Tuesday, April 29, 2008

2008 Soccer Schedule Released

Fresh off an appearance in the 2007 College Cup, the Virginia Tech men's soccer team announced its 2008 schedule today.

The Hokies face seven teams who made last year's NCAA Tournament, including its first two opponents of the season. The Hokies travel to Portland, Ore., to begin their campaign in the Pilots Nike Classic. Tech faces Portland Aug. 29 and Washington Aug. 31.

Flying cross-country to face two tournament teams is a tough way to begin the season. However, those are the only two tournament teams the Hokies have on their non-conference slate. The other five tournament teams on their schedule (BC, Duke, Maryland, UVa. and Wake) are ACC foes.

Tech's biggest home games are Sept. 12 vs. Duke, Sept. 26 vs. UVa. and Nov. 7 when it closes out its regular season against BC. The Eagles are the defending ACC champions and were the No. 1 seed in last year's NCAA Tournament.

Other than the Oregon trip, Tech's toughest road game will be Oct. 4 against defending national champion Wake Forest. The Hokies have non-conference road games at St. John's Sept. 14 and High Point Oct. 25.

If you're looking to pair a trip to see the Hokie football team with an opportunity to see the soccer team, you have a prime opportunity the weekend of Tech's first home football game against Furman.

The Hokie soccer team hosts the Hawthorne Suites Hokie Invitational that weekend. They play Hofstra in their home opener at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 5 and face Xavier at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 7. The time of the Hokie football game against Furman on Sept. 6 has not been announced.

There are two other chances to see Hokie football and futbol in the same weekend:

Fri., Sept. 12: Soccer vs. Duke
Sat., Sept. 13: Football vs. Georgia Tech

Thu., Nov. 6: Football vs. Maryland
Fri., Nov. 7: Soccer vs. BC

Tech's schedule includes the tough trip to Oregon and the always tough ACC slate, but other than that, there aren't very many sexy match-ups. Also, there aren't any trips to Oklahoma like there were last year.

However, It should allow the Hokies to bulk up on non-conference wins as well as get them battle tested with one tough road trip against quality opponents. Sounds a lot like this year's football schedule.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

This weekend at Tech

Here's what's going on around Hokie sports for the weekend of April 24-25:

Softball vs. North Carolina

The No. 18 Hokies (39-12, 15-3) close out ACC play by hosting the No. 14 Tar Heels (47-8, 16-1). The two teams play a doubleheader starting at noon Saturday and play the third game of the series at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

UNC has a two game lead on the Hokies in the loss column of the ACC standings. Tech would have to sweep the Tar Heels to be regular season ACC champs and get the top seed in the ACC Tournament.

The Hokies were 3-0 against the Tar Heels in 2007, beating them twice in Chapel Hill and once at the ACC Tournament. Tech is 5-1 at home against the ACC this season.

UNC has a pair of capable pitchers. Danielle Spalding is 14-2, 0.92 in 18 appearances (16 starts) and Lisa Norris is 17-3, 0.98 in 24 appearances (21 starts). Spalding is also one of the Tar Heels' top hitters. She is tied for the team lead in home runs with 10 while batting .326 with 32 RBIs.

Baseball at Clemson

Tech (18-23, 4-17) travels to Clemson for a three-game series with the Tigers (21-20-1, 7-13-1). The two teams play at 7:15 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. The Hokies are 2-10 on the road in ACC play this season. Both wins came against Wake Forest.

By Clemson standards, it's been a sub-par year for the Tigers. They are third in the Atlantic division and are battling for a spot in the ACC Tournament. Tiger pitchers are a bit gopherball-prone. They've allowed 43 this season in 369.1 IP. Tech batters have hit 31 home runs this season. Clemson is led offensively by Ben Paulsen, who is hittting .314 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Serenity Now

There's been some overreacting to Saturday's Spring Game by Hokie fans and some members of the media. Tyrod Taylor had a less than impressive performance for the maroon team in its 24-3 loss to the white team.

However, the impressive play of Sean Glennon should be the bigger story. Glennon threw a pair of touchdown passes and looked good for most of the game. While many Hokies are fretting over Taylor, how he's progressing and whether he should be redshirted (the answer is no), I feel comfortable knowing Glennon had a good day.

Here's what I've taken away from Spring Practice and the game on Saturday:
1. Sean Glennon is a good quarterback
2. Tyrod Taylor isn't as bad as he looked Saturday

That's about it, as far as the quarterbacks go. Really, quarterback isn't a position I worry about. Even if Taylor isn't as good as he was last season, I know Glennon will be improved. He's improved every year he's been with Tech and has become a great quarterback and leader. There's no quit in Glennon.

I wasn't upset with Glennon because he was unhappy to be demoted to the second team after the LSU game last year. That's the reaction I wanted to see out of him. And sure enough, he went on and led the Hokies to a conference championship.

