn the position.”

Along with developing young players in the secondary, developing future talent along the defensive front was important– an annual ritual to be sure. In particular, defensive line coach Charley Wiles wants to find some playmakers at the end spots because superstar Jason Worilds leaves after the 2010 season along with backup Steven Friday.

Wiles will spend the spring looking closely at the four ends Tech brought in last February – James Gayle, J.R. Collins, Duan Perez-Means and Tyrel Wilson. Perez-Means, a 6-4, 230-pounder from Richmond, deferred enrollment until the spring semester because of a shoulder injury, and Wilson, a 6-1, 206-pounder from Hampton, Va., is also recovering from a shoulder injury, though he rehabbed here at Tech this fall.

Gayle and Collins really impressed this fall while working on the scout team. Both bring size, with Gayle at 6-4, 232 and Collins at 6-3, 230. Gayle finished with 96 tackles and 12 sacks his senior season at Bethel High in Hampton, Va., and Collins tallied 124 tackles and 16 sacks his senior season at Brooke Point in Stafford, Va.

Other defensive players who redshirted include Tariq Edwards, a 6-3, 212-pounder from Cheraw, S.C., and Telvion Clark, a 6-1, 220-pounder from Norfolk, Va. Clark may be the most physically impressive specimen in the class. He recorded an astounding 390-pound bench press and also squatted 430 and had a vertical jump of 35 inches. He drew rave reviews for his work on the scout team, too, during practices.

But he and Edwards both project at linebackers and they’ll face serious competition, as the Hokies return nearly everyone at the backer and mike linebacker spots.

On special teams, head coach Frank Beamer has an uncanny way of unearthing tremendous walk-on kickers, but he redshirted a guy whom he thinks highly of in Cody Journell. The former standout at nearby Giles High was one of the top kicking prospects in the country and possesses a tremendous leg. He’ll certainly be in the mix to replace first-team All-ACC kicker Matt Waldron.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Hokies appear to be in great shape heading into 2010 as they lose just three starters – two on the offensive line in Sergio Render and Ed Wang. Line coach Curt Newsome played a lot of younger linemen this season and has replacements lined up, but a couple of linemen who redshirted could get in the mix.

Both Andrew Miller (6-4, 275) and David Wang (6-2, 290) redshirted, and Kory Gough (6-5, 265) postponed enrollment until spring. Miller (shoulder) and Wang (shoulder) both are coming off surgeries, but should be ready for spring practice.

Miller was phenomenal in the weight room this fall, putting up the best numbers of any of the freshmen (390-pound bench, 395-pound squat, 360-pound push jerk and 346-pound power clean). He and Gough both wrestled in high school and that usually translates well for future football success. All three project as interior linemen.

The skill players in the group included Wilson, Coles, Thomas and Nubian Peak, a 5-11, 176-pound receiver from Radford, Va., who, like Thomas, redshirted. Wilson rushed for 301 yards and three touchdowns and returned 17 kickoffs this season, while Coles played mostly on special teams.

Peak adds to an already deep Tech receiving group. The former tailback at Pulaski County High caught on to the position quickly in August practices and figures to get an extended look this spring.

Actually, all these young men will get extended looks. That makes for an exciting spring.

Certainly more exciting than their first fall in Blacksburg.

“We’ve all talked about it,” Exum said. “We’re excited to get out there and we’re working our hardest.

“I know I used to sit in those stands and I’d get worked up. I’d wish I was out there. But it’s part of the process, and it’s turned out to be best for me and probably a lot of other guys, too.”