NCF Nation: Danny Coale

VT receivers have plenty to prove

August, 16, 2012
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Marcus Davis, Drequan HoskeyGeoff Burke/Getty ImagesReceiver Marcus Davis says his focus is on consistency in his senior season for the Hokies.
Virginia Tech receivers Dyrell Roberts and Marcus Davis know what is at stake this season. They know Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin are gone. They know all eyes will squarely be fixed on them to step up and make their own name.

So you understand why they feel a growing sense of urgency headed into this season. Both are seniors, and understand this is their final shot to make an impact. For Roberts, that urgency has taken on greater meaning after missing parts of the last two seasons with injury.

For Davis, that urgency has taken on greater meaning knowing he has yet to live up to his full potential.

"I’m taking this as an opportunity to show not only fans but the coaches and everybody else that even though we lost those guys, there’s still something here," Davis said in a recent phone interview. "There is something special we can do here."

Davis goes into the season as one of the top returning receivers, after setting career highs with 30 receptions for 510 yards and five touchdowns. D.J. Coles returns as well, after catching 36 passes for 480 yards and three touchdowns. But he has been slowed by a knee injury and could miss some time this season. That leaves Davis as the No. 1 target for Logan Thomas.

There is no question Davis has what it takes to be the go-to guy. He is big, athletic and known for making plays down the field. Last year, he averaged 17 yards per catch, tops on the team and among the best in the nation. But there have been various times throughout his career when he has lacked the motivation to get up for every single game. He has spent his offseason improving his mind-set, to be sure that he will be prepared every time the ball is snapped.

"I focused a lot on just being consistent, how I approach things, how I approach practice, how I approach the weight room," Davis said. "Some games you can’t get up for, and so I changed my approach to have my focus on everything so I won’t have to worry about getting myself motivated to play a game. I have to leave everything out on the field because I won't get a second chance."

Learning from Coale and Boykin helped him mature. And knowing he is the No. 1 receiver also has forced him to change his mind-set as well.

"I just have to put it together and do it now because I don’t have that in the back of my mind -- if I mess up I’m going to come out," Davis said. "I know what I have to do. I think people are going to see that I can make plays not only down the field but also in the short passing game and in my blocking game."

A huge opportunity awaits Roberts as well. Last season, he only played in three games before breaking his arm on a kickoff return against Arkansas State. The year before that, his season ended when he needed surgery on his thigh. Roberts is more than eager to get onto the football field and actually play in a game because of what he had endure the last two years.

"I'm up for the challenge," Roberts said. "I talk to my coaches a lot, they tell me they think I can play a big role and things like that. I think that's every player's dream to have your role increase in the offense. I've been around for a while, I've been in a lot of big games, but it's a dream come true to know your role is going to increase this year. That gives me motivation to push myself to go even harder and get better at the little things. You can never feel you've arrived because there's always something you can get better at."

Given his increased role in the offense, you will probably be hearing more about Roberts. But there is one thing about him you may not know. He has a black dog that is mix a between a bichon frise and a poodle. Her name is Dymond, spelled that way after Roberts' first name, of course. He has had the dog for three years now, and Roberts says around the football team, "She has become a household name."

Now it is time for Roberts and Davis to become household names as well.
Virginia Tech is the only team in the nation to have at least 10 wins in each of the past eight seasons. The Hokies are 84-24 (.778) since the 2004 season -- their first year in the ACC:

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Will Virginia Tech have another 10-win season in 2012?

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    71%
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    29%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,442)

2004: 10-3
2005: 11-2
2006: 10-3
2007: 11-3
2008: 10-4
2009: 10-3
2010: 11-3
2011: 11-3

And the Hokies would want to leave the ACC why? They own it. But can they do it again in 2012?

Virginia Tech will have one of if not the best quarterback in the league in Logan Thomas. But the Hokies have to replace eight starters on offense. That's a lot -- more than Miami. Four starters on the offensive line have to be replaced. Who is going to carry the ball now that David Wilson is gone? Who will replace four-year starters Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin? Virginia Tech has already been tabbed a preseason top 25 team and Coastal Division favorite, but are the Hokies getting too much credit considering all they lost from 2011? Have ACC fans come to take 10-win seasons in Blacksburg for granted?

Prediction: The Hokies will get their 10 wins. The confidence comes from the staff's ability to recruit and develop players consistently, along with what should be a tremendous defense. We'll take a closer look at the Hokies' schedule in the "Schedule Analysis" series, but the nonconference lineup is conducive to a hot start. The 10th win might have to come in a bowl game, but somehow, Frank Beamer will find a way to get them there again, despite so many roster changes.
We’ve already taken a look at what the recruiting needs were for the Atlantic Division. Let’s shift our attention to the Coastal Division. Here’s a look at where each school’s biggest holes will be in 2012 or are anticipated to be in the near future:

DUKE


Offensive skill positions: After last year’s rare class that didn’t include either a quarterback or running back, both positions are needed in this group. Quarterback Thomas Sirk -- the MVP of the 57th annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Football Classic last December -- has already enrolled in school while Shaquille Powell -- a PARADE All-American running back from Las Vegas -- has committed to the program. In addition, with David Cutcliffe’s offense, wide receivers and tight ends also are a priority.

Kicker: Will Snyderwine, who earned first team All-America honors as a junior before struggling through a sub-par season in 2011, graduated, but Duke has a commitment from Ohio native Ross Martin, considered the No. 2 placekicking prospect in the country by ESPN.com.

Safety: With the transition to a 4-2-5 alignment that utilizes three safeties, this becomes an annual point of emphasis. The Blue Devils lose All-American Matt Daniels to graduation.

GEORGIA TECH


Defensive line: This is the most glaring need in the current class. The Yellow Jackets have to replace senior starters Logan Walls (DT) and Jason Peters (DE), but return Izaan Cross (DE) and solid backups T.J. Barnes (DT), Emmanuel Dieke (DE) and Euclid Cummings (DE). The Jackets are expected to sign about 18 players in this year’s class, and five of them should be defensive linemen.

Wide receiver:This is another glaring need after the departures of Stephen Hill, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft, and Tyler Melton. Darren Waller and Jeff Greene, who both played last season as true freshmen, have lots of potential, but the position still needs depth.


MIAMI

Defensive backs: There’s still a lot of depth with this group, and the return of Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque helps, but the Canes have to replace two starters in the secondary and have six commits in the current class to help do that.

Defensive line: The Canes have to replace Adewale Ojomo, Micanor Regis, Andrew Smith and Olivier Vernon from last year’s two-deep. The defensive end position was a particular focus in this class.

