Friday, March 21, 2008

Two Different Paths

There are many things I am wrong about - just ask The Blonde. And I have missed on my share of football players, but I was one of the first people on the Branden Ore and Brandon Flowers' bandwagons. These two players just screamed NFL to me the first time I saw each play - Flowers returning a pick in his first game and then filling in for Jimmy Williams in the Gator Bowl against Louisville, while Ore had a huge day against Marshall as a redshirt freshman. And now it's interesting to see how two NFL talents have taken such divergent paths.

Branden Ore has just been dismissed from the football team and will miss his redshirt senior season. Meanwhile Brandon Flowers just had a fantastic workout at his NFL Pro Day and will be a likely 1st and definitely 2nd round pick. Why? It comes down to the intangible that prevents recruiting stars from meaning very much to me - does the player have a complete commitment to the football team? 

This means a lot more than playing hard on game day. It means taking care of business in the classroom. It means not showing up late to practice for the Orange Bowl game. It means getting up at 5:30 AM for early morning workouts in the spring and sweating through two-a-days in August. It means a drive to hit the weight room in June for voluntary workouts. It means all of those things and the ones that have NFL talent AND do those things can go on to a successful career in the NFL. 

Brandon Flowers not only did all of these things, but he also played very hard on game day and he studied religiously in the film room. And after all of his hard work he will be rewarded with a well-deserved opportunity to play at the NFL level. He is not the fastest cornerback Virginia Tech has ever had, but he's the best one. And in my opinion, he's the best cornerback in the draft. He is incredibly physical at the line of scrimmage and in run support and his technique and instincts are as good as I can remember seeing. 

Meanwhile Branden Ore has amazing vision. He has the best jump cut I've seen since Eric Metcalf. In 2005 and 2006 he ran so hard it was inspirational. My brother-in-law and I always used to comment on how the first man NEVER got Ore. He just never got him. Ore would make him miss or break the tackle and I mean you can watch the footage of '05 and '06 (Cincinnati '06 is a particularly good example) and you just won't see the first guy bring Ore down. Then in 2007, yes there were offensive line problems, but the first man got Ore regularly. It came out that he was hurt (and I blame Billy Hite for continuing to play Ore like that) and when the line got better and he got healthier there were glimpses of the past greatness, but it was never the same for a full game.

Meanwhile in the locker room and off-the-field Ore never demonstrated the level of commitment that the coaches were looking for. I thought when he went home in the spring of '06 and worked at the 7-11, it really turned him around. Perhaps his injuries frustrated him, but even before he got hurt, showing up at for summer practice in '07 out of shape was a bit of a warning sign. 

I won't pretend to second guess or judge Branden Ore because he is the one who gets to live his life with the choices he's made. But I'll admit that it is hard for me to grasp, because I am not as good at anything as Ore was at running a football and he had what is essentially a lottery ticket in his hand. Had 2008 been a big year for Ore (with the offensive line looking so strong, that seems to have been a good possibility) he would likely have been a 2nd/3rd round pick in the draft next year. Now he won't be. 

As far as the Hokies football team in 2008 is concerned, Brandon Flowers' departure leaves a hole behind. There will be a good competition for the corner spot opposite Macho Harris and the Hokies have some decent experience there with Rock Carmichael and Stephen Virgil along with a monster talent in redshirt freshman Cris Hill. But it's nothing like the enormous stable of talent at the running back position. It's silly to say a back like Ore won't be missed, because no Hokie RB is at his level right now. But between Josh Oglesby, Darren Evans, Jahre Cheeseman and Kenny Lewis, Jr. a very capable two-deep will emerge. The arrival of Ryan Williams adds even more potential for the future, but Williams either needs to be on special teams as a returner or take a redshirt year in 2008 as he will need time to get bigger and stronger to be able to do the other things a Hokies RB needs to be able to do in the blocking game and taking a beating over the course of a season. But the future at running back is VERY bright for Virginia Tech and the Hokies will be fine there.

So when watching the draft, take a minute to be happy for Brandon Flowers when his name gets called. And then take a minute and reflect on Brandon Ore and how, despite having the talent, he won't have a similar opportunity. There's a lesson in there and I think it is that we should make sure to give everything we have every day towards our own goals. As the all-time great RB Walter Payton once said - "Tomorrow is promised to no one."

Spring Football starts in less than a week, so


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Virginia Tech Basketball

To say I have mixed emotions right now would be an understatement. The Hokies stood on the verge of playing their way into the NCAA tournament with a win over Clemson and they had it in hand and couldn't score or hit free throws to win a must-have game on the road. So that hurts.

But then, this team full of freshmen wasn't even supposed to be in the top half of the league much less finish 4th and get a 1st round bye in the ACC tournament. And yet here they are. So I am proud of them.

However, watching the Hokies play basketball in an exercise in total frustration. Just like the Virginia Tech football team, the basketball team defense is absolutely intense and hard-fought. Clemson was limited to 3 FG in the final 12 minutes of the game. That is amazing. 

Unfortunately, just like the football team, the offense is a demonstration in poor execution, fundamentals and even more similarly to the football team a lot of it stems from not having a floor general. The Hokies best leader is 5'7" guard Hank Thorns and he doesn't have nearly enough playing ability to be a solid guard at the ACC level. He does have great toughness and heart, but the Hokies need more size and ability. And they have it in Malcolm Delaney. The problem is that Delaney is a shooting guard playing at the point. He is tall and quick with a decent shot, but he doesn't manage the game and drive-and-dish like a point guard is supposed to. That's not encouraging.

Those who know me, know how physically and emotionally exerting it is for me to watch a football game. Well, watching a Hokies basketball game is MENTALLY exerting. I can feel myself going crazy watching them run around like lost sheep on offense. Watching games like Wake Forest and Clemson slip away is like watching my own sanity slip away. So that's not good.

And to make matters worse, now the Hokies, having lost to Clemson, are going to need at least two wins in the ACC tournament and unfortunately that second one is very likely going to have to be against the number 1 team in the country - the UNC Tarheels. And all that assumes the Hokies get past their first round opponent which is possibly going to be NC State. The Wolfpack are terrible but they have some sort of mindmeld over the Hokies when it comes to basketball, having beaten them 4 straight times. That's not good.

What is good is that the Hokies have this opportunity. They weren't supposed to finish this highly in the conference considering that 5 freshmen get significant playing time for the squad. But they did. And now they aren't supposed to win 2 games in the ACC tournament. But they might. And that would be VERY GOOD. I just hope my mind can hold out a little longer.