It’s been a long, sometimes painful, road at Virginia Tech for Tony Gregory.
But now may be his time to shine.
With a parade of running backs coming through training camp this fall who all appeared to be fighting for playing time, it was unclear where Gregory would stand on the coaches’ final depth chart.
Running back coach Shane Beamer, though, knew he saw something in the redshirt junior from the beginning, despite fans and media falling head over heels for freshman running backs Michael Holmes and J.C Coleman along with converted fullback Martin Scales.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” Beamer said. “Everytime I got asked over the summer about Scales, Edmunds, Coleman and Holmes, no one even asked about Gregory. I always said he’s a guy nobody talks about, that I was excited about.”
Gregory, though, says he never got concerned about his playing time.
“I didn’t really feel forgotten. We’re a team so you have to stick together," he said
On Saturday, his patience paid off as Gregory led the Hokies in carries and yards with 11 carries for 68 yards. It was the first significant time Gregory had spent in the running back position at Tech, and it certainly paid off.
Gregory came into Tech known for his speed and had many fans excited about the prospects of what he could accomplish in his time in Blacksburg. However, a string of ACL tears had set him back quite a bit.
The last one occurred in last year’s final regular season game vs. Virginia. Gregory, however, continued to play until realizing the significance of his injury in the Sugar Bowl vs. Michigan.
“Tony’s got bad knees like me and is getting old,” Beamer said.
Now, Gregory is just thankful for good health and the opportunity to play the game he loves.
"I thank God for letting me come out here and show off the gifts and blessings that he gave me," he said.
Beamer says that the coaches weren’t surprised at all by what they saw on Saturday because that is the type of performance Gregory has been putting on in practice for years.
“Everyday in practice we see what you guys saw on Saturday,” Beamer said. “He plays fast. He’s got great energy. He’s tough. I love the kid.”
Head Coach Frank Beamer echoes his son’s statement in saying that Gregory plays with a different type of speed than other players.
“All fall, you'd say it several times: 'Man, he's playing fast,'" Beamer said. “I mean, he's a fast guy that plays fast, and I thought that's what he did Saturday. I thought when he got the ball there was a quickness in there that was good to see."
Gregory is by far the most experienced back of the bunch. As a redshirt junior, he is one of the oldest players on the team at the age of 23 and he is using his experience to help him out.
“He’s experienced. I mean, J.C. was in high school last year at this time. Michael Holmes was on the scout team a year ago at this time. Martin Scales was playing fullback a year ago at this time,” Shane Beamer said.
“Tony is the guy that’s been playing tailback and has some experience, and it shows. I think he’s got confidence back there and when the ball is in his hands, he’s going to play fast.”
And while the coaching staff isn’t changing from their four running back approach anytime soon, they certainly are continuing to find ways to get Gregory the ball as much as possible.
“That’s what coach Shane and coach (Bryan) Stinespring want, is to get J.C. and I in wide open space in order to create explosive plays,” Gregory said. “We’ve got speed, so we try to utilize that as much as possible.”
Gregory, though, almost made a switch to defense in the spring training camps as the team was battling with depth issues in the secondary.