Sunday, August 28, 2011

Youth Movement

During Coach Beamer the Elder's current bowl game streak (17 games and counting), the formula has been simple but extremely well-executed - Play some of your starters on special teams, play the toughest sons-of-bitches you could find on defense and have a top-flight strength/conditioning program where your upperclassmen could go from underrated recruit to star player by the time they'd been in the program 2-3 years.

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What this has meant is that true and even redshirt freshmen very rarely make the 2-deep roster each year. Last year, one true freshman and three redshirt freshmen were in the opening roster 2-deep. The year before, one true freshman and four redshirt freshmen were in the 2-deep on opening day.

When you consider that the true freshmen in the two-deep the past two seasons have been Derrick Hopkins, Kyle Fuller and Jayron Hosley, that should give you an indication of the level of player it takes to make that two deep. Hell, even Mike Vick didn't play until his redshirt freshman season.

Now look at what has happened this preseason camp. The two-deep for the game opener against Appalachian State has four true freshmen, and three redshirt freshmen. Let's identify them here for your convenience:

Mark Leal - QB (redshirt freshman)
Caleb Farris - C (true freshman)
Zack McCray - DE (redshirt freshman)
Luther Maddy - DT (true freshman)
Corey Marshall - DT (true freshman)
Boye Aromire - Rover (true freshman)
Detrick Bonner - CB (redshirt freshman)

So what does this tell you about the Hokies program? Have they fallen on desperate times? Did they recruit dogs the previous few seasons? Just what exactly is going on here?

The answer is - as is the case for most questions - a combination of a few things. First and foremost, the recruiting classes the past two seasons have been absolutely dynamite. Some of these players are able to come in and compete physically right out of the gate which bodes VERY well for the future. The ones who have been able to handle the mental aspects of the game as well, have earned the right to make the two-deep. It's not as if previous classes have been poor recruiting efforts, but the staff has really gotten good at choosing players that fit the Hokie mold. Namely, they are very athletic, not always the top of the top, but certainly very physically gifted, and in most cases, the game comes naturally to them. On top of all of that, they are willing to work hard. In fact, hard work seems to have become the common thread that Coach Beamer and Co. are looking for among the level of athlete they can choose from, and as we've seen over the years mentality plays as much a role on gameday as the physical ability of the player.

A second factor in this youth movement has admittedly been need. Particularly at the rover position and defensive line, the bodies ready to play those positions are few and far between. Graduation depleted five rovers and defensive tackles the past two seasons, and the heir apparents at defensive tackle and rover (Kwamaine Battle and Theron Norman respectively) have each suffered so many injuries that at this point I'm half-convinced there is a medicine man chanting around a bonfire and sticking their voodoo dolls with poison pins somewhere down in Guatemala. How would I know about such a medicine man, you might ask? Well, let me say that I categorically deny ever taking part in such a ceremony regarding voodoo dolls that represent any players on the Virginia, Notre Lame or Florida State squads. Those are vicious rumors that have never been substantiated.

A third factor that has led to so much youth in the two-deep this year is a bit more subtle. The coaching staff is adapting to a change in the recruiting process and the college football scene in general. High school students almost all come out thinking "I don't want to sit. I am the best. I can play as soon as I get on campus." That's no different than it's ever been, but with advances in the training/coaching/facilities available in high school these days, it is actually true in some cases that the kids are physically ready (have any of you SEEN Corey Marshall? Good heavens). And many of these very top recruits coming out of high school don't just want to hear platitudes about how "We'll let the best players play" and "Every position is an open competition each year". More than just the words, they want to see evidence of this philosophy as it will definitely impact where they go to school.

I doubt it's a coincidence that two of the coaches most resistant to that mentality - Coach Cav and Coach Hite - find themselves promoted into the front office. As a result, Coach Gray and Coach Wiles (secondary and defensive line coaches) have specifically been outspoken about making the competition truly about what they see on the field and in the film room and sure enough the results are showing up in the depth chart. It also isn't a coincidence that they are two of the best recruiters on the staff. I expect the replacements for Cav and Hite to the staff - Coach Brown and Coach Beamer the Younger - to carry this mantra out in word and in deed, as well.

Adding together everything mentioned above I don't necessarily believe this youth movement to be a one season fluke. Now there is so much youth and so little loss to graduation this season that next year we might not see seven true and redshirt freshmen in the two-deep like this year but I'd expect most years going forward, that we'll see more freshmen ready to contribute sooner rather than later.

Speaking of sooner rather than later, this is GAMEWEEK!!! We will do a full breakdown on the roster this week along with the game preview against Appalachian State. I've noticed a lot more spittle in my words and an elevation in my voice volume as the season approaches. It's time to get excited and

GO HOKIES!!!!!!!

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