Virginia Tech has not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Travon McMillian in 2015, but that does not mean the Hokies cannot produce an effective rushing attack. In 2016, head coach Justin Fuente’s most successful season at Virginia Tech, quarterback Jerod Evans even led all Hokies in rushing with 846 yards.
As seen in the past, Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen will look to employ a running back committee this season composed of a number of backs with varying skill sets.
Redshirt junior Deshawn McClease has the most experience of the group and will look to lead the Hokies in rushing this upcoming season. The Chesapeake, Virginia, native rushed for 530 yards in 2017 and 433 yards in 2018. Following a brief stint in the transfer portal this offseason, McClease looks poised for an increase in yards and production.
While McClease has the potential for a 1,000-yard season, the Hokies may be more productive in using a committee of backs to throw off opposing defenses. Among the committee include returning players Jalen Holston and Terius Wheatley.
Jalen Holston and Terius Wheatley
Holston, a junior, rushed for 281 yards last season and two touchdowns. Ninety-four of those yards came in the last two games of the season as Holston established himself as a serviceable backup to McClease who is capable of coming off the bench and providing solid rushing attempts. Holston seems to be a lock at the RB2 position this season for the Hokies.
Redshirt sophomore Terius Wheatley showed his potential early in his freshman year, rushing for 58 yards and a touchdown against William & Mary. Wheatley’s production dropped off heavily later in the season as he finished with 126 yards on the year. A solid offseason could allow for the former three-star recruit to take advantage of his opportunities and become an integral part of this year’s running back committee.
Several new recruits and former redshirted players could find their way into solid playing time this season if Fuente and Cornelsen stick with the committee rushing attack in 2019. Three redshirt freshmen have the opportunity to earn playing time this season: Caleb Steward, Malik Bell and Cole Beck.
Beck, a former track star at Blacksburg High School, will likely be used in special teams and trick play scenarios where his blazing speed could burn opposing defenses. However, redshirt freshmen Steward and Bell both had solid spring games and may be called upon in select formations to backup McClease and Holsten.
Bell is a 230-pound power runner who could eventually establish a role similar to successful Tech players of the past like Sam Rogers and Steven Peoples. Steward is more of a downhill runner who will likely be used in limited scenarios but has the potential to break open larger gains.
Two true freshmen running backs joined the Hokies this offseason with lots of potential. Keshawn King is a four-star back from Florida that was ranked 23rd in his class by 247sports. With so many holes in the running back committee idea, King could easily lock up solid playing time if he can make the most out of early opportunities against non-conference opponents. King may very well be the Virginia Tech running back of the future, but his time to make an impact on Tech’s offense could start this fall.
Tahj Gary is another true freshman that joins this loaded running back group. Gary is a 5’8” running back from Atlanta that weighs in at 221 pounds. The three-star recruit will likely compete with Bell for short-yardage reps, but he has the potential to be yet another bruiser for the Hokie running back committee.
While McClease could easily become the first 1,000-yard rusher in the Fuente era, there is no shortage of backup options if a running back committee is what Fuente and Cornelsen decide upon. Seeing as Tech has reloaded the group with young talent, the Hokies will have plenty of options as well as a solid future at the position. This season, look for a number of names to be called from the Lane Stadium speakers as the Hokies experiment with their weapons in the backfield.