The Hokies will need Glennon to win the ACC next year. They won't need Taylor.

However, that said, Taylor is a special player who is still developing. He adds dimensions to the Hokie offense Glennon can't add and should play next year. But Glennon should be THE guy. He's earned it. What Taylor can provide is athleticism and variables that most defenses have trouble stopping. He doesn't need to redshirt, but he doesn't need to start, either.

Two quarterback systems can work if each player's role is clearly defined before the season starts. That's what Florida was able to do with Leak and Tebow. The same can work with Glennon and Taylor, but the roles have to be clear. We can't have a situation like in the Orange Bowl where one of the quarterbacks is basically taken out of the gameplan.

Glennon should start. Both should play.

Pithy Spring Game observations by someone 1,100 miles from the contest:

1. Kam Chancellor is the new leader of the defense.
2. Tech doesn't need to replace four receivers to be a good football team. They just need to find one good one. Brandon Dillard is that one. Now, we need to find receivers who can fill roles.
3. We need to be a lot more worried about the kicking game than we are.
4. We're stacked at tight end with Boone and Wheeler. Hopefully we'll use them.

What you missed while tailgating at the Spring Game:

- Women's Outdoor T&F successfully defended its ACC title in Atlanta. The Hokies also claimed seven individual titles.
- The softball team took two of three from FSU. They are two games back of UNC in the loss column in the ACC standings and have a three-game series against the Tar Heels in Blacksburg this weekend.
- The men's lacrosse club team lost 17-16 to Georgia in the championship game of their conference tournament. Georgia scored the winning goal with 22.7 seconds left.
- Former Hokie soccer player Patrick Nyarko scored a goal in a Chicago Fire reserve game Sunday. Nyarko's was the only Fire goal in a 3-1 loss to Kansas City's reserve team. According to the game report, Nyarko deflected an attempted clear from KC's goalie into the net for his first goal as a member of the Fire's reserve team.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I got my wish

The athletic department announced today the Hokies will wear white throwback uniforms as part of a "White-Out" against Furman Sept. 6.

I pleaded for the Hokies bring back the throwback uniforms back on March 18.

Not only is Tech going to wear the same style throwback jerseys worn in 2003 at Temple, but they're also going to wear throwback white pants with a "maroon-orange-maroon" triple stripe on the sides and my favorite helmet from Tech history. It's the old helmet from the Charlie Coffey days with the outline of the Commonwealth on the side with "TECH" going through NOVA.

Fans will be encouraged to wear white at the Furman game and white-out shirts can be purchased starting Saturday at the Spring Game. The proceeds from the shirt sales will benefit Herma's Readers. It's a non-profit organization, named after Coach Beamer's mother, that promotes literacy among children in grades K-3.

This is a great way to honor Tech's past as well as raise money for a great cause. However, I hope this is just the first step toward making the throwbacks Tech's full-time uniforms. Love it and hopefully they try to make more money for Herma's Readers by selling replicas of the throwbacks in the bookstore. I'll be first in line to buy one.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Goin' Clubbing: Men's Lacrosse

Goin’ Clubbing is a regular feature on Gobbler Country. Each edition is an in-depth look at a different club sport at Virginia Tech. While these athletes aren’t on scholarship, they are still proud to play and represent the university.

It would make sense for Virginia Tech to have a men's lacrosse team. Lacrosse has a long been established in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic and its popularity around the country is growing. Tech also already sponsors a women’s team.

However, the Hokies do not participate in the men’s game. A lot of this has to do with Title IX, which requires athletic programs to provide equal athletic opportunities for men and women. Therefore, in order for Tech to add a men’s sport, it would have to cut a men’s sport or add a on female counterpart.

While there is one main reason Tech doesn’t have a men’s lacrosse team, there are plenty of reasons it should. The sport is popular in the area. And the Hokies play in the ACC, which boasts four tradition-rich lacrosse programs: Duke, Maryland, North Carolina and UVa.

While many fans would like to be able to cheer for a varsity men’s lacrosse team, the current option isn’t bad. The men’s lacrosse club team is one of the best in the nation, is annually ranked in the Top 25 and has made several trips to the national tournament. The Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association is large and well-organized, giving Virginia Tech quality competition.

That strong competition brings in many fans to the club’s games. The support is strong, even if it isn't at the level many in the club think it should be.

“Whenever we have a home game under the lights, the hill always fills up,” said defenseman David Gouldey, a material sciences and engineering junior from Herndon, Va. “Our fans are always loud and supportive as well. I bet we get more people at our games than at the girl's varsity lax games.”

The Hokies didn’t always play a schedule made up of only club lacrosse teams. In fact, Tech could have very easily had a varsity men’s lacrosse team.

The Hokies celebrate a win over FSU this season.

History Lesson

Lacrosse didn’t become an NCAA sport until 1970. When it became an NCAA sponsored sport, several teams that didn’t join the NCAA, including Tech, were granted associate member status. These teams continued to play varsity schedules despite being club teams.

