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August 15, 2011

Miller ready to hold his own on a talented and experienced offensive line

By: Jimmy Robertson

This past winter, Andrew Miller spent his free time trying to pin wrestler David Marone, a two-time NCAA qualifier at the heavyweight classification, in practices

This spring, Miller pinned down the starting center job during spring football practice.

Miller, a redshirt sophomore from Bassett, Va., won the only starting vacancy on Tech’s offensive line, taking over the role held by Beau Warren, a three-year starter. The rest of the line features four returning starters – all of them seniors. In fact, Tech’s starting line has accumulated a total of 95 career starts, with Miller being the only one who hasn’t started a game.

“There’s a lot of pressure, but I probably put most of that on myself just to make sure I’m ready,” Miller said. “We’ve got all seniors except for me, so I’ve got to step up my game.”

He certainly took all the proper steps to prepare himself for the 2011 season. First, he joined Tech’s wrestling team back in January. A two-time state champion as a wrestler, he never wrestled in a match this past season, but worked out with Marone to make Marone a better wrestler. That also helped Miller, improving his own mobility.

“I gave him [Marone] a bigger body to compete with,” Miller said. “And just getting on the mat helps my conditioning and my mobility. It’s definitely helped me be a better football player over the years.”

Then, he played well in spring practice, showing command of Tech’s offense. In fact, he played so well that he received the top offensive newcomer award following spring ball.

Finally, he stayed at Tech for both summer sessions. He improved in all his lifts and got his weight up to 315 pounds after playing at 290 a year ago.

“I feel good,” he said. “I’m strong, and I’m getting faster. I’ve gained a lot of weight since last year. I wasn’t this heavy last year. I’ll probably lose some weight. During the season, I’ll drop 10-15 pounds. I usually do.”

Miller, who played 136 snaps a year ago, will be surrounded by plenty of experience to help him out if need be. The four other senior starters all played more than 700 snaps (offense and special teams) a year ago, with three of them playing more than 800.

On the right side, Blake DeChristopher and Jaymes Brooks return at tackle and guard, respectively. DeChristopher, a second-team All-ACC selection last season who may miss the opener with a pectoral muscle injury, has started 37 games in his career, while Brooks has started 28.

On the left side, Greg Nosal returns at guard. Nosal played the most snaps of any offensive lineman last season – 885. To his left will be Andrew Lanier, who played 707 snaps a year ago. Lanier stepped in when Nick Becton injured his toe during preseason practice, and he played so well that he never allowed Becton to get in the starting lineup.

Becton returns, giving Tech an experienced backup. In fact, the Hokies return several promising backups, making this one of the deepest offensive lines in recent memory.

Michael Via, who started three games at center as a redshirt freshman, returns after missing a lot of time last season with a knee injury. He’ll be the backup behind Miller, but also possesses the versatility to play tackle if needed. Also, guard David Wang and tackle Vinston Painter return after seeing limited time a year ago. Wang backs up Nosal, while Painter stands in behind DeChristopher.

Three redshirt freshmen – Mark Shuman, Matt Arkema and Laurence Gibson – may not play a ton, but Tech’s staff, notably offensive line coach Curt Newsome, likes them.

A year ago, the Hokies led the ACC in scoring offense (33.9 ppg). Most of that can be attributed to a terrific rushing attack, as Tech finished second in the league in rushing offense (198.7 ypg).

They could better that number in 2011. Of course, that depends on the continued development of Miller and the continued excellence of those other four starters.

“We have to communicate,” Miller said. “Everyone has to be on the same level. We’ve always been great about getting along with each other and we work well with each other. We’re like a family, and the seniors have been doing a good job of helping everyone out.

“It helps to have those guys. They’ve been there and done it. They can answer any questions you might have. Or if you have problems, they are there to correct you.”

Right tackles
62 Blake DeChristopher (6-5, 311, r-Sr.)
71 Vinston Painter (6-6, 303, r-Jr.)

Right guards
68 Jaymes Brooks (6-2, 307, r-Sr.)
64 Matt Arkema (6-3, 287, r-Fr.)
60 Laurence Gibson (6-6, 312, r-Fr.)

74 Andrew Miller (6-4, 315, r-Soph.)
67 Michael Via (6-7, 292, r-Jr.)
79 Caleb Farris (6-3, 309, Fr.)
63 Bo Gentry (5-9, 262, r-Jr.)

Left guards
75 Greg Nosal (6-6, 297, r-Sr.)
76 David Wang (6-1, 300, r-Soph.)
59 Courtney Prince (6-2, 282, r-Jr.)
77 Dale Davis (6-2, 303, r-Fr.)

Left tackles
72 Andrew Lanier (6-5, 306, r-Sr.)
54 Nick Becton (6-6, 326, r-Jr.)
69 Mark Shuman (6-7, 302, r-Fr.)

58 Nick Acree (6-5, 278, r-Fr.)


Returning starters: Blake DeChristopher (37 career starts), Jaymes Brooks (28) Greg Nosal (15), Andrew Lanier (15)

Starter lost: Beau Warren (23 career starts)

Projected new starter: Andrew Miller

Top reserves: Nick Becton, Michael Via, David Wang, Vinston Painter

Newcomers: Laurence Gibson, Matt Arkema, Mark Shuman

Breakout candidate: Miller

Notes: Nosal was the Hokies’ top grader a year ago, grading at 85 percent for the season … DeChristopher led the team with 59 knockdowns last season … Becton is the Hokies’ most experienced reserve, having played 287 snaps a year ago.