- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

BLACKSBURG, Va. | Every August, as football season draws nigh, Victor “Macho” Harris begins an annual process he calls “getting in [his] game mode.” About two weeks before the season opener, when he “starts feeling what [he’s] feeling,” the 6-foot, 203-pound Virginia Tech cornerback sits down in front of his locker and performs a preseason ritual that dates to his junior year at Highland Springs (Va.) High School. He takes a pen and paper and - like a cornrowed Kris Kringle - makes his list and checks it twice.

He tucks it away behind his helmet and pads and, as the season wears on, periodically will pull the wrinkled sheath of paper - a list of personal goals - to chart his progress.

“I don’t cross them off as I get them,” Harris said. “And I don’t share them with nobody.”

Were it up to Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster, “make plays” would be top priority on Harris’ register. After losing seven defensive starters - four to the NFL - Foster needs his brash All-ACC performer to stand out more than ever.

“It may not be as many playmakers as we had, but if we can get one or two at each spot, then that will give us a chance, I think,” Foster said. “That’s going to be the biggest thing - to make sure we find those guys at each position.”

The Hokies lack experience and depth on defense. Gone is defensive end Chris Ellis and his team-leading 8 1/2 sacks. So are linebackers Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi and the 215 tackles they combined for in 2007, as is two-time All-American corner Brandon Flowers and his five interceptions and eight tackles for loss.

While Foster said he “cried like a baby” over the losses, the 2006 Broyles Award winner as the top assistant in college football has traveled this road before.

In 2000, Foster lost eight starters from the defense that led Virginia Tech to the 1999 BCS Championship game. The following season, Foster assembled a squad stingy enough for a second consecutive 11-1 campaign. Ben Taylor, who rose from reserve defensive end to third team All-American linebacker, proved invaluable on the 2000 team. Foster needs to find Taylor version 2K8.

The likely candidate would be Harris, who snubbed NFL riches for a senior year in Blacksburg. But Foster sent a message by awarding his “Lunch Pail” - given to the player who best embodies Foster’s workmanlike values - to senior defensive end Orion Martin. The 6-2, 252-pound former walk-on - who is the lone returning starter on the defensive line - impressed his coach by shedding weight and pushing his teammates in the weight room this summer.

“He’s a first-class kid all around, and he’s worked himself into a first-class football player,” Foster said. “He’s really just a kid you trust and count on.”

Linebackers may be Foster’s pride and joy, but other than Orion’s younger brother, Cam - a redshirt junior and the only returning starter - there may not be much to take pride in or be joyful about.

It has been three years since someone not named Hall or Adibi - now with the St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans, respectively - led the Hokies in tackles. The good news for Foster is redshirt senior Brett Warren played well while subbing for Hall last season when the All-ACC linebacker suffered a broken wrist. The bad news is projected starter Purnell Sturdivant has seen most of his game action against Duke, William & Mary and Ohio.

Free safety Kam Chancellor is another player who can fill the highlight reel. When asked about his experience in “playmaking,” Chancellor recalled a story from his days at Maury High School in Norfolk.

“I was playing safety,” said Chancellor, who has played quarterback, cornerback and rover during his time in Blacksburg. “I picked this guy up, tackled him and took the ball away from him in midair.”

At 6-3, Chancellor will provide range in a defensive backfield Harris said has the potential to be “the best ever at Virginia Tech.”

Harris came to his reckoning on the second day of two-a-days after watching junior Stephan Virgil, his counterpart at corner, jump a slant route and race to the end zone.

“He took it to the crib,” Harris said. “It was pretty. Really, really pretty.”

Foster doesn’t brood on his losses. He has thrown career reserves, walk-ons and freshmen into preseason drills, hoping that full-speed scrimmage time will ready them for the moment they are called upon.

But Foster knows development takes time, and he seeks solace in his wisdom. Adibis and Halls are made, not born.

“You just can’t replace guys like that,” Foster said. “The cupboard’s not bare. It’s just we have another group that is getting ready to step up. That’s just part of the cycles of college football.”

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