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August 21, 2012

Tech freshmen hope to earn playing time in 2012

By: Jimmy Robertson

Two years ago, Tech head coach Frank Beamer and his staff played just two true freshmen – a couple of guys named Derrick Hopkins and Kyle Fuller.

A year ago, seven played, including a couple of projected 2012 starters in Luther Maddy and Kyshoen Jarrett.

Now, as this season gets set to kick off and with nearly all of Tech’s first and second teams set, an intriguing question comes to mind – will any true freshmen out of what looks to be a talented 2012 recruiting class see the field?

The Hokies, predicted to win the Coastal Division yet again and ranked 20th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll, opened practice on Aug. 7 and face relatively few questions heading into this season. Sure, there is conversation about the offensive line and the return of key defensive players from injuries, but for the most part, the staff knows what it has. Tech returns a great quarterback, three experienced receivers, a rising star at tailback, nine starters on defense and an honorable mention all-conference selection at kicker.

Things could certainly be worse.

But Beamer and his staff may need a few freshmen to shore up certain spots. And no spots need more bodies than those in the secondary, where the Hokies lack depth.

The top backup at both corner spots is Donaldven Manning, a true freshman who enrolled this past January and participated in spring practice. Expect Manning to play, but also expect to see one or two of the trio of Davion Tookes, Desmond Frye or Donovan Riley to play.

“I’m working hard in the weight room and hoping to have a successful camp,” Riley said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play in the fall.

“The coaches are motivating me to continue to work hard and to prove that I can compete at the collegiate level. I’m working countless hours to perfect my craft at the cornerback position, so that I can accomplish my goals of showcasing my skills as a true freshman.”

On the offensive side of the ball, J.C. Coleman will play as a true freshman in part because he, too, like Manning, enrolled in January for the spring semester and participated in spring practice. Heading into fall camp, Coleman, from Chesapeake, Va., stood as the No. 2 tailback behind Michael Holmes. He rushed for 1,488 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior.

A couple of other freshmen have a legit shot at playing this season, including Trey Edmunds and Joel Caleb. Edmunds, from Danville, Va., will start out at tailback, though Tech’s staff plans on giving him a look on defense down the road. He rushed for an impressive 2,596 yards as a senior.

I think that's where the real need is," Beamer said of putting Edmunds at tailback. "That’s where a guy can come in and play and play a lot right now, and I think he has that kind of ability."

Caleb, from Midlothian, Va., stands as arguably the top recruit in the class. He played quarterback in high school, but will be a receiver at Tech, and because Tech graduates three receivers after this season, the staff wouldn’t mind playing him, provided he earns the right.

“I’m just working hard and letting them decide,” Caleb said. “I have to do my part. I was out here this summer, getting work in and learning the techniques. The older guys, like Dyrell [Roberts] and Corey [Fuller] and D.J. [Coles], have been helping me and have been great. I’m just trying to give myself a chance to get on the field.”

The rest of the freshmen class possesses a lot of potential, but Tech’s staff feels confident in the depth at those spots and envisions the linemen and linebackers redshirting to get bigger and stronger. That makes sense. Playing on the line as a true freshman is a difficult proposition.

"The further you get away from the football, the more you can use your talent and get in there and play quickly," Beamer said.

The future looks bright, no matter which true freshmen play. They have developed a nice chemistry as a class, and their love of Tech provides a sense of optimism for the future of the program.

“It’s been a lot better than I expected,” Caleb said. “Just being around the team and learning from the older guys, it’s been a lot of fun.”

For some of the freshmen, the future is now. For others, it will come later.

For Tech and its fans, it appears to be bright.