“This was intended to foster the growth of the varsity teams and in some cases, it worked,” head coach Joel Nachlas said. “Both Duke and North Carolina were given the same ‘associate’ designation and evolved into varsity teams.”

Tech did not, but continued to play varsity teams through 1994. After that season, the NCAA barred varsity programs from playing club teams. Club lacrosse started to blossom and become better organized from that point on, Nachlas said.

Nachlas has been Virginia Tech's head coach for all but six years since 1974. He said he has seen the level of play of club lacrosse teams grow exponentially since 1994 and has enjoyed the success of his club. However, he has no interest in men’s lacrosse becoming a varsity sport at Virginia Tech.

“Not to be too critical of varsity programs, but it is my view that college sports should be for the students to play rather than watch,” Nachlas said. “The traditional model of the strong student who enhances his or her college experience with serious athletic achievement is what club sports provide.”

For the Students, By the Students

Nachlas’ reasoning for not wanting Tech to field a varsity men’s lacrosse team is simple. He feels the current team best represents Virginia Tech.

Almost all the players on the club team are from the general student body. They came to Tech for an education first and choose to play lacrosse as well. Not the other way around. Nachlas said 30 percent of the players are in the college of engineering with another 40 percent in the college of business. The Baltimore, Md., native himself is an associate professor in the college of engineering.

“We are true to the tradition of the scholar athlete and to the traditional academic values of Virginia Tech,” Nachlas said. “I believe that the program we have is too beneficial to the students to convert it to something else.”

Nachlas doesn’t recruit high school players. However, he listens when a prospective student inquires about the lacrosse team. He lets the university’s status do the recruiting for him by attracting players that love lacrosse, but also want a quality education.

The results have been remarkable. Several players on the team passed up the opportunity to play for DII and DIII teams in the NCAA and instead came to Tech to be students first and lacrosse players second.

“A lot of the schools I talked to were very small in size and weren’t really what I was looking for,” said attack Tim Tyrrell, a marketing senior from Glen Mills, Pa. “I always imagined coming to a big school with a big time football program, so I decided to come to Tech and play club.”

Freshman midfielder Nick Perkins, from Fairfax, Va., came to Tech despite being recruited by smaller school to play varsity lacrosse. Perkins said he chose to attend Tech because he didn’t want to go to a college that was smaller than his high school. He said he would have been a Hokie even if there wasn’t a club lacrosse team to play for.

It was the same for Gouldey. He grew up watching UVa’s lacrosse team and dreaming of playing DI. However, he quickly realized he wanted to go to school in Blacksburg.

“It came to the decision of whether I'd play varsity lax or go to the school I loved,” he said. “Still there needs to be someone to challenge UVa for the best lax team in the state, and I would still love to get the varsity experience.”

“The Perfect Environment”

However, not all members of the club believe there shouldn’t be varsity lacrosse at Virginia Tech. Gouldey said joining the NCAA ranks is not only necessary for Tech, but for the NCAA and the sport as well.

“Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in high school, yet the college level hasn't kept up with the growth,” he said. “We already have plenty of enthusiasm down here for lacrosse. Virginia Tech would be the perfect environment for a varsity lacrosse team, as plenty of kids come here from the lacrosse hotbed regions of Northern Virginia and Maryland. Plus, we can't have UVa continue to dominate DI.”

The desire to compete with ACC rivals in varsity lacrosse is strong amongst Tech players. The ACC only has four member schools playing lacrosse, but those four are among the strongest in the NCAA. Last year, Duke made the NCAA championship game before falling to Johns Hopkins. An ACC school has made it to the championship game in four of the last five years.

However, there is always room for improvement.

“The ACC is already a great conference for lacrosse, but it’s lacking teams,” Tyrrell said. “I think Virginia Tech should start taking steps to move towards varsity in the near future. I would love to come back and watch men’s lacrosse as a varsity program.”

The debate rages on, both for and against a varsity men’s team at Virginia Tech. However, Perkins has a simple compromise. He said there should be a varsity team to compete against NCAA opponents as well as a club team for players who desire a more relaxed lacrosse environment as well as those who attend Tech and don’t want to give up the sport.

While Virginia Tech does not field a team to compete with ACC rivals in men’s lacrosse, the school is not bereft of a good team. Virginia Tech has established itself as a club lacrosse powerhouse. Even if there is never an NCAA team for Hokie fans to watch, they still have plenty to cheer for.

The players for the men's club lacrosse team at Tech aren't on scholarship. But they have the talent, drive and focus as if they were.

“If someone sees our team or other club teams like ours, they will think they are looking at a varsity program,” Nachlas said. “The quality of play is high. What really matters, however, is the experiences of the team members. Each of the members of the VT men’s lacrosse team is a serious student. Some are stronger than others but all are successful or they cannot continue on the team.”

