- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Virginia Tech's quarterback competition got more interesting this offseason with the news that former Texas Tech quarterback Michael Brewer will transfer to the Hokies, but he won't join the team until this summer. For now, it's Mark Leal's turn in the spotlight. I spoke with Leal recently about his role and the offense this spring. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
I've reminded some fans that it's not fair to judge you based on the performance in the bowl game. How would you assess that performance?
Mark Leal: I don’t think that one game reflects how I play overall. It was fun to go and play more than just a couple minutes in a game, but at the same time I wasn’t really as prepared as I could have been, which kind of reflected the way I played. That’s not who I am. I’m a lot better than the bowl game proved.
What has your offseason been like knowing you’re the frontrunner heading into spring ball?
ML: It’s just more of a leadership role now that Logan [Thomas]’s gone. He was a guy who was a leader who rallied the troops together, got things going in the offseason, getting the receivers and running backs together, and had workouts on our own. That’s just what I’ve been doing, trying to lead the team, start working out and get ready for the season.
Obviously you saw the ups and downs Logan went through. Are you mentally prepared for that aspect of it?
ML: I try to be and I think I am, but there’s really no telling until things start to get a little crazy. I’ve seen the way Logan handled some stuff, and the coaches tell us how a quarterback should handle himself when things are going bad and when it’s good. When it’s good, you get all the glory, all the praise. When it’s bad, it’s all your fault. You just have to keep your head straight and take it one week at a time.
Virginia Tech’s offense in general has really been under the microscope obviously. How much better do you think you guys can be, and how much pressure are you putting on yourself to take it to another level offensively?
ML: I think we’re going to be a lot better this season. Last year we had a really young offense, it was our first year in the system. Now that everybody has had that year to grow, a year under their system, I think everything will be a lot more fluid and people understand the concepts and what we’re trying to get done on the offensive side of the ball. Obviously I’m going to put as much on my shoulders as I can and try to lead this team all the way.
It’s not like you’re a rookie. You’re an old guy. How comfortable are you in the offense?
ML: Being that I’ve been here a while, I’ve learned how to pick things up quickly. Coach [Scot] Loeffler, he does a really good job of breaking down the offense and trying to help us understand it the best we can. Our learning is a little bit quicker, but as far as the offense, I’m very comfortable with it, actually.
What’s the most difficult part about being in your shoes right now?
ML: I think the most difficult part for me would be the lack of experience I have. I’ve been able to play throughout the years, but it hasn’t been too much time where I haven’t had a first start under my belt. Just the whole experience part of the game would probably be the most difficult part for me.
Did the Sun Bowl experience help you at all?
ML: Yes. It was bittersweet, the way I look at the bowl game. I finally got to play a significant amount of minutes, but at the same time, obviously we saw what happened. It didn’t really end too well, but it just really opened my eyes and showed me how detailed you need to be at the position, how prepared you need to be. I’m kind of glad that happened then before getting into the season. I got it out of the way.
How confident are you that this job is yours? Experience-wise it’s a no-brainer, but how much competition is there really going to be out there this spring?
ML: Being that our guys are young, I don’t look at it as there’s no competition. I still have to go out there and compete. I have just as much to prove as they do. I have experience, and I’m still the next guy up, but I haven’t really done too much on the field to separate myself. This spring is going to be really important for me and also going into camp to make sure I separate myself to be the guy.
Do you feel like you’ve been embraced by the team as a leader in the short time you’ve had that role?
ML: Yes I have, actually. As soon as we got back from break, I had teammates coming up to me saying, ‘It’s your time. I got your back. We know how you can play, we know what you can do. It’s your last year so just lead us to Charlotte and do your best.'"
4dDavid M. Hale