- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

BLACKSBURG, Va. Frank Beamer country is five hours east of here, complete with sunscreen, surfboards, all-you-can-eat seafood buffets and the world's largest naval base.

Beamer has established a recruiting stranglehold on Virginia's talent-rich Tidewater region, slamming the door on Penn State, Virginia and North Carolina schools that once recruited in the area without much interference from Tech. And Norfolk's abundant talent supply has turned Beamer's program into a national power.

With a win over lowly Temple tomorrow, Beamer's undefeated and third-ranked Hokies will start 8-0 for the third time in four seasons, thanks in large part to their Norfolk pipeline.

"We've had a pretty good run down there. We've got some good players, and that's been a key thing in this thing, too," said Beamer, who is the sixth-winningest active coach in Division I with a record of 156-88-4. "Some of them are the better players in the state of Virginia they're ranked very high and I think we're in on most of those guys."

In a big way. Of the 18 players from southeastern Virginia on Beamer's roster, nine start or are key special teams contributors like sophomore cornerback DeAngelo Hall from Chesapeake, Va., who broke a 51-yard punt return for a touchdown in Saturday's 35-14 rout of Rutgers. In this year's recruiting class, 16 players of 20 are in-state products; six of those, or nearly one-third, are from Tidewater.

"Virginia made some inroads, but not so much anymore. The tide has turned and Tech has had a lock since the mid-1990s and taken out our best," said coach Lew Johnston, who is in his 17th year at Chesapeake's Western Branch High School.

It's impossible to ignore the talent that has come out of Tidewater arguably the most fertile recruiting ground on the East Coast, aside from Florida. The list of NFL players from the region is long and impressive: Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Lee Roy Jordan, Norm Snead, Dwight Stephenson, Aaron Brooks, Dre Bly, Plaxico Burress, Michael Vick, Terry Kirby, Al Toon, D.J. Dozier and Kenny Easley, to name but a few.

"Some of the best kids in the country come out of there," said Luke Owens, Tech's 6-foot-3, 310-pound senior guard from Grundy, Va., near the Kentucky border. "Just look at my side of the state, you might have a couple guys. But when you have 50 to 60 guys a year that come out and play Division I football, it's just amazing. When it comes to the high school all-star games, it's not fair because it's always your side versus their side."

Tech has five players from Chesapeake's Deep Creek High alone. Starting linebacker Vegas Robinson suffered a high ankle sprain against Rutgers and won't play tomorrow. His replacement: freshman James Anderson, Robinson's former teammate at Deep Creek.

"It's good football, it's good coaching, the competition is good down there, and the product is a really good football player that can play at the highest level," Beamer said.

Quarterback Michael Vick of Newport News put Tech on the national radar screen with his electrifying play and endeared Beamer's program to the Norfolk area. Vick, the top pick in last year's NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, as a freshman led Tech to its first 11-0 season and an appearance in the 1999 national championship game.

Norfolk is so important to Beamer that he assigns two of his top coaching lieutenants, Bryan Stinespring and Jim Cavanaugh, to work the area. Cavanaugh, who coached at Newport News High and Denbigh High in the early 1970s, is responsible for landing Vick. Cavanaugh recruits the Peninsula Williamsburg, Newport News and Hampton while Stinespring concentrates on the south side: Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth and Chesapeake.

"Bryan Stinespring is a top-notch salesman who got established, and he knows how to treat people right," Johnston said. "When you're having a down year with no top prospects, he'll still stop by to see how things are going as a courtesy call. That means a lot."

The NFL drafted eight Hokies last April, the second-highest total from any college. With 11 starters departed from last season's 8-4 Gator Bowl team, many thought Tech would be good this season, but not this good.

In a three-game span, the Hokies defeated No.10 LSU (26-8), then-No.16 Marshall (47-21) and Heisman Trophy candidate Byron Leftwich, and then-No.19 Texas A&M (13-3) at College Station one of the toughest venues for visitors in college football. LSU's loss to the Hokies is its only one in seven games.