More resources
Men’s Lacrosse Web site
Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association
Southeastern Lacrosse Conference
Schedule and Results
MCLA National Tournament

The team completed its regular season at 13-1. The SELC Tournament is April 18-20 in Atlanta. The Hokies face either Auburn or Florida at 5 p.m. April 19 at Atlanta's Northview High School in the SELC semifinal. The MCLA national tournament is May 13-17 in Dallas, Texas.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

One Year Later

To be honest, I don't remember a whole lot about April 16, 2007. Other than where I was and a couple of other details, I can't give you much else. It was all a fog. The sensory-overload I experienced as I watched a place that held so many amazing memories for me be the site of so much pain and grief took away the details of that day.

Monday, April 16, 2007, was supposed to be a day of relaxation. I was working for a professional baseball team at the time and that day was an off day between road series. Those are the days you look forward to. The team's gone and there's no game to pay attention to that night. I went to the office to prepare the next day's game notes and make the next day as easy as possible as well.

All that changed shortly after I got to work. First, I got an E-mail from my boss saying two students had been found dead at Virginia Tech. Originally, I didn't think too much of it. The AP story he sent me said the police had detained a suspect. But then the reports of the second attack started to roll in and the death toll started to rise.

I was hitting alt+tab most of the day between my game notes and various news sites on the Internet, getting the latest reports. It became apparent very quickly that this was going to be a bad, bad day.

I got out of there as quickly as I could and turned on the TV when I got to my apartment. There was the school I loved (despite not attending a single class there) on every news station. It wasn't long before I had to get out of there, as well. I went and had dinner with my aunt, who lived in town and graduated from Tech. We sat there in the restaurant, ate and didn't say much. There wasn't much to say.

I spent the next few days wearing orange and maroon to work, watching the news and wondering how something so terrible could happen to a place like Tech. It sickened me to watch the sorrow Blacksburg was going through. I wondered what my feelings would be when I returned and how different the place would be. It turned out not to be that different at all.

My first trip back to Blacksburg was for the Boston College game. I missed out on the emotion of the ECU game. Virginia Tech was scarred on April 16, but it didn't take me long to realize that the place was still the same place I loved. I knew back in April that if something this horrible had to happen, it needed to happen at a place like Tech. The love and support the members of Hokie Nation have for one another is unlike anywhere else I've been. It's why I'm proud I'm a Hokie. Virginia Tech is a family and it grieved as a family. It has healed as a family.

What I'll remember most about April 16 and the days that followed is the media coverage. As someone whose been in the media, you tend to pay close attention to how things are covered and how the media reacts. I took a class in college that was about community journalism. A good part of the course dealt with how a small community reacts under the microscope of the nation.

Basically, it's up to the journalists in that town to tell the story. The national media will come in and get small facts wrong that most people won't notice, but those who are from the area will (like being called Virginia Tech University). But eventually, the national media will leave and it will be up to the community journalists to keep the story alive and cover the aftermath. Soon the nation won't care as much, but those involved always will.

And that's why I tried to get most of my news that week from the Roanoke Times and the Collegiate Times. The CT did by far the best job. Campus rags take a lot of heat for not being "real newspapers." Well, the campus rag pwned everyone else when it came to covering that story.

I felt many emotions that week. There was shock and sorrow, but there was also anger. And most of that anger was directed at the media. The media always needs someone to blame when something like April 16 happens. However, the person who committed the actual act was dead. Therefore, the media was unable to blame only him. That doesn't get viewers. So the media, especially CNN, began to start putting the blame on the campus police and President Steger.

And they did it pretty quickly. Before the bodies were buried, before the shock had even worn off, they started blaming them. It was the most despicable thing I'd ever seen. It made me glad I was in PR and not news.

A friend of mine, who is still in news, sent me and a lot of other people he was in J-School with a message a couple of days later. It said how proud he was to be in news while watching the coverage of April 16. I let him know how outraged myself and a lot of other people who watched the same coverage were at what was happening. He called April 16 a "producer's paradise." I told him there was a special place in hell for the producers at NBC that chose to air the gunman's videos and pictures.

What I was proud of was how the Hokies responded when the news tried to push its agenda on them. I was proud as parents and friends of those who were killed refused to point fingers at the police and the president. I was proud as they refused to let the news media exploit them. I was proud as they represented a great university that was in the midst of its worst tragedy.

April 16 reaffirmed my love of Virginia Tech and the Hokies. As the week unfolded and I saw how Hokie Nation reacted to being thrust into the spotlight, I was reminded of the quote from Apollo 13 when Gene Kranz overhears the NASA official say it was going to be the worst disaster NASA had ever faced.

Kranz responded, "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour."

That's how it was for Hokie Nation.