Receiver: This position lost a lot with the departures of Tommy Streeter, LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin. Allen Hurns is now the veteran of the group, along with redshirt senior Kendal Thompkins. There are five receivers currently committed in this class.

Quarterback: Beyond Stephen Morris, Miami has a lot of questions at the position and not a lot of experience. True freshmen Gray Crow and Preston Dewey are already on the roster, along with redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams.

NORTH CAROLINA

Defensive line: This is one of the biggest areas of concern after the departures of Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell.

Receivers: Larry Fedora’s offense will make good use of this group, but he needs to replace standout Dwight Jones.

Linebackers: This group was thin to begin with in 2011, and now the Heels need to replace outgoing senior Zach Brown. Kevin Reddick is now the main man.

Safety: UNC will have to replace two starters in Matt Merletti, Charles Brown and Jonathan Smith, so this position will have to be rebuilt for the future.

VIRGINIA

Defensive back: This should be the main priority in this class. The Cavaliers will lose four DBs, including two starting safeties in Rodney McCleod and Corey Mosley, and standout cornerback Chase Minnifield. They’ll also miss Dom Joseph, who came in for the nickel packages. Demetrious Nicholson, who started as a true freshman last year, is suddenly the veteran of the group.

Offensive line: The Hoos will have to replace their starting center and left guard. Redshirt freshman center Cody Wallace could get a promotion, and sophomore right guard Luke Bowanko started in the bowl game. They’ve got some big bodies waiting in the wings, but they’ll have some questions to answer here this spring.

Kickers: This position needs to be rebuilt, as the Cavaliers lose Robert Randolph, who finished sixth all time in scoring at UVa, kickoff specialist Chris Hinkebein, and four-year punter Jimmy Howell. The position is wide open heading into the spring.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: This one is a no-brainer, as the Hokies have lost four players here in the past two years. David Wilson and his backup, Josh Oglesby, were the latest to depart, and Tony Gregory just had ACL surgery and is out for the spring. The staff likes Michael Holmes, who redshirted last year, and J.C. Coleman enrolled last week.

Receiver: The Hokies will miss Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, and next year’s class has three seniors in Dyrell Roberts, D.J. Coles, and Marcus Davis. The future of the position is young, and the staff is still going after several uncommitted players pretty hard.

Defensive line: This year’s class already includes at least five committed defensive linemen, and the Hokies will be particularly thin at noseguard. They had some players graduate early who didn’t play a lot, but at least provided depth.

Linebacker:The Hokies have four committed, and are still chasing another just to build the depth. The staff missed on some recruits at this position last year and would like to make up for it in this class.

Best and worst of ACC bowl season

January, 12, 2012
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It’s time to review some of the highs and lows from the ACC bowl season (there were highlights, I swear) …

Best performance: NC State cornerback David Amerson had two interceptions in a 31-24 win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl. He broke the ACC single-season record, and also moved into a tie for second place in FBS history for single-season interceptions with 13. The Pack were leading 24-10 in the third quarter when Amerson’s 65-yard interception return for a touchdown broke the record. His second interception late in the game moved him into a tie for second place in FBS history.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIREVirginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas came up big in the Hokies' bowl game loss.
Best offensive performance in a losing effort: Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas. He outplayed Michigan’s Denard Robinson in every phase but the scoreboard. He threw for 214 yards and ran for 53. He also had an impressive 13-yard scramble on fourth-and-11. In his first season as a starter, Thomas finished with 3,482 yards of total offense, breaking Tyrod Taylor’s school record, which was set in 2010.

Best team defensive performance: Florida State. The Noles held the Irish scoreless for two quarters, and forced three turnovers, all interceptions.

Best defensive game plan: Virginia Tech. Michigan was in disarray, and Bud Foster had a lot to do with that. Fitzgerald Toussaint was held to just 30 rushing yards, and quarterback Denard Robinson had just 13 rushing yards. Nobody scored on the ground, and Michigan was just 4-of-13 on third-down conversions.

Best on-the-job training: Florida State’s offensive line. The Noles started four freshmen against Notre Dame, and they gave up five sacks, but they also grew up right before our eyes and looked much better in the second half.

Best quote: “I don't care what people think. I made a decision what was best for this football team going forward. When I made the decision and weighing all options and looking at the talent this kid has I knew we would have a quarterback. I don't have to feel vindicated by anybody. … But he helped [vindicate] me." -- NC State coach Tom O’Brien on replacing Russell Wilson with Mike Glennon, who was named the MVP of the Belk Bowl with three touchdowns.

Worst defensive performance. None other than the 70 points Clemson allowed, of course. Most. Points. Ever. In any bowl game. Ever.

Worst moment: The look of devastation on Danny Coale’s face when his would-be 20-yard touchdown catch in overtime was overturned by the replay officials and ruled incomplete.

Worst officiating: The Allstate Sugar Bowl. Take your pick. There were plenty of questionable calls in that game, but the most controversial was probably Coale’s negated touchdown catch. Whether it was a catch or not isn’t the point. Instead, there didn’t seem to be enough indisputable video evidence to overturn the original call of a touchdown.

Worst stat: The ACC dropped to 2-13 in BCS bowls.

Worst stat II: The ACC was outscored by 74 points in its bowl games.

Worst effort: North Carolina played like its coach had one foot out the door. Oh wait, never mind. … Missouri racked up 31 points in the first half. UNC had the ACC’s second-best rushing defense and allowed Missouri 337 rushing yards while UNC had 36.

ACC sinks deeper into BCS hole

January, 4, 2012
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James GayleAP Photo/Bill HaberJames Gayle and the Hokies just couldn't get it done as Virginia Tech lost again on the BCS stage.
NEW ORLEANS -- This wasn’t the ACC’s only chance to make a statement.

This was the ACC’s 14th chance, to be exact.

Following Virginia Tech’s 23-20 overtime loss to Michigan on Tuesday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the ACC dropped to 2-12 in its BCS games. That’s 14 years of developing a reputation, over a decade of results that won’t be erased with one Discover Orange Bowl win, or any other statement nonconference game for that matter. Clemson is up next on the BCS stage, but no matter what the Tigers do on Wednesday night against West Virginia, it won’t change the perception of the ACC overnight, nor will it ease the frustration of Virginia Tech’s narrow loss to an unimpressive Michigan team.