Tech's remaining schedule is relatively easy, and everything appears in place for a season-ending showdown at top-ranked Miami on Dec.7. If the Hurricanes and Hokies are both undefeated a likely scenario a berth in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship will be at stake.

"We've got to focus Dec.7 is a month and a half away," said linebacker Mikal Baaqee, a DeMatha High product who is Tech's leading tackler with 43. "We've got to treat every team we play as if it is Miami."

The Hokies are producing terrific results despite starting 10 freshmen and sophomores. Of the 76 Tech players who have seen action this season, 44 are freshmen or sophomores.

"We're getting better players all the time, the freshman are better, they mature," Beamer said. "Give my coaching staff credit, for us to go in places and play with young people and play as well as we've played, it's says a lot about our coaching staff and the job they've done."

The Hokies have the nation's top rushing defense, allowing just 41 yards per game. Overall, Beamer's defense ("probably the fastest we've ever had") is the nation's eighth stingiest, allowing 267.2.

Going into this season, Tech's quarterback situation was unsettled. Sophomore Bryan Randall subbed for injured starter Grant Noel after the second game and has been solid. Randall is 5-0 as a starter while completing 54 of 81 passes for 744 yards and four touchdowns.

The real offensive load has been carried by the wonderful tailback tandem of Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones, the main reason why the Hokies are undefeated.

They call themselves "the Untouchables," and for good reason. Each is on pace to rush for more than 1,000 yards. Suggs, a senior out of Roanoke, has gained 781 yards on 126 carries with a Big East-best 12 touchdowns. Jones, a sophomore from Chester, Pa., has 632 yards on 102 carries with eight TDs.

Suggs, a muscular 6-foot, 201-pounder, takes most of the between-the-tackles pounding; defenses have to catch the 6-foot, 211-pound Jones, who prefers to run outside. Against Rutgers, Jones broke away on a highlight-film 58-yard touchdown scamper that saw him cut back across the field before finding the end zone. Meanwhile, Suggs quietly ran for a career-high 197 yards and two touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights.

"We're not "Thunder and Lightning" because we're both tailbacks," said Suggs, the Big East Offensive Player of the Week. "Both lightning, because there ain't no thunder, although we do bring a little thunder. It hasn't been done too many time when two backs go over a thousand yards on the same team."

Said Jones: "When [Suggs] is out there getting the job done, defenses are getting tired. When I come in, I've got fresh legs and I'll outrun defenders. It makes it easier."

Beamer has always deployed a two-back system, but he has never had two backs of this quality simultaneously.

"No one has two tailbacks like we have," Beamer said. "You would think two guys as talented as they are, maybe one would be jealous of the other one, but that's not the case. They are very unselfish team guys that when one gets tired, the other one goes in."

And on the sideline is the future, a vision eerily reminiscent of the Hokies' recent successful past. Marcus Vick, the image of brother Michael, is sitting out this season as a redshirt freshman.

Beamer is grooming Marcus the same way he developed Michael. During Michael's redshirt season, Beamer instructed him to hit the weight room, where he added 20 pounds of muscle. Now the 6-1, 190-pound Marcus is undergoing the same body transformation by lifting weights and studying the game.

"I think the kid has a chance to be very good," Beamer said. "He does a lot of things that reminds you of Michael. In fairness to him, he wants to be Marcus Vick. When I was recruiting him, I told him, 'Wherever you go, when you have a brother named Michael Vick, they're going to compare you to that guy.'"

Marcus was a highly rated prospect coming out of Warwick High in Newport News, collecting more than 5,000 yards of total offense his final two seasons. He was rated the No.6 quarterback in the nation by SuperPrep magazine and No.1 in the Atlantic region by PrepStar's magazine.

"I'm my own man, and he's his own man," Marcus Vick said of his brother. "One thing people in Blacksburg have to realize is that I'm not Michael. So we're going to do separate things."

Teammates believe that in due time Marcus Vick may be as special as his gifted brother. For now, he's happy to await his turn while the Hokies continue to wreak havoc on almost all opponents.

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