Update: ESPN story on the tragedy featuring Sean Glennon that aired today:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Road Trip No. 2: Frozen Four

Gobbler Country Road Trip No. 2
Hockey: Boston College vs. Notre Dame
Pepsi Center
Denver, Colo.
Miles Round Trip: 990
Total Dollars Spent: $343 ($140 flight, $80 ticket, $25 shirt, $8 program, $90 food and drink)

Virginia Tech doesn't have a hockey team, outside of the club hockey team that plays in the ACHA. However, it's one of my favorite sports and I'd always wanted to go to a Frozen Four. I've seen six NCAA basketball championship games and three BCS championship games. But hockey's championship is the biggest event that happens in a smaller arena.

Basketball and football both crown their champions in large stadiums. But for hockey, its more intimate. And the atmosphere was electric. Because its a niche sport, hockey fans are extremely passionate about hockey and are very knowledgeable of the sport. Go to a hoops or football championship game and most of the are there to be seen, not heard. And a lot of them don't know the rules of the sport.

But at the Frozen Four, when there's a great pass or an obvious offsides that didn't get called, the entire crowd knows it. And it made the experience unique. Every fan chose a side and rooted passionately for their team. The North Dakota fans (and there were A LOT of them) cheered for Notre Dame like it was the Sioux who were in the title game.

My friends and I cheered for Boston College. We all have friends who go there and I especially wanted to see BC win because they're in the ACC. This was kind of a random road trip. My buddy Canada and I are big hockey fans and made reservations for Denver because we were drunk and saw that flights on a certain airline were only $140. So, a few clicks later we were Frozen Four-bound without tickets or a place to stay. We were in Denver for 27 hours.

Fortunately, Canada's friend Korey lived in Colorado Springs and volunteered to pick us up at the airport and give us a place to stay. The Springs is about an hour south of Denver. We were able to find three tickets together 18 rows from the glass for $80 each. Not bad.

The game was exciting. BC's Nathan Gerbe had two goals and two assists to go along with the three goals he had in the semifinal against North Dakota. With about 12 minutes to play, Notre Dame scored what would have been the prettiest goal I'd ever seen that would have brought them within 3-2. They would have been one goal down with 12 minutes left and all the momentum.

However, after review, it was ruled the Notre Dame player kicked the puck in and the goal was disallowed. About a minute later, BC scored to make it 4-1 and put the game on ice.

If you've never been to a college hockey game, I strongly suggest it. Especially if it's an NCAA Tournament game. It's tough to match the intensity and the atmosphere.

Downtown Denver's Union Station.

The festivities began early. We waited outside the bar to be let in.

Coors Field, where the Red Sox clinched the 2007 World Series title!

Mile High Stadium. No, I won't call it by its corporate name.

Pepsi Center.

Outside the Pepsi Center prior to the game. There were a lot of Maine fans there, considering the Black Bears didn't even qualify for their conference tournament. Go Maine!

View from our seats prior to the game.

Face-off in the BC zone.

This would have been the greatest hockey jersey ever if this guy had realized that Ogie actually wore No. 6 in the movie. What a hosehead.

BC does the ACC proud by winning the national title.

One of the best traditions in sports. "I can't believe I shook that guy's friggin' hand."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Backfield in Traction: Injuries piling up

Three key members of the Virginia Tech backfield have gone down with injuries, some more serious than others, in the last week.

- QB Tyrod Taylor: Sprained his left foot during a scrimmage Wednesday and will miss the rest of spring practice.

- RB Kenny Lewis: Will have surgery Tuesday to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and will be out four to six months.

- RB Jahre Cheeseman: Suffered a broken left fibula during Saturday's scrimmage and will be out six to eight weeks.

While its good the injuries are happening now instead of in the fall, this is a key offseason for Tech's backfield. It's important for Taylor to continue to learn the offense and develop chemistry with his receivers as he vies with Sean Glennon for the starting quarterback job in the fall. Lewis and Cheeseman were co-No. 1s on the depth chart at running back. Both are in the hunt to replace running back Branden Ore, who was dismissed from the team last month.

Taylor's injury appears to be the least severe at first glance. This is because putting him in a walking boot seems to be a precautionary measure to keep him from hurting his left foot more. Also, the Hokies still have Sean Glennon, who helped lead Tech to the ACC title.

The injuries to Lewis and Cheeseman are more disconcerting. The Hokies now have two freshmen at the top of their depth chart, Darren Evans and Josh Oglesby. If Lewis is only out four months, he will return in time for fall practice, but there's no way he could be anywhere near 100 percent when that happens.

If he's out six months, it means he won't be back until October, when the Hokies face the meat of their conference schedule. Even if he's back for fall practice, I don't see him being at full strength until mid-October. I believe the coaches should limit his contact in the fall and limit his carries in the early part of the season. Tech will need him in order to repeat as ACC Champions.

Cheeseman's injury was to his fibula, or calf bone, which is the smaller bone in the lower half of the leg. It looks like he will be at full-strength for fall practice.

