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April 12, 2010

25 years ago - March 26, 1985

By: Jimmy Robertson

In the spring of 1984, Doug Waters started the Hokie Huddler, a publication devoted to the coverage of Virginia Tech 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 Virginia Tech in 1984-85.

This month, we’re looking at the March 26 issue, with Waters focusing on the 1985 spring football practice:

Spring football: Defense to have many new faces

By Doug Waters

Coming off its 8-4, Independence Bowl, Outland Trophy year, the Virginia Tech football team begins spring practice this week with enough holes to open a doughnut factory.

Coach Bill Dooley must find replacements for eight seniors on defense, five on offense and place-kicker Don Wade.

The offense, despite losing tight end Joe Jones, fullback Nigel Bowe, wingback Clarence Nelson, and starting linemen Billy Leeson and Tom Hartman, is in solid shape. There are capable back-ups at each of those positions.

But the defense is one huge question mark. The most glaring loss is Bruce Smith and his 46 career sacks at defensive tackle, along with career interception leader Ashley Lee at free safety.

Also gone are both defensive ends and the rest of the secondary. With Clemson coming to Blacksburg for the third game of the season, followed quickly by trips to Morgantown, W.Va., Charlottesville and Gainesville, Fla., the defense will have to mature in a hurry.

Here’s a position-by-position rundown of the players Tech will look at during its five weeks of spring drills heading to the April 27 intrasquad scrimmage. Not included are this year’s recruits.


QUARTERBACK: Seniors Mark Cox and Todd Greenwood, each of whom started last year, are back. The coaches are excited about the prospects of redshirt freshman Jeff Roberts, but Cox probably will begin the season at No. 1.

TAILBACK: Tech is incredibly deep here. Returning from last year are the four leading rushers – Maurice Williams (574 yards), Eddie Hunter (558), Desmar Becton (457) and Tyrone Branch (153). Also back is Otis Copeland, who led the team in 1983 with 709 yards, but missed last year after having to drop out of school. Redshirt freshman Malcolm Blacken also will compete for playing time.

FULLBACK: Sophomore Earnie Jones played well last year, but redshirt freshman Dickie Johnson (5-11, 220 pounds) will be a strong candidate for the top spot.

WINGBACK: Clarence Nelson is gone, but two other regulars, Terrence Howell and Allan Thomas, are very capable players.

SPLIT END: All three top split ends are back: Donald Wayne Snell, last year’s leading split end with 24 catches, along with Steve Ellsworth and Scott Rider.

TIGHT END: Competing for Jones’ job will be two who saw action last year, Greg Brooks and Steve Johnson, along with two redshirt freshmen, Mike Shiflett and Chet Culver.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Spring drills may determine whether guard Kent Thomas will have recovered enough from the pinched nerve problems in his neck to play. Center Mark Johnson, guard Tom Mehr and tackle Scott Cruise all will return to form a good nucleus. Also back is tackle Stuart Plank, who was a starter last year until being injured just before the season. Junior college transfer Rodney Good will be a favorite to give immediate help on the line.

KICKER: Tom Tarciani has some experience, but not a lot of range. The early favorite is one who won’t even participate in spring drills, Chris Kinzer, an all-state kicker at Pulaski County High School.



Rush end Cornell Urquhart and drop end Jesse Penn are gone and the only sure replacement at this point is Dwight Ausbrooks, who played some last year at both positions. There are a host of other candidates for either side, including Victor Jones, Carter Wiley, Chuck Watson and Rodney Varney.

TACKLES: The starter at left tackle, converted tight end Morgan Roane, had a solid season and will return. But someone has to fill the shoes of Big Bruce at right tackle. Joe Turner and Ranier Coleman both played some in relief of Bruce last year, but the coaches also will look at some younger players, including redshirt freshman Eric Hairston.

NOSE GUARD: Mark Webb is the returning starter and will be counted on to anchor the line. Orlando Williams, who weighs close to 300 pounds, will be back after leaving school last season, along with back-up Robby Jackson and several younger players.

LINEBACKER: This will be the strength of the defense early in the year. Vince Daniels and Paul Nelson, neither of whom had started until last year, ended the season the No. 1 and No. 3 tacklers on the team. They are solid starters, but there is great depth here: Lawrence White, Jamel Agemy and redshirt freshman Otis Pollard are among those who can expect to get good playing time.

SECONDARY: All the starters are gone, but one player, Ray Fitts, got good experience at cornerback while Derek Carter was injured. Three top back-ups from last year are Billy Myers, the punt returner, and Andy Ambers and Alan Harris. This position, more than any other, might be affected by this year’s recruiting class, which included seven defensive backs.

PUNTER: Senior David Cox returns after averaging 41.9 yards per punt last year.

The one sure thing about spring practice is that nothing is sure. It’s common for players to be tried at new positions. With so much depth at linebacker and tailback, for example, some of those players may be given a chance to play at another thinner spot.

There will be at least two intrasquad scrimmages during spring drills before the annual Maroon-White game on April 27.