For those within Virginia Tech’s locker room following the loss, this was obviously a heartbreaker. It wasn’t a lack of effort; it was a lack of execution. You could see the devastation on receiver Danny Coale’s face when his would-be touchdown reception in overtime was reviewed and called an incomplete pass. You could hear the frustration when running back David Wilson unabashedly singled-out the officiating as the difference in the game. Twice. And you could tell by the look on coach Frank Beamer’s face as he made the long walk to the interview podium after the game that he knew they didn’t get it done and he was going to have to answer for it. Again.

Beamer dropped to 1-5 in BCS games. The ACC dropped another notch with him.

Beamer’s program has been the one tasked with representing the ACC the most often, and while getting to a BCS bowl is an accomplishment in itself, it’s no longer enough to satisfy fans or quiet critics.

“I think everybody in Virginia Tech football put a lot into this ballgame, I can tell you,” Beamer said. “And we wanted to get a win for the ACC and wanted to get a win for Virginia Tech. We haven’t done as well as we want to in these BCS games.”

This one might sting even more than last year’s embarrassing loss to Stanford in the Orange Bowl because it was oh-so-painfully close. Buried in the big picture was a great story about a third-string kicker, Justin Myer, who made the first four field goals of his career and sent the game into overtime before his fifth and most important attempt went wide right, his lone miss of the game. No shame in that performance. There was no shame in the terrific job Bud Foster’s defense did on quarterback Denard Robinson, who had a forgettable performance and was bailed out by receiver Junior Hemingway and the Wolverine's defense. Michigan was held to 184 total yards and just 56 rushing yards.

For a majority of the game, Virginia Tech looked like the better team. It had the better quarterback. It had the better defense. But it didn’t have an answer for the nation’s No. 5 red zone defense.

While there were some calls that could be questioned by the officials (aren’t there always?) it wouldn’t have come down to that had Virginia Tech scored more than one touchdown in six trips.

The Hokies’ performance against Michigan was a microcosm of the ACC’s story in BCS bowls: missed opportunities. It all started in the first quarter, on Virginia Tech’s first offensive possession, and you could almost hear the exasperation throughout ACC country on Twitter.

On first and goal from Michigan’s 4-yard line, Wilson ran for a loss of 22 yards. Uh oh

On fourth-and-1 from Michigan’s 4-yard line, Logan Thomas was held for no gain. Here we go again

Michigan recovered a fumble on a kickoff that led to a field goal and a 10-6 lead. Not again

Thomas intercepted in the third quarter, a play that led to a Michigan touchdown. Again?!

After making the first four field goals of his career, Myer missed what could have been the game-winning 37-yard attempt. Sigh, typical ACC.

It took longer than four quarters for Virginia Tech and the ACC to fall into this hole, and even with two teams in BCS bowls for the first time in league history, it’s going to take more than that to dig out of it.

Virginia Tech senior Danny Coale has been a standout receiver, punter and punt returner for the ACC’s Coastal Division champs this year.

No biggie. He can handle all of that.

It was his “Finance Concepts and Skills” class that really threw him for a loop this past summer. Assistant professor Derek Klock, Coale said, was an ex-military man who was “very intimidating.”

“I went in the class and introduced myself after the first class,” Coale said. “I told him I was involved in football. He said, 'What do you run the 40 in?' I said, 'Oh, you know, 4.4, in that area.' He said, 'Well, for this class, you’re going to have to run faster.' At that moment I knew I was in for something unique. I’m sure he laughed about that for a while, but I was a deer in headlights.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech's Danny Coale
Bob Donnan/US PRESSWIRE"He's a punter, he's a receiver, and the classroom is just another dimension of who he is and what he can do," Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas said of receiver Danny Cole.
“I was on pins and needles every day trying to follow the finance world and make sure I had my current events right,” Coale said. “I would go to the library every night to study and make sure I didn’t fall behind. I’ve never spent so much time in the library and never been challenged like that. It ended up being really, really rewarding.”

Meet Danny Coale -- the poster boy for the NCAA’s “student-athlete.” He’s a record-setting receiver. He’s this year’s winner of the Jim Tatum Scholar Athlete Award. And he’s a big reason this year’s senior class has a chance to go out as the winningest bunch in school history if it can beat Michigan in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Oh, and he’s also a recent graduate of Virginia Tech, thanks in part to a hard-earned B-plus in Klock’s class.

“It’s tough to even describe Danny. He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met in my life,” said quarterback Logan Thomas. “He can do it all. He’s a punter, he’s a receiver, and the classroom is just another dimension of who he is and what he can do. It’s very nice to have a guy like that on our team. It makes not only the team better, but the people on the team better.”

Yet Coale has somehow been one of the most underrated players in the ACC throughout his career. He set the school freshman reception record with 36 catches, he has at least two catches in 44 of 54 career games, and at least one catch in 50 of 54 games. He had his longest and most important catch in the final minutes of the 2009 Nebraska game, when he broke free down the sideline for an 81-yard gain to set up the game-winning touchdown pass with 21 seconds left. Regardless of what Virginia Tech's offense does against Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, Coale has already left his mark on the program and those within it.

“He’s just neat,” said coach Frank Beamer. “He really is neat. He’s really -- you look at him and he’s a really good football player. He’s smart, he understands the game, and that shows out there. I think he’s sneaky fast. He gets away from you before you realize he’s there. He’s just the total package. You feel so proud he represents Virginia Tech, and that he’s been with you here in your program for four years and what a delight he’s been. What a great representative he’s been, and how many big plays he’s been involved in here at Virginia Tech. He’s special, real special.”

Coale has a career average of 16.3 yards per catch. He enters the Sugar Bowl with 157 career receptions for 2,541 yards and seven touchdowns. His 157 receptions and his 2,541 yards are both the second-best in school history, trailing Jarrett Boykin in both. What has separated him from many, though, has been his ability to juggle multi-tasking on the field while maintaining a high regard for his academics.

“I kind of have the same approach to everything,” Coale said. “I try to work hard at everything. I know people in the football world are probably tired of hearing that, but I have classes that are challenging, and that’s something I look forward to, meeting that challenge and working hard to get better at that. It’s the same thing on the field. It takes a little bit of a balance, but as long as you do what you’re told you find success.”

This past spring, Coale was a surprise at the top of the depth chart at punter. He punted in high school, but hadn’t since, until doing it twice at Marshall and then at Virginia, where he averaged 47.5 yards on four punts. He hit a 61- and a 60-yarder in the ACC championship game, prompting many to wonder where that aspect of the Hokies’ special teams had been all season.

“It was really exciting,” Coale said. “It was like high school all over again. It was something I said I always wanted to do. To be able to do it in a championship game and do not horrible at it was cool. It was refreshing and fun. That’s what it’s all about, having fun and playing the position you love, and that’s kind of how it was."