The injuries to Lewis and Cheeseman give more carries to Evans and Oglesby. Both of them need the experience, which is good. I've said before that Evans and Cheeseman should be the ones splitting the majority of the carries next season. This allows Evans to get valuable experience before the fall.

It also gives the coaches a better look at Oglesby. Running backs coach Billy Hite has been quoted as saying that he has all the tools and could be the best runner of the group. However, he lack experience and is still adjusting to the speed of college football.

What the injuries do is force the Hokies to figure what kind of players Evans and Oglesby are and how they will fit in when the season starts. And they can do it without taking carries away from Lewis and Cheeseman. It also gives Glennon a chance to separate himself from Taylor to ensure more snaps in the fall. However, it has a profound negative effect on the offense's ability to gel at a time where nothing could be as important.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hall of Fame: Deron Washington

The Gobbler Country Hall of Fame will be a regular feature on this blog in which I honor players, coaches and moments in Virginia Tech history that I see fitting of Hall of Fame status. On-field performance will not be enough to gain entry to the Hall of Fame. Mostly, it's just going to be a list of my favorite people and moments in Tech history. It's my Hall of Fame and I'll do what I want with it. The first honoree is Deron Washington, whose Hokie career recently came to a close.

There are many reasons Deron Washington is today's inductee into the Gobbler Country Hall of Fame. His abilities on the court made fans leap from their seats constantly during his career. His demeanor and perseverance off the court made him one of the most likable basketball players to put on a Hokie uniform.

But for all the dunks, blocked shots and mushroom stamps of Greg Paulus, I'll remember Deron for doing something I had always wanted to do. He kicked Lee Melchionni in the face. Of all the white, untalented, unlikable players to play for Duke, Melchionni was one of the whitest and least likable. And on Jan. 26, 2006, Deron did this:

Love it. And that was a block, by the way. Nice flop, Lee.

But Hokie fans will probably mostly remember Deron for his leaping ability, which allowed him to make Cassell Coliseum roar with high-flying dunks and spectacular blocked shots.

Deron didn't just create spectacular moments with his athleticism. He also had a flair for the dramatic. He hit a jumper with under 10 seconds left to beat Illinois in the 2007 NCAA Tournament and also hit a buzzer-beater to give Virginia Tech its first win in Charlottesville since 1968 on Jan. 16, 2008.

It is with great honor that I make Deron Washington the first inductee into the Gobbler Country Hall of Fame. For making Hokie fans gawk at his ability to soar, tearing out UVa's heart and kicking hatable Dukies in the face, he is a perfect choice as the first inductee.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hokies invade Augusta

Current Virginia Tech golfer Drew Weaver and former Hokie Johnson Wagner are in the field for this week's Masters in Augusta, Ga. Weaver is in the field as the defending British Amateur champion and Wagner punched his ticket by winning last week's Shell Houston Open.

Wagner is paired with 1982 Masters champion Craig Stadler and Steve Flesch. He tees off at 11:18 AM EDT Thursday and 8:11 AM Friday.

Weaver is paired with 1976 Masters champion Raymond Floyd and Jonathan Byrd, a former All-American at Clemson. He tees off at 12:46 PM EDT Thursday and 9:28 AM Friday.

Both are scheduled to compete in Wednesday's Par 3 Contest.

As an amateur, Weaver gets the honor of staying in the famous "Crow's Nest" on the grounds of Augusta National. You can follow his week at the tournament in his online diary at Masters.org. He was also featured on ESPN this week.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cheeseman looks like a big-play back

Junior running Jahre Cheeseman was one of two Virginia Tech running backs to run for over 50 yards in Saturday's scrimmage. Cheeseman ran for 53 yards on six carries, including a 43-yard run, according to HokieSports.com.

Whether or not Cheeseman will be Tech's No. 1 back going into next season remains to be seen. There's still two more weeks of Spring Practice and then all of fall practice left to determine Tech's rotation at tailback. However, Cheeseman's big run Saturday just added to his history of big runs for the Hokies.

He had Tech's longest run from scrimmage last year when he broke off a 70-yard run late in the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech last year in the Hokies' 27-3 win. He gained 14 yards on his other five carries in that game. In the Ohio game, Cheeseman had 17 yards on two carries, including 15 yards on a run in the fourth quarter.

I don't think Cheeseman will be the No. 1 back next year, but he is a good option as the No. 2 guy. I may be reading too much into two runs late in games whose outcomes were already decided, but I think he has a pension for the big play and wouldn't be a big step down from Darren Evans or Josh Oglesby.

What about Kenny Lewis? I still see him as a third-down specialist or a change-of-pace back. He's small, quick and shifty, which makes him a perfect third-down back.

