Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

February 12, 2014

Critical times ahead for Hokies

BLUEFIELD — National Signing Day is more than a week old, but here are a few tidbits from Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer still sitting in my tape recorder waiting for use.

•Among the questions Beamer was asked on www.hokiesports.com are the story lines heading into spring practice. There are plenty, with the Hokies having to replace quarterback Logan Thomas, and several members of the Virginia Tech defense.

Mark Leal is the incumbent to Thomas, but he struggled in an emergency role in the Alamo Bowl when Thomas went down with an injury. Leal threw a pair of crucial interceptions in the loss to UCLA, but Beamer still likes what he sees from Leal, who has seen little playing time during his tenure in Blacksburg.

“I think we have got a critical time getting our quarterback situation squared away,” said Beamer, who brought in three new signal-callers to go with a couple of others who were redshirted last season. “I think Mark Leal is a much better player than he showed in the bowl game, I think preparation and being ready to go, we will see how that shakes out.”

Virginia Tech is also seeking not only to replace such defensive standouts as Antone Exum, Kyle Fuller, Jack Tyler and James Gayle, and the Hokies also desperately need more firepower at running back, and can only hope that the additions to Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie to holdovers Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman will provide some answers.

“I think our ability offensively to get more explosive plays and be better and more consistent in our running game continues to be what we wanted to do there,” Beamer said. “Defensively, we have got some guys back, but we are going to have to replace some good football players.”

•Virginia Tech has made its reputation with players from Virginia, but Beamer received some criticism this recruiting season, with eight of Rivals.com’s top nine rated in-state players going to other schools, including three to Virginia, two to Florida State and one apiece wound up signing with Alabama, Ohio State and North Carolina.

Only Travon McMillian, the seven-ranked player in the state, wound up at Virginia Tech. Beamer said the reasons are many, but expects the Hokies to continue to focus on the best Virginia has to offer.

“We missed on some, there are some very good players in those top groups right there, there is no question about it...,” Beamer said. “Different things go into it, but we will try like heck and we always want to go after the best players.

“We have gotten our share of the best players in the state of Virginia, but there are different things about those kids that turns them one way or turns them the other and sometimes it doesn’t work Virginia Tech’s way. We are going to continue to work hard to get the best players from the state of Virginia and that is our goal.”

•Virginia Tech did go outside of Virginia for 12 of its 28 newest signees, venturing into Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

“We generally try to stay within six hours of Blacksburg, we got a couple of kids from Florida, but generally the way we recruit, when the families can come with them on the recruiting visits, I think that is a better visit,” Beamer said. “I think when I meet with them on Sunday and the parents are there, if something is said, it is more likely to come through, so then they can come back and watch their kids play.

“Virginia will always be our first priority, get the best kids out of the state of Virginia and then branch out after that and we have been very well received. I think the name ‘Virginia Tech’ carries some weight, we have been pleased with the guys we have gotten out of state.”

•Beamer said that the “Battle at Bristol” game with Tennessee slated for Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016 has definitely been brought up during recruiting visits. BMS seats more than 160,000 fans, which will be by far the largest crowd to see a college football game.

“I think anytime when you are doing something when it is the largest crowd ever to watch a college football game and it is one of a kind, no one at this point in time can beat it,” Beamer said. “To me, kids want to make history and certainly want to play in that football game.

“I think that is something we can use as we go forward. As it gets closer to the time they play it, it will mean even more. If they walk through our office, which all of them did, they saw a lot of signs talking about that game.”

•Virginia Tech, which has gone an uncharacteristic 8-5 and 7-6 over the last two seasons, will play seven home games this season, including visits from non-ACC schools William & Mary, East Carolina and Western Michigan, and conference teams Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami and Virginia.

Among the road games will be a Sept. 6 visit to Ohio State to face the  Buckeyes, who will be ranked among the top 10 teams in America when the season begins. Other road visits include trips to North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Duke and Wake Forest.

There is also the return of Thursday night football in consecutive weeks, at Pittsburgh, followed by Miami coming to Lane Stadium on Oct. 23.

“I think our fans will be excited that we are playing a school like Ohio State and of course they are going to return the game the following year,” Beamer said. “William & Mary and my good buddy Jimmye Laycock is down there, they have always run a good program and a solid program.

“I think having the Thursday night games back to back, I like those. I think some of our fans think it is tough to get to both games during the week.

“As a general rule I think a Thursday night in Blacksburg, I think that is a  recruiting selling point when those guys come in and see the atmosphere and see the crowds and how they respond.”

Virginia Tech will host its Maroon and White spring game on April 26, and will open the 2014 season on Aug. 30 by welcoming William & Mary.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He can be contacted at bwoodson@bdtonline.com or on Twitter @bdtwoodson.

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