Despite his degree in finance and second undergraduate degree in marketing management, Coale will first try to live out his dream of playing in the NFL.

“I’ll definitely try the next level, give that a shot. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was little,” he said. “What football player wouldn’t tell you that? But it’s something I’ve waited 23 years for the opportunity. I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to be in the position to do that now. I might give punting a shot, see how that works out. I don’t really know.”

If it’s like anything else Coale has tried, odds are he’ll find a way to make it work -- or work until he finds a way.

Greetings from New Orleans

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
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NEW ORLEANS, La. — Welcome to the football capital of the season, home of the Allstate Sugar Bowl, a Saints game on Sunday, and the BCS national championship. The Hokies took over the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for practice this afternoon, and several of the defensive assistants were made available to the media, along with Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. All of the coaches were laid-back, in good spirits, and defensive line coach Charley Wiles was particularly entertaining and engaging.

The good news: There haven't been any injuries yet that will sideline any Hokies for Tuesday's game against Michigan. The hard artificial surface is beginning to wear on some of the players, and they're getting adjusted to the indoor lights, but the controlled climate will be good for ...

The bad news: Virginia Tech is down two kickers, and Beamer said today that recent practices haven't provided any answer. And no, Danny Coale won't be receiving, punting, returning punts AND kicking field goals. Starter Cody Journell spent almost a week in jail after felony breaking-and-entering charges, and then one day after he was released, his backup, fifth-year senior Tyler Weiss was sent home on a Greyhound bus for breaking curfew.

Justin Myer is expected to handle the placekicking duties against Michigan, but Michael Branthover is also an option. Myer has a strong leg, but he has struggled with his accuracy. He is 0-for-2 against Virginia Tech. Prediction? If he has to make a choice — go for it or kick a field goal, Beamer might try and goferit when he usually wouldn't in some situations.

The majority of questions today were about how Virginia Tech plans to account for Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, and it's the key to the game. While the Hokies' defense has spent plenty of time going against former quarterback Tyrod Taylor in practice, defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said Robinson is faster than Taylor, and that nobody on the team could simulate what Robinson does. This will be a big test for a young defense, but Beamer said linebacker Alonzo Tweedy (ankle) is close enough to 100 percent.

"I don’t know that he’s totally 100 percent, but I think he’s close enough that he can be back to the old Tweedy,” Beamer said. “We need that. I think he gives you some options back in there defensively and on our special teams."

Gray said there's been an "edginess" to the Hokies' defense in their bowl game preparations, so it sounds like the guys are ready to redeem themselves from their performance against Clemson, but this will be an even bigger challenge.

Wilson, Thomas key to Hokies' success

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
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Logan Thomas/David WilsonSam Sharpe/Getty ImagesQuarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson will be the focal points for the Virginia Tech offense in the Sugar Bowl.
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson used to live adjacent to each other in dorm rooms when they first moved onto campus.

Both players were stuck behind talented starters, but they also knew it was only a matter of time before they’d get to showcase their abilities together.

“It’s something we talked about when we first got here, especially when we found out I was being switched to quarterback,” said Thomas, who originally had hoped to play tight end. “That in the future we were going to have the chance for both of us to be on the field at the same time, two guys from the same area, highly recruited guys -- it’s something we always wanted to do. Now that we’re on the field at the same time I think the season showed the talent between the two of us. I think it really helped him that I played well and it really helped me that he’s the person and player he is.”

It’s also helped the entire team to have both of them playing at their best.

It’s no coincidence that in Virginia Tech’s only two losses of the season this year -- both to Clemson -- Thomas and Wilson didn’t have their best days. In order for Virginia Tech to have a chance to beat Michigan in the Allstate Sugar Bowl next week, the Hokies’ top two playmakers must find a way to rebound from a disappointing performance in the ACC championship game and lead the offense against a stingy Michigan defense.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” coach Frank Beamer said. “Your quarterback, that’s the key guy, he gets you started, and then for us, David Wilson needs to have his yards. If he’s got his yards, that’s probably opened up some passing for us. There’s no question those two guys are key.”

In the two losses to Clemson, Thomas accounted for one touchdown and three interceptions. In the ACC championship game, he also had a fumble and accounted for all three of the Hokies’ turnovers. Wilson had just 11 carries for 32 yards and was a nonfactor. While he ran for 123 yards against Clemson during the regular season, he also had a fumble that set up Clemson’s first score.

“Very few times have we won games where we dominated one [the running or passing game] but did terrible in the other,” receiver Danny Coale said. “They both have to work together. To get the running game going helps me out a lot, helps the receivers out. Not only getting those two going, but getting everyone going. I don’t think anyone was really in a rhythm against Clemson, which is kind of upsetting when you watch that on film the next day.”

It’s not going to get much easier in New Orleans, as Michigan’s defense is even better than Clemson’s. The Wolverines enter the Sugar Bowl with the nation’s No. 7 scoring defense, No. 17 total defense, No. 17 pass defense and No. 34 rushing defense.

“They’ve got a lot of guys who have played a lot of snaps,” said running backs coach Shane Beamer. “They’re big and physical and present a lot of problems from a personnel standpoint and a scheme standpoint, but I feel good about the plan we have going into it and I know our guys are excited to play. I’m looking forward to seeing how we match up.”

It all starts with getting the running game going. Following the loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game, Wilson wasn’t shy about calling out the play calling, and when asked recently if he regretted it or had talked to the coaches about it, he said no. Shane Beamer said that Wilson twisted his ankle in the third quarter of the title game and spent some time on the sideline getting it taped and looked at. By the time he was ready to go back in, Clemson had forced Virginia Tech into a passing mode. The Tigers were good defensively on first downs, and got the Hokies into several second-and-9 and third-and-9 situations.

“There’s definitely that pressure, especially when David’s not running, it means we have to throw the ball more,” Thomas said. “It’s pressure not only on me, but on the linemen and even on David because he has to do pass blocking. It’s more pressure on the offense as a whole because the running game makes things a lot easier for us to work as an offense.”

It also opens up the running lanes for Thomas, whose 10 rushing touchdowns are the second-most ever for a Virginia Tech quarterback. Thomas has been almost automatic in short-yardage sneak rushes. At 6-foot-6, 254 pounds, defenders have struggled to bring him down. Wilson has run for 100 yards 10 times in 13 games this season, tying the school and ACC records for 100-yard games in a season. Wilson enters the Sugar Bowl with 1,627 yards and needs just 29 more for a new school record.

Wilson, the ACC’s player of the year, said he relishes the opportunity to be a difference-maker, and for the majority of the season, he has been.