You might think third-down specialists would be big, bruising backs capable of getting yards on second effort. However, the quicker running backs are better for third downs in my opinion because they get to the line of scrimmage quicker. I think they're better for third-and-short situations because of this. If the line breaks down in that situation, they have a better chance of still getting the first down than the big bruiser.

If Evans or Oglesby can emerge as viable No. 1 options, Tech should be just fine at running back. One of them will be the primary, between the tackles runner, Cheeseman can provide the big-play option and Lewis can be an excellent third-down back who can also catch balls out of the backfield.

However, if Evans or Oglesby doesn't emerge as the primary back, Cheeseman will have to step up in that duty. It's one he can perform, but that I don't believe he's best suited for. I'd prefer he be the No. 2 guy who breaks off big runs like the one we saw in the Georgia Tech game last year.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Former Hokie wins on PGA Tour

There will be two Hokies in The Masters next weekend. Johnson Wagner won the Shell Houston Open Sunday to capture his first PGA Tour win and earn a spot in the field for next week's Masters in Augusta, Ga.

Current Hokie Drew Weaver will also participate next week as the reigning British Amateur champion.

Wagner shot a one-under 71 Sunday at Redstone Golf Club in Humble, Texas, to finish the tournament at 16-under par. Wagner led the tournament wire-to-wire after tying the course record with a nine-under 63 on Thursday.

Wagner was a third-team All-American in 2002 while with the Hokies.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Why Tech's RB is Important

The Hokies are looking for a new running back during Spring Practice. Senior running back Branden Ore was dismissed from the team March 19, meaning the Hokies will have a new starting running back for the first time since 2005 when Mike Imoh and Cedric Humes split the duties.

I believe the coaches will again split duties until incoming freshman Ryan Williams is ready to take over the full-time starting job. This could be anywhere from four games to two seasons in my estimation. If Williams is as good as Hokie fans want him to be, he could be THE GUY by the Nebraska game. However, if he has trouble adapting to college ball and the Hokies scheme, like many freshman, he may night see significant time on the field until the 2009 season.

The two-headed running back approach has worked for the Hokies in the past, no more so than when they had both Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones in the same backfield. It was a good problem to have. The way many top programs are operating in today's college football world is to have a bruising running back who can go between the tackles and a quick and shifty change-of-pace back who can cut to the outside if necessary.

Whatever Tech decides to do at running back, its important for the offense to have a stable ground attack early. The Hokies struggled on the ground early last season and had trouble dominating games. And history shows just how important it is for the Hokies to own the lines of scrimmage.

A lot of the following also has a lot to do with Tech's defense, as you'll see. The defensive unit is also going through a lot of changes, especially at linebacker. Those issues also need to be addressed early because when Tech out-rushes its opponent, it usually wins.

This is covered in by the fine folks in the Tech media relations department. Tech's record when it out-rushes its opponent is almost always listed early in the weekly game notes. But, we can also dig deeper.

Since joining the ACC in 2004, Virginia Tech had out-rushed its opponent in 39 of 53 games (73.6 percent). In ACC games alone, Tech has out-rushed its opponent in 25 of 34 games (73.5 percent). The high success rate is not based on Tech's typically weak non-conference schedule. However, this last season, the Hokies did out-rush their opponent in all nine games against ACC opponents and were out-rushed by ECU and LSU in non-conference play.

And when Tech out-rushes its opponent, it tends to win. Since 2004, Tech is 36-3 (92.3 percent) when out-rushing its opponent. Two of those losses came in 2007, to BC in Blacksburg and Kansas. Before the LSU game, the only loss Tech had when out-rushing its opponent in the ACC era came in the first game of the era, in 2004 against USC. Against the ACC, Tech went 24-1 (96 percent) when it out-rushed ACC foes.

The Hokies went 31 games without losing in games they had more yards rushing than their opponent.

Record When Out-rushing the Opponent
2004: 8-1 (88.9 percent)
2005: 10-0 (100 percent)
2006: 8-0 (100 percent)
2007: 10-2 (83.3 percent)
Total: 36-3 (92.3 percent)

However, when the Hokies are beaten on the ground, the results typically aren't pretty. Since 2004, Tech is 6-8 (42.9 percent) when it is out-rushed, with three of those losses coming in bowls. The Hokies were 2-3 (40 percent) when out-rushed by non-conference opponents. Those wins came against Kent State in 2006 and ECU in 2007.

Record When Out-rushed by Opponent
2-2 (50 percent)
2005: 1-2 (33.3 percent)
2006: 2-3 (40 percent)
2007: 1-1 (50 percent)
Total: 6-8 (42.9 percent)

As you can see, a key to the Hokies' winning percentage is their ability to out-rush their opponent, particularly against the ACC. If the Hokies are going to defend their ACC Championship, they need to find a dependable ground attack early. Spring and Fall Practices will be especially important for finding a running back rotation that works.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Watch Deron Dunk

I can't remember the exact game, but ESPN's Jimmy Dykes predicted Deron Washington to win the college dunk contest during Championship Week. Well, Thurday Deron gets the chance to make Dykes look like a savant.

