Next fall, Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones better bring his appetite to the Chick-fil-A College Kick-off.
If he and the Alabama Crimson Tide plan on leaving Atlanta with a win over the Hokies, Jones must manage a hearty helping of "Virgil Stew."
After three seasons of watching fellow Virginia Tech cornerbacks take charge of the Hokie defense, senior Stephan Virgil is ready to add his own spice as the leader of the Tech secondary in 2009.
"From my first two years of watching Flowers play and the way he comes out of his breaks with the receivers and the way he just goes and attacks the receiver," Virgil said. "Then watching Macho (Harris), how fluent and swift he was downfield, how he comes out of his breaks and how he reads plays. It's almost like making soup. I take a little bit of what I learned from Flowers, and I take a little bit of what I learned from Macho, and I put my mix into it - and you got a hell of a combination."
Over the past five seasons, Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster's unit has been one of the best in the nation - each year ranking in the top 10 in total defense and scoring defense in large part due to the consistent, excellent play of the secondary.
Four straight Associated Press All-Americans have anchored Foster's defensive backfield since 2005, which has ranked in the top 15 in interceptions every year this decade except for in 2003.
After Jimmy Williams started the trend in 2005, Brandon Flowers followed with consecutive honors in '06 and '07, and in 2008, Victor 'Macho' Harris made four.
Nobody doubts that Virgil must fill some enormous shoes this season, but because of the seemingly never-ending cycle of star cornerbacks, a blueprint for success has been passed down dating back to Anthony Midget's stellar season in 1999.
Since then, Tech hasn't gone longer than one year without producing a defensive back that was named All-American.
With the departures of Harris and Flowers to the NFL, an increased drive for success now sits fresh in Virgil's mind. That is one reason why defensive backs coach Torrian Gray believes his newest field corner will live up to the lofty expectations.
"He understood how those guys prepared and what kind of playmakers those guys were," Gray said.
"And I know he doesn't want to be anything less than those guys were. I'm sure he's going to look at them, see how they played different things, and want to be that same type of guy. I know that's going to be motivation for him."
One of the biggest adjustments the North Carolina native must make is the jump from the field cornerback position, where he started every game last season, to Harris' old spot at boundary corner.
The boundary corner leaves Virgil isolated in man-to-man coverage much more often than the field corner and forces him to make quicker, smarter reads.
Although Gray and Virgil acknowledge he must "grow up" rather quickly, the transition should be eased by his experience at boundary corner when he played behind Flowers in 2007.
"It's kind of like going back home," Virgil said. "You get more run action to the boundary side, and I like a lot of contact and I like to be in the mix. Sometimes last year I wouldn't get a tackle in the field, so I felt kind of left out."
In addition to his adjustments on the field, Virgil must make strides as a leader off the field. In past seasons, Virgil could sit back and learn from Flowers and Harris, but now he finds himself in the position of the teacher.
Although unfamiliar with the role, he understands the importance of being a leader like his predecessors, as they helped to groom the player he is today.
"Last year, being my first season playing, I got some experience under my belt so I have to lead some of the younger guys," Virgil said. "Right now, I'm there to give them the answers. I have to take a step up from being a follower like I was last year listening to Macho, to being a leader now like Macho was to me and the rest of the secondary."
Virgil certainly won't be the only leader next fall, however.