“It’s really no pressure; I want to be that spark,” Wilson said. “It’s a drive in me. I like making big plays. At the same time, my team needs it. When somebody on offense makes a big play, the whole sideline gets electrified.”

When they’re quiet, though, so is the entire offense.

“They’re two special parts of our team,” Shane Beamer said. “When they’re on, whether it be Logan throwing the football or David running it, we’re tough to beat. There’s no question about it.”
Virginia Tech senior receiver Danny Coale remembers the same storyline from a year ago – the senior class had a chance to finish the season as the winningest in school history.

Now it’s his turn.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech's Danny Coale
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonWide receiver Danny Coale and his fellow Virginia Tech seniors have a chance to set a school records for victories by a four-year class.
Winning at Virginia Tech has become as much of a tradition as defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s storied lunch pail – so much so that the four of the past five senior classes – including this year’s – have reached the 42-win mark in their careers. The winningest class in school history is currently the 2007 class, which finished 42-11. The Class of 2008 went 42-12 and the Class of 2010 went 42-13. This senior class is currently 42-11 heading into Saturday’s Dr. Pepper ACC championship game against Clemson.

Not only would a victory on Saturday break a school record for the most wins in a four-year span by a senior class, the 2011 seniors would also become only the second group in school history to win consecutive outright conference championships, and the redshirt seniors would go to their fourth BCS bowl game and fifth bowl overall.

“I guess it's kind of like a big brother/little brother type of thing,” starting safety Eddie Whitley said. “You don't want to disappoint the guys that's been here before you. And they put their hard work into it. And we just want to keep the winning tradition going as much, as far as we can. And that's probably basically the whole thing, is we just don't want to let the alumni that's put their work in in trying to get this program to where it's at right now, we don't want to put them, let them down.

“So that's probably the biggest thing is just knowing that the guys out there that paved the way for us to get where we are at now and give the opportunities that we have to play in big-time games and things like that, we don't want to let them down. So that's probably the reason that we just keep topping each other year in, year out.”

Senior receivers Jarrett Boykin and Coale have certainly done their part along the way. Coale is best remembered for an 81-yard catch against Nebraska in the waning moments of the teams' 2009 meeting that set up Dyrell Roberts’ clinching 11-yard touchdown catch in the 16-15 victory. Boykin’s 39-yard touchdown reception gave the Hokies the lead for good in the 40-31 win at NC State last year, the team's biggest comeback under coach Frank Beamer.

They are the top two at Tech in both all-time receptions and receiving yards.

“I think it comes down to a few things,” Coale said of the program’s recent senior success. “But I think there's an expectation around here that when you come, in you're being recruited into a program that's had a lot of success, that prides itself on excellence and winning and getting to championships.

“So when it's your turn to be called upon and you want to add to that winning, you don't want to be the class that lets down that tradition. So I think there comes high expectation coming in here, and it's something that we pride ourselves on. It's something we expect to win, and we work really hard to do that. That's kind of the mentality of the program around here.”

Boykin enters Saturday’s game 127 yards shy of becoming just the fourth player in ACC history to have three seasons with 800 receiving yards. Boykin now has 54 catches, two away from breaking the school record for catches in a season (55 by Ernest Wilford in 2005).

In last year’s ACC championship game, Coale had six catches for 143 yards and a touchdown against Florida State. He needs six more catches to break Wilford’s record.

“Yeah, I'm proud of a lot of our seniors classes here lately, but this crowd does have a chance to go out as the winningest senior class ever,” Beamer said. “We've been fortunate to have a lot of good kids through here and to be able to win a lot of football games, and you don't do that without good players.”

Or high expectations.
There is one key statistic that helps explain Virginia Tech’s recent surge:

Since Virginia Tech lost to Clemson 23-3 on Oct. 1, quarterback Logan Thomas has accounted for 23 touchdowns and thrown just two interceptions.

It’s no coincidence that the Hokies haven’t lost in that stretch.

Logan Thomas
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)Since the ugly October loss to Clemson, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has thrown just two interceptions while racking up 23 touchdowns.
While the entire team has improved since that game, Virginia Tech’s ascension to No. 5 in the latest BCS standings has mirrored the maturation of Thomas. It’s not that Thomas was bad – the Hokies have only lost one game all season – but he made the mistakes early expected of a first-year starter, and he has grown into one of the best quarterbacks in the conference heading into Saturday’s Dr Pepper ACC championship game against Clemson. The Hokies have been a different and better team since the last time they faced Clemson, and it all starts with Thomas.

“I've seen a lot of progress,” Virginia Tech receiver Danny Coale said. “You have a guy who has all the tools in the world and all the athletic ability along with the right mental approach to the game. So as you would expect, he has a little bit more comfort. He gains a little bit more experience each and every time, and you see him become more comfortable as the games go on. And I think he's just matured quickly into a very good quarterback.”

There was plenty of blame to go around in Virginia Tech’s home loss to Clemson, but Thomas took the brunt of the criticism from many outside the program. He completed 15 of 27 passes that day for 125 yards and was sacked four times. He also threw an interception and the Hokies were held without a touchdown in Lane Stadium for the first time since 1995. It was the second-fewest points in a home game since Frank Beamer took over the program in 1987.

Following that loss, Thomas had a little heart-to-heart with quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain.

“Coach O'Cain just called me into his office afterwards or on Monday after the game was just like, ‘Hey, keep your head up. You're still our quarterback. We have no doubts in you. You're going to be a great one.’

“And it was definitely good to hear that from my coach. But I think it was better that all the guys on the team had my back as well. And nobody was down on me. Everybody was picking me up, saying: Hey, we got it. We just gotta take it one game at a time. And the next week I came out and probably had one of the best games I've had or will have. So I think it was just a confidence boost just knowing that everybody had my back.”

The following week, Thomas had a jaw-dropping performance in a thrilling 38-35 victory over Miami. He ran 19 yards for the game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-1 with 56 seconds to play, and completed 23 of 25 passes for 310 yards, three touchdown passes and two rushing — more touchdowns than he had incompletions. His only two blemishes were a short pass that David Wilson dropped, and a ball that he threw away after picking up a botched snap.

Clemson is wary of Thomas’ improvement.

“He was a young player coming to our first game,” said Clemson safety Rashard Hall. “Looks like he's just been improving over games as you would expect players to do, especially at the quarterback position. He played a good game against us and watching him throughout the season and on film last night, he seems to be doing a great job as their quarterback.”

Beamer has no doubts.