Deron is one of eight participants in the dunk portion of the 20th annual State Farm College Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championships. Hokie fans have seen what Deron can do in transition and with ally-oops during his four years in Blacksburg. Now he gets to show off his vertical and creativity to the entire nation.

Looking over his competition, I think Deron is the clear favorite. J.R. Giddens of New Mexico (and OKC's John Marshall High School) will probably be his toughest challenge he's another athletic, slasher-type who can leap. James Gist of Maryland is another guy who could excel in the dunk contest. However, a lot of the participants are post players. They're known more for powerful in-game dunks than contest-style dunks.

Also, I'm shocked to see Memphis' Joey Dorsey in the field. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't he play in the Final Four on Saturday? Why on earth would Coach Cal give him the opportunity to hurt himself in a dunking exhibition two days before the school's first Final Four since 1985?

I'll be getting the popcorn ready to watch Deron fly Thursday. Can't wait to see what he's got in store. Hopefully he'll break out this little number...

Game Guide
Who: Deron Washington vs. The Field
What: College Slam Dunk Contest
When: 9 p.m. EDT April 3, ESPN
Where: Greehey Arena, St. Mary's University - San Antonio, Texas
Why Deron Wins: Because no other player has produced more YouTubery in the last four years
Why The Field Wins: One of them does some over-the-top shennanigans to celebrate a lame dunk and therefore gets a bunch of 10s like Wesley Duke from Mercer two years ago or David Noel last year
Dot-Dot-Dots: The other participants are James Gist (Maryland), J.R. Giddens (New Mexico), Patrick Ewing, Jr. (Georgetown), Brian Randle (Illinois), Joey Dorsey (Memphis - WTF?), Will Bullard (TAMU-Corpus Christi) and Sonny Weems (Arkansas).

Update: Dorsey will not be participating tonight. He will be replaced by Augusta State's A.J. Bowen according to a release.

Scheduling Wish List

Virginia Tech and Kansas State nailed down a home-and-home series scheduled for 2014 and 2016. Meaning if I'm still in Oklahoma eight years from now [/shudders], I'll have a much shorter road trip to see the Hokies than the 16-hour drive to The Burg that I'm used to.

The Hokies also play at Nebraska this year, a seven-hour drive I look forward to making in September. The Hokies have started scheduling tougher opponents, including Ohio State, but here's a list of teams I'd like to see a home-and-home series with for both football and basketball. As you'll see, most of these are for personal reasons. It's all about me.

1. Oklahoma or Oklahoma State: I'm selfish.

2. Tennessee: Few things would make me happier than a chance to crush Phil Fulmer.

3. Mississippi: A chance to tailgate at The Grove.

Their women are nothing to sneeze at, either.

4. UNLV: Vegas, baby, Vegas.

5. Oregon: Typically a solid team in a beautiful part of the country. I went two years ago for OU-Oregon and had a great time. You know, other than the part where the game happened.

6. Washington: I'm a big fan of Seattle and the Pacific NW in general.

7. South Florida: Hopefully Hokie fans will get used to the idea of going to Tampa every year. The next two ACCCGs are there. Oh, and I've got two words for you: Mons Venus.

8. Penn State: Not too far from Blacksburg. Would be a great rivalry against a tradition-rich school.

9. Navy: Again, not too far from Blacksburg. Would be fun to see the tradition at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.

10. Texas: Another Big 12 school within easy driving distance of where I am. And for you Hokie fans who haven't experienced 6th Street, just imagine putting Bourbon Street in a college town.

1. OU or OSU in the All-College Classic in Oklahoma City: Guaranteed spot on ESPN against a good opponent. Oh, and it would be a good 20 minute drive for me.

2. Davidson: Ohhhhhh, no reason.

No, we didn't offer an immediate scholarship. Yes, he's really good.

3. Georgetown: Former Big East rival. Perennial power. Close to Blacksburg. No reason they shouldn't be playing.

4. Charlotte: If we're going to keep playing A10 teams, why can't it be these guys instead of GW and Richmond?

5. VCU and George Mason: CAA teams with national rep.

6. Memphis: They're back in the Final Four. They're a former Metro rival and the two teams played a few years ago in the NIT. Would be an exciting opponent.

7. Southern Illinois: We lost to them twice two years ago, including in the NCAA Tournament. My dad and grandfather (Saluki Alums) still won't shut up about it.

8. Kentucky: Not too far away from Blacksburg and they're one of the biggest names in college basketball.

9. Arizona State: A power conference team that is about at the same level as Virginia Tech, basketball-wise. And if you've ever been to Tempe and seen their wimmins, you'd know why this is a good choice for a home-and-home.

Fork 'em.

10. Tulsa: Sometimes good in basketball, good arena, short road trip for me.