Whitaker embraces leadership role for Hokies

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia Tech wide receiver Ike Whitaker headed for the film room early Tuesday. It's where he and his young teammates have been spending extra time this summer -- long before Brandon Dillard's season ended with a ruptured Achilles, and long before Zach Luckett was suspended indefinitely for a second DUI charge.

"It has nothing to do with Zach," Whitaker said Tuesday. "With or without Zach, we're going to need some of those freshmen to step up regardless, so watching extra film has been key ever since the four seniors left this past season. We try to stay in that film room as much as possible because that's where you get better, and also on the practice field."

Whitaker, who switched from quarterback to split end in the 2007 preseason, caught three passes for 17 yards last season. That makes him the most experienced returning receiver on the Hokies' roster.

And it just hit him.

Still, Whitaker, 21, has embraced his new role -- not just as a wide receiver, but as the leader of the unit.

"I didn't think that was the situation I'd be in, but I've taken it in my hands, trying to get these young guys ready," he said. "We're actually watching extra film now. I am the oldest receiver, I do have the most experience, which is odd, but I've taken it into my hands to try and get these guys ready to stay focused and work hard every day."

Whitaker has certainly done his part -- he dropped 20 pounds this offseason, has gotten faster and has had two good scrimmages. He's still working on knowing his plays and getting out of his breaks. His experience as a quarterback has helped him make the transition to receiver, but it was a move that took some getting used to.

"Playing quarterback you touch the ball every play," he said. "As a receiver, you might not touch the ball the whole drive. It's different from that aspect, but I'm over it now. I'm loving wide receiver. I'm getting better at it. I think I have a future at wide receiver so I'm working hard to help this team and this offense as much as possible."

The Hokies certainly need him to, as this group will now have to depend on a few true freshmen. Whitaker said he's been impressed with Dyrell Roberts, who is starting at flanker now, and flanker Xavier Boyce, another "speedster guy" who can help, along with Jarrett Boykin.

"Those three I feel are going to be in the rotation this year for us and can help us win some games," Whitaker said.

They're going to have to. The departure of the top four receivers from last year's roster, coupled with the absences of Dillard and Luckett, make this one of the most unproven groups of receivers in the ACC.

"We're handling it as a team," Whitaker said. "We've got to stay close regardless of the situation. What's between Zach and coach Beamer is between Zach and coach Beamer. I really have nothing to say about that, but as an offense, we know people are underestimating us and we take that into consideration every time we go out on the field to practice."