“He's a guy that's very smart,” Beamer said. “He's always in control on the football field, and I think as he's gained experience, he knows where he wants to go with the ball. He's more accurate … and it all just comes with experience.”

The biggest experience of his rookie season, though, has yet to come.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 12

November, 17, 2011
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You know you have to watch the Coastal Division standings. You know you have to watch bowl eligibility. Throughout the league, though, this week is all about records that were meant to be broken. Here are 10 more things worth keeping an eye on this week, in no particular order:

1. Virginia Tech running back David Wilson and the ACC record books: He is approaching several ACC records --consecutive 100-yard games within one season (eight, Tiki Barber, Virginia, 1996); consecutive 100-yard games at any time (nine, Tashard Choice, Georgia Tech, 2006-07); total 100-yard games in a season (10, Don McCauley, North Carolina, 1970). Wilson has had seven straight games of 100 rushing yards or more and nine total this season.

2. Virginia Tech’s seniors. This could be the winningest class in school history, so don’t miss their final appearance in Lane Stadium. The seniors have 40 career wins and the record is 42 by the 2007, 2008 and 2010 classes. Senior receivers Jarrett Boykin (2,646) and Danny Coale (2,478) have combined for 5,124 career receiving yards and rank Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in all-time pass receptions and receiving yards at Virginia Tech.

[+] EnlargeDwight Jones
Dannie Walls/Icon SMIDwight Jones needs 87 yards against Virginia Tech to reach 1,000 for the season.
3. North Carolina receiver Dwight Jones. Carolina has never had a 1,000-yard runner and 1,000-yard receiver in the same season. With Giovani Bernard over 1,000 rushing yards already, Jones (913 receiving yards) needs just 87 yards to give UNC a 1,000-yard rushing-receiving combination.

4. Virginia’s protection of quarterback Michael Rocco. In their ongoing three-game winning streak, the Cavaliers have not allowed a sack in 86 pass attempts. FSU is No. 10 in the country in sacks with 3.1 per game.

5. Virginia’s rushing offense against Florida State’s rushing defense. This is one statistical matchup to watch, as the Cavaliers have averaged 187.6 rushing yards per game, the second-highest amount for the program in the past 12 seasons. FSU has the nation’s No. 4 rushing defense, holding opponents to 85 yards per game.

6. Turnovers in Raleigh. NC State leads the nation with 20 picks, and cornerback David Amerson has accounted for half of them. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is coming off a two-interception performance in the win over Wake Forest that could have been more had the Deacs hung onto the ball.

7. NC State cornerback David Amerson. He is one interception shy of the ACC record, set by North Carolina’s Dre Bly in 1996. No FBS player has picked off more than 10 passes in a season since Wisconsin’s Jim Leonhard had 11 in 2002. If he maintains his pace, Amerson will be the first FBS player to average an interception per game for a season since Georgia’s Terry Hoage (1.20) did it in 1982.

8. Return game at South Florida. The Bulls have allowed only six punt returns all season for a total of -2 yards, which ranks first in the NCAA. The Bulls are the only program nationally that hasn’t allowed a positive punt return margin this year. Miami is No. 37 in the country in punt returns with an average of 10.3 yards.

9. Miami’s defense vs. the big plays. Through nine games, USF has had eight plays over 40 yards -- five over 50 yards -- with six of the seven resulting in touchdowns. In addition, the Bulls have only given up one play over 40 yards.

10. BC linebacker Luke Kuechly. He enters Saturday’s game against Notre Dame with 509 career tackles and is 15 tackles shy of tying the school’s record of 524 held by former Eagle and Detroit Lions great Steven Boyd. It took Boyd four years to accomplish that feat, though, and Kuechly is only a junior. He also needs just seven more tackles to set the ACC career record.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 3

September, 15, 2011
9/15/11
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For the first time in conference history, the ACC is hosting four ranked teams. That alone is enough to keep you busy this weekend. But you're going to need more than four TVs. We've got the South's oldest rivalry in Chapel Hill, and somebody has to get a win in Chestnut Hill. There's plenty to watch. Here are a few that top my list, in no particular order:

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles had a huge day against the Noles last season, catching 12 passes for 124 yards and a score.
1. Florida State’s secondary against Oklahoma’s receivers. Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills make one of the best wide receiver duos in the country. The Seminoles’ secondary also has been billed as one of the best. They were out of position in this game at times last year, though, and got beat. Will this year be a more favorable matchup for FSU?

2. FSU’s running game and offensive line. Florida State won its first two games convincingly, but if there were any areas that showed some need for improvement, it was up front and in the running game. The offensive line needs to do a better job of sustaining its blocks, and the running backs need to work harder to create their own yards.

3. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris. All eyes will be on Harris as he makes his first start since a forgettable performance in the Sun Bowl last year. Harris threw four interceptions against Ohio State last year, but first-year coach Al Golden is confident enough in him to name him the starter ahead of Stephen Morris.

4. Turnovers in Chapel Hill. UNC turned the ball over five times last week, and Virginia had five turnovers – all interceptions – the last time these two teams met. UNC’s secondary is still looking for its first interception of the season, and UVA quarterback Michael Rocco threw one in last year’s meeting.

5. Virginia Tech’s punters. There’s a competition still going on. Scott Demler won the starting job this summer, but has punted 10 times for an average of 35.1 yards, with a long of 44. Danny Coale is still an option, and coach Frank Beamer said they could give true freshman Michael Branthover a look.

6. NC State’s defense. South Alabama is in a transitional phase to FCS status, and will become full members in 2013. You would think that even with a few injuries, the Wolfpack could show some improvement. NC State has allowed an average of 422 yards of total offense, and 27. 5 points per game.

7. Maryland’s pass defense. West Virginia has yet to really find a replacement for Noel Devine and the running game has struggled, leaving too much depending on the arm of Geno Smith. Fortunately for West Virginia, he’s good enough to get it done. Smith has completed over 66 percent of his passes and will challenge Maryland’s secondary.

8. Defense in Death Valley. There hasn’t been much of it for either Clemson or Auburn, so somebody will have to show improvement. Clemson ranks No. 90 in the nation in total defense, and Auburn is 111th. Both teams are allowing over 200 yards rushing per game.

9. Clemson’s offensive line: The Tigers allowed four sacks against Wofford, and failed to pick up a fourth-and-1. The pass protection has to improve, and earlier this week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said left guard David Smith struggled, and fans could see more of Mason Cloy and Brandon Thomas at the guard positions.

