User ID: Password:

January 17, 2012

Redshirts ready to start own winning tradition

By: Jimmy Robertson

Kris Harley minces no words when asked to summarize this past fall, when he redshirted as a true freshman on the Virginia Tech football team. In fact, his opinion is probably the overwhelming consensus among his classmates who redshirted with him.

“I hated it,” he said.


But the apprenticeship ended for the 2011 recruiting class when the Hokies played in the Sugar Bowl to wrap up the 2011 season. From now on, the members of this particular class have their sights set on spring practice and beyond, craving the opportunity to work hard, show their talents and get back on the field in a meaningful role for the first time in two years, dating back to their senior seasons of high school.

This past fall, five members of the 2011 recruiting class played as true freshmen. The group includes defensive backs Kyshoen Jarrett and Boye Aromire, defensive linemen Corey Marshall and Luther Maddy and tight end Ryan Malleck. A sixth player – center Caleb Farris – played as a true freshman, but Farris signed with the Hokies in 2010 and delayed enrollment until January of 2011.

Maddy and Marshall saw significant action, while Jarrett, Aromire and Malleck played mostly on special teams. They and the rest of their classmates, though, represent the future of Virginia Tech football, and many of them figure to make an impact as early as next season.

Most eyes in the spring will be closely watching tailback Michael Holmes and receiver Demitri Knowles – and for good reason. Josh Oglesby departs, and ACC Player of the Year David Wilson as well. Wilson, projected by some as a first-round NFL Draft pick, decided to forgo his final season and declare for the NFL Draft.

That leaves the Hokies’ tailback position in the hands of unproven Tony Gregory and Holmes, a 5-foot-11, 212-pounder from Harrisonburg, Va., who rushed for more than 5,000 yards and scored more than 80 touchdowns in high school.

“It’s going to be fun,” Holmes said of replacing Oglesby and perhaps Wilson. “I’ve got to work hard and keep getting better. I’ve got to get bigger, stronger and faster. Then we’ll see what happens in the spring.”

Tech’s staff nearly played Holmes as a true freshman. But Holmes’ general lack of knowledge concerning the Hokies’ offensive schemes and some struggles in blitz pick-ups resulted in him redshirting. So he spent the fall learning from Wilson and Oglesby and getting himself bigger and stronger in Tech’s strength and conditioning program.

“David and J.O. [Oglesby] have taught me everything I know play-wise,” Holmes said. “They’ve helped me out by telling me what to watch for and just about the little things that make you better. I really appreciate that.

“I think it’s [redshirting] been a good thing. You learn the plays, and you get bigger. You learn more about the system and how things work. So I think it’s been a positive.”

Knowles, who caught 25 passes and six touchdowns his senior season at Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg, Va., finds himself in a similar situation as Holmes. Tech’s staff nearly played him as a true freshman after receiver Dyrell Roberts went down for the season with a broken arm, but the staff ultimately elected to redshirt him. Now, with the school’s all-time leading receivers in Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale departing, Knowles finds himself in a position to get on the field quickly.

“They’re 1-2 [in the record books], and I’ve gotten to work with them a little bit,” Knowles said. “Hopefully, I can use what they’ve taught me and become a much better player.

“It’s [redshirting] been quite an experience for me because, at one point, it was on and off with me [as to whether he’d play]. They [Tech’s coaches] didn’t know what they were going to do. I actually got the best of both worlds. I got to travel a little bit [on road trips], and I got to learn the plays.

“But redshirting was difficult for me. I’m not the type of person who likes to watch. It was a learning experience. It was a humbling experience. It helps you become a better teammate.”

Other redshirts who will see a lot of time this spring on the offensive side of the ball include Kevin Asante, a 5-11, 176-pound receiver from Charlotte, N.C.; Jake Goins, a 6-4, 258-pound tackle from Midlothian, Va.; and tight ends Darius Redman (6-3, 256) and Christian Reeves (6-3, 208). The Hokies lose two talented receivers, four starting offensive lineman and starting tight end Chris Drager, so all these young men have an opportunity in front of them.

On the other side of the ball, Tech will return nine starters with cornerback Jayron Hosley now deciding to forgo his senior season and make himself available for the NFL Draft.

At the least, Harley, a 6-0, 287-pound tackle from Indianapolis, Ind., gives the Hokies a talented backup on the defensive line. He wanted to do that this past season, but he arrived in Blacksburg a little bit out of shape, and fellow freshmen Maddy and Marshall passed him on the depth chart.

Not playing humbled Harley, who hated sitting out and even refused to go to a few of Tech’s home games because he couldn’t bear to watch – he wanted to play that badly.

“I didn’t even go. I couldn’t even watch,” Harley said. “I wanted to be out there real bad, so I couldn’t watch.

“But it [redshirting] helped me out. I got in better shape, but obviously I’d rather be out there playing. I’m real excited about the spring. I don’t want to do this again, sitting out and not even dressing. So I’m excited about spring practice.”

Other redshirts on defense who will get a close look this spring include defensive backs Michael Cole (6-1, 202), James Farrow (5-10, 179) and Ronny Vandyke (6-3, 200); and defensive ends Matt Roth (6-2, 223) and Dadi Nicolas (6-2, 214).

The Hokies lacked depth at both safety and rover this past season and were fortunate that starters Eddie Whitley and Antone Exum stayed healthy. Whitley departs, so the free safety spot could be up for grabs depending on how Theron Norman develops. Plus, it remains imperative that Farrow, Cole and Vandyke develop quickly because the use of spread offenses in college football creates a need for defensive backs who can cover.

Harley, Roth and Nicolas add depth to a defensive line that returns all four starters and returns the services of injured standouts Antoine Hopkins and Kwamaine Battle. The most intriguing of the trio is Nicolas, a skinny 215-pounder from Florida who runs faster than most defensive backs and plays relentlessly. He just lacks size and strength at this point.

Tech’s staff held scrimmages after each Monday practice in the fall to get a look at these prospects in game-like situations. They even held one before they all left before Christmas, and several redshirts performed well, especially Knowles, who caught several passes.

“After the scrimmage we had, I’m very excited,” Knowles said. “It made me feel like I’m ready to play. I feel like I had a very good scrimmage. I’m ready to play.”

Rest assured, his classmates feel the exact same way.