Every year when football season ends, Hokies fans must say goodbye to some of their favorite players as they move on to graduation and sometimes even the NFL Draft.
Enter a bunch of high schoolers no one really knows much about to take their places. But thanks to a rejuvenated recruiting department led by Shane Beamer, there are tons of talented freshmen on this year’s squad, ready to make a name for themselves.
Now that Ryan Williams and David Wilson both are playing on Sundays, there isn’t a running back on the roster that has proven himself at the collegiate level. Expect that to change. The Hokies will likely employ a two-headed monster consisting of freshmen Michael Holmes, who redshirted last year, and true freshman J.C. Coleman.
At 6 feet, 200 pounds, Holmes shouldn’t have much quickness to go with his size, but he does. This rare combination makes tackling Holmes no easy task, and after sitting out last season, he knows the playbook inside and out and is likely to be standing atop the depth chart come week one. It remains to be known if he’ll be NFL bound like the Tech running backs of recent years, but either way he should be very productive for the Hokies.
Equipped with newly added strength, J.C. Coleman is ready to come in and make an impact. Coleman graduated high school early and came to Blacksburg in time to attend spring practices, and he spent much of the summer in the gym adding weight and strength. Standing at only 5’8,” Coleman is extremely shifty, and similarly to David Wilson, he can turn a dead play into a big gain.
Not surprisingly, he is taking over the famed No. 4.
Holmes and Coleman have been pushing one another in order to keep Tech’s rushing game among the best in the nation. Despite the competition in training camp, the two have developed a great dynamic.
“Me and Mike are like the best of friends on the field and off the field,” Coleman said.
“We pretty much help each other, definitely going all the way back to the spring we helped each other a whole lot.”
Another offensive weapon Logan Thomas will be happy to have on the field is wide receiver Joshua Stanford, who’s not afraid to go between the numbers and take a beating.
Stanford won out the battle for the No. 3 receiver spot over Joel Caleb; Caleb, who was recruited as an athlete, is learning what it’s like to be catching the passes, not throwing them as he was in high school and will redshirt this season.
Cornerback depth looks to be an issue this year for the Hokies, with Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum as the only corners on the roster with experience. Behind them on the depth chart stand freshmen Donovan Riley and Donaldven Manning.
Manning and Riley are both full of potential, but each has a very different style.
Riley isn’t much smaller than most receivers at 6’0,” 200 pounds. His size will allow him to avoid getting thrown around, it’s just a matter of learning the playbook.
Similar to Coleman, Manning left high school early and attended spring practices. He fits the mold of many previous Hokies cornerbacks as a slightly undersized player that can still give any sized receiver fits with his physicality and speed. Add the fact that he’s spent an extra semester learning the playbook, and it’s very likely Manning will see the field in nickel and dime packages.
Another player who redshirted last year who’s causing tons of excitement is outside linebacker Ronny VanDyke.
After being recruited as a safety, VanDyke has since moved closer and closer to the line of scrimmage.
In the spring he showed he’s more than capable of playing the whip linebacker position, and over the summer, he’s shown a knack for getting to the quarterback. His versatility will get him on the field one way or another; it’s just a matter of where he’ll line up. His quickness could make him a regular in blitz packages, so don’t be shocked to see him in the backfield early and often.
But although these players seem to have the talent required, adjusting to the college game isn’t an easy task.
“We’ve got some talented young prospects with the freshmen, but right now it’s a whirlwind for them,” said defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “We’re not slowing down for them, they’ve got to come up to our level and they understand that.”
Tack on some special teamers in punter A.J. Hughes and long snapper Eddie D’Antuono, and the Hokies will have freshmen seeing action over all facets of the game.
Having the big stage nerves might be an issue for some players, especially with the huge week one matchup that we’ve all been anticipating.
“Not having been there for a nationally televised game on Monday night, with the whole country watching, you just don’t know how a lot of those guys are going to react,” head coach Frank Beamer said. “The good part of it though is that we really have some talented kids.”
It’ll certainly take time for fans to get used to seeing all those new names and numbers out on Worsham Field, but this year’s freshmen have the potential to become Lane Stadium favorites in no time.