10. BC’s secondary vs. the ‘Killer V’s’: The Eagles’ depleted secondary could have its work cut out for it against Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon. BC learned this week that cornerback C.J. Jones will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Jones is the third player in what was projected to be BC’s starting secondary who won’t be in the lineup for various reasons.
You asked, I answered. Readers (particularly @AsylumGodfather) were calling for more position rankings, so the receivers are up next. This could be the strongest position group in the conference, and one of the more difficult to rank, so I looked back on a few stats to help me separate them, including how some of these guys did against their best competition (i.e. Danny Coale versus FSU, wow). Here’s the final verdict of which teams in the ACC have the best combination of depth and talent:

1. Virginia Tech: With Jarrett Boykin and Coale returning, the Hokies’ passing game has a chance to flourish this fall. Boykin, Coale and Dyrell Roberts were the team’s top three receivers last year for the second straight season, combining for 113 catches, 1,882 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add to that Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, E.L. Smiling -- it’s a bottomless cup of depth and talent.

2. Duke: Conner Vernon has 128 catches in his first two collegiate seasons and Donovan Varner ranked fourth in the ACC in pass receptions (60) and seventh in yardage (736). Their combined 274 receptions are the most of any active duo in the ACC. They are the top two returning leaders in catches per game, and Vernon is the ACC’s returning leader in receiving yards per game. The Blue Devils also have sophomore Brandon Braxton (14 catches), who could make a name for himself as the third option this year.

3. Florida State: Every Seminole who caught a pass last season returns. Bert Reed, Taiwan Easterling and Rodney Smith return with a combined 50 career starts. Reed ranks second among all returning ACC receivers with 141 career receptions. Willie Haulstead had 38 catches last season, Smith had 31, and there’s plenty of rising talent like Christian Green.

4. North Carolina: Like Florida State, North Carolina returns all of its receivers, including two who redshirted last season. Dwight Jones, who had 946 yards and 62 receptions, leads the group, but Erik Highsmith (25 catches, 348 yards and three touchdowns) must be accounted for as well. Defenses also can’t forget about Jheranie Boyd, who is a deep threat.

5. Miami: The Canes will miss the production of Leonard Hankerson, but they don’t have to if one or two of the other players show more consistency. Travis Benjamin has big-play capabilities and averaged 17.3 yards on his 43 catches last season. There is no shortage of other options with LaRon Byrd, Aldarius Johnson, Tommy Streeter, Allen Hurns and Kendal Thompkins. Which one will rise to the occasion?

6. Clemson: It was the DeAndre Hopkins show last season, and he should again highlight the Tigers’ passing game. As a true freshman, Hopkins had 52 catches, the most by a first-year player in school history. Jaron Brown returns with 10 career starts, and the Tigers also have Marquan Jones (21 catches) and Bryce McNeal (19).

7. Maryland: The Terps have to replace their top two receivers from a year ago in Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, and no clear frontrunners emerged this spring. Quintin McCree leads all returners with 16 catches, followed by Kevin Dorsey (15), Ronnie Tyler (13), Kerry Boykins (10), and Tony Logan.

8. Boston College: True freshman Bobby Swigert led the Eagles last year with 39 catches and four touchdowns in five starts. The Eagles are hoping to get a significant boost from the return of Colin Larmond Jr., who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but the young group should be better regardless because of the experience gained last season.

9. Virginia: The Cavaliers will miss Dontrelle Inman, who averaged 16 yards per catch on 51 receptions, but returning starter Kris Burd finished fifth in the ACC last season in pass receptions (58). The group will also get a boost from the return of Tim Smith, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, and Matt Snyder (30 catches) and Ray Keys (three catches).

10. NC State: NC State has to replace its top two receivers from a year ago, and T.J. Graham is the team’s leading returning receiver with 25 catches. Steven Howard, Jay Smith and Quintin Payton all have experience, and redshirt freshman Bryan Underwood, Tobias Palmer and Everett Proctor have also been competing for playing time.

11. Wake Forest: Chris Givens (35 catches, 13.7 average), Michael Campanaro (10 catches) and Danny Dembry are the lead candidates to start, but the Deacs are missing a spark like Kenny Moore (2007) and D.J. Boldin (2008) provided. There were too many dropped passes in the spring game, so this group has some work to do in summer camp.

12. Georgia Tech: Yes, Georgia Tech throws the ball, just not often enough or efficiently enough to be anywhere but last place on this list. Stephen Hill led the Jackets last year with 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He should show progress this fall now that there’s no pressure on him to be the next Demaryius Thomas. If he doesn’t show more consistency, the Jackets could turn to Daniel McKayhan, Tyler Melton or Jeremy Moore.
Logan Thomas Andrew Shurtleff/US PresswireLogan Thomas will take over as Virginia Tech's full-time starter this season.
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- It was third-and-16 against Miami last season when backup Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas had his one and only snap in a moment of consequence.

He didn’t flinch.

With starter Tyrod Taylor feeling woozy on the sideline, Thomas completed a 24-yard pass to Danny Coale for the first down and sustained what would be an eventual scoring drive against Miami in late November.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer exhaled.

“I remember thinking, ‘whew,’” Beamer said. “A lot of good thoughts went through your head quickly. That said a lot. You’re under the gun, just come in, make a throw like that when we needed it. That said a lot.”

The Hokies are going to need Thomas to make an even bigger statement this fall if they’re going to defend their ACC title. The Tyrod Taylor era is officially over in Blacksburg, and Thomas is preparing this spring for his first season as a full-time starter in the shadow of his predecessor while also carrying the lofty expectations and physique of former Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.

Truth is, Thomas might just be the best mix of both.

Thomas has the leadership skills and composure of Taylor, and at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, he also has the height, weight and arm strength of Newton. What he doesn’t have yet is experience or consistency. Over the past two years, Thomas has watched and learned as a redshirt and backup to Taylor. His accuracy has improved, along with the mental aspect of his game, but there’s still a learning curve involved, as Thomas only played two years of quarterback in high school and was recruited as a tight end/receiver.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas and Tyrod Taylor
AP Photo/Steve HelberLogan Thomas (left) spent the past two seasons learning from Tyrod Taylor.
“Some days, he’d just take your breath with the throws he’s making: ‘Gee wiz, look at that one, and look at that one,’” Beamer said. “And then he’d get out there another day and wouldn’t be quite as accurate, just a little bit off. I really think it gets down to concentration and him being the guy. I’m looking forward to it.”

So is Thomas.

Virginia Tech isn’t going to change the offense drastically to suit him, but the staff might put the ball in his hands more because of his size and strength. He’s more of a pocket passer than Taylor was, but when he does leave the pocket, Thomas can run. He’s not shifty, but he’s fast, and his strength will make him difficult to tackle. Where Taylor had to move his feet to see, Thomas is about six inches taller to see over the action.

Defenders will be forced to tackle Thomas around his waist, giving him time to get the ball out. Taylor was usually tackled on his upper body, making it harder for him to throw under pressure. Thomas will be less likely to pull the ball down and scramble, but he’ll make throws Taylor might not have been able to because of his height.

“I’m not the type of scrambler Ty was,” Thomas said. “He’s the most elusive person I’ve ever seen.”

Thomas has an experienced offensive line and group of receivers to work with, though, so there’s potential for the Hokies’ passing game to flourish more than it did under Taylor. That depends, of course, on Thomas’ accuracy. His range is about 60-75 yards -- compared to about 75 or 80 in high school, when he said his “mechanics were really bad,” and he would just heave it.

“I was really bad when I first got here,” Thomas said. “I was throwing high, low, skipping it across the ground. Now they’re a little bit more in the strike zone.”

O'Cain said Thomas has made “tremendous improvement in all areas” since his first week at the position and the end of this past season.

“He was just wild,” O’Cain said, “like a fastball pitcher that sails into the upper backstop every now and then. He’s really improved that. He’ll still miss one occasionally, but they’re close misses. Three yards, or four yards … you just say to yourself, where in the heck did that come from?”

“We can’t ask him to do all of the things we asked Tyrod to do,” O’Cain said. “He’s not at that level mentally yet. We’ve got to be careful we don’t overload him, allow him to go out and play. But at the same time this spring, I’m not going to spoon feed him. We’re going to throw things at him and let’s see what sticks and what he can handle. I’d rather throw things at him, see what he can handle, and then take away, as opposed to being too cautious because he’s had two years.”

Virginia Tech offered Thomas a scholarship when he was a sophomore in high school, and he had prepared for his freshman year expecting to play immediately as a tight end or receiver. On the first day of spring ball, though, O’Cain approached Thomas and asked if he would be interested in trying to play quarterback.

Thomas agreed to try it, but it took about three weeks for it to agree with him.

“I was hating life for the first two weeks, hating it,” he said. “I had prepared that whole summer to play tight end, h-back, and so I had thrown zero balls until camp started. It was really that third or fourth week that I said, ‘just throw it all out the window, get a new mindset, and I really started enjoying it. A lot of it was because of coach O’Cain and Tyrod as well. They helped me along with the process and trusted me at a young age.”

O’Cain said he saw enough promise after just a few days watching Thomas at the position that he told Thomas he could be a three-year starter.

“I wasn’t trying to pull the wool over his eyes,” O’Cain said. “I felt like he could be a good quarterback, a very good quarterback.”

It’s time to find out if O’Cain was right.
This morning we looked at the main recruiting needs for the Atlantic Division. Here are the priorities for each team in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Offensive line: The Blue Devils will have to replace one starter in center Bryan Morgan, and it’s still a relatively young group, but with several redshirt sophomores on the roster, the staff wants to load up two grades behind them to fully stock the position for the future.

Defensive line: This has always been Duke’s deficiency, which means it will always be a priority to catch up and build depth. The Blue Devils will have to replace two starters in Wesley Oglesby and Patrick Egboh. Noseguard Charlie Hatcher will be a redshirt senior.

Cornerback: Duke only loses one starter, cornerback Chris Rwabukamba, but it’s another position that has been weak and needs better athletes.

GEORGIA TECH

Offensive line: The early departure of Nick Claytor to the NFL didn’t help the depth, but there were still several young players who gained valuable experience and others who redshirted to help the depth. While no true freshman is likely to make an immediate impact, the staff is still looking to build the numbers up front.

Linebacker/defensive line: The Jackets need to find more athletes who are suited for Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. Fast athletes who are versatile enough to play a hybrid role, with the ability to move in space, will be a priority in this class.

MIAMI

Quarterback: With Jacory Harris being a senior, A.J. Highsmith moving to defense, and Spencer Whipple struggling in what little time he has played, the position needs a boost. It didn’t help that Teddy Bridgewater reneged on his commitment.

Linebacker: This is a position former coach Randy Shannon had put an emphasis on building, and there are young players and depth, but it was also a veteran group in the 2010 two-deep, with mainly juniors and seniors.

Wide receiver: The upperclassmen did all of the work in 2010, with Leonard Hankerson leading the way. Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and Laron Byrd will all be seniors. An influx of young talent is needed.

Defensive end: The staff is looking to improve the depth here, get stronger up front, and build upon the success from 2010. Marcus Robinson, Adewale Ojomo, and Micanor Regis will all be seniors.

NORTH CAROLINA

Tailback: Injuries depleted this group in 2010, and Anthony Elzy, Johnny White and Shaun Draughn were both seniors. Ryan Houston was able to redshirt and will return as a fifth-year senior, but the Tar Heels need more dependable runners and a foundation for the future.

Defensive line: The Tar Heels have to prepare for some departures, especially on the interior, where all four players on the two-deep roster in 2010 were juniors.

Secondary: UNC will have to replace three starters in the secondary this spring, and three backups this year were juniors. Because of the NCAA investigation, this is a group in which backups had to develop quickly, so there are some experienced younger players, but the group still needs to reload.

Tight end: The loss of Zach Pianalto and his backup, Ed Barham, leaves the position thin.

VIRGINIA

Offensive line: With starting right guard B.J. Cabbell gone, starting center Anthony Mihota a senior, and starting left guard Austin Pasztor a senior, the staff has to prepare for some departures. Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi are talented young players, but the rotation needs more of them.

Defensive line: End Zane Parr’s decision to leave early for the NFL draft hurt the position’s depth, and the Cavs will also have to replace John-Kevin Dolce at tackle. Three other players in the two-deep will be rising seniors, and with Virginia switching back to a 4-3 defense under Mike London, the Cavs have to rebuild up front.

Secondary: Cornerback is of particular concern, as Chase Minnifield will be a senior, and starter Mike Parker will graduate.

VIRGINIA TECH

Running back: The early departures of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans to the NFL left David Wilson as the only tailback with any significant experience. Overall, the Hokies have four tailbacks on their current roster.

Defensive line: The Hokies will have to replace redshirt senior starters Steven Friday and John Graves, and starting left end Chris Drager will be a redshirt senior this year.

Wide receiver/tight end: Starters Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale will be seniors, and tight end Andre Smith will graduate.

Secondary: Half the players on the two-deep roster against Stanford were either juniors or seniors, and the Hokies will have to replace rover Davon Morgan and cornerback Rashad Carmichael.

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