- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009

BLACKSBURG, Va. | Call it a 10-year reunion. The Virginia Tech football program, which usually draws plenty of preseason attention, is generating it in abundance this year.

The 1999 Hokies went through the regular season unbeaten and played Florida State for the national championship. The 2009 team has sparked hopes in Blacksburg that another shot at the national crown could be forthcoming.

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech’s coach since 1987, normally shies away from glowing talk in the preseason. He believes the season’s first polls shouldn’t come out until after the season has actually begun. This year, though, he seems to have embraced the expectations. He has backed off some recently, given a season-ending knee injury to tailback Darren Evans, but he hasn’t backed away completely.

“We took a blow with Darren Evans - no question about that,” Beamer said. “We got good players. Some of them might be a little too young yet. I know our tailbacks are too young, but we do have some good players. We got to get out there with who we got and go perform and see where we are.”

The opener will provide a good picture. No. 7 Virginia Tech plays No. 5 Alabama on Saturday night at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Expectations could be a whole lot higher - or a whole lot lower - come Sunday morning.

Virginia Tech’s players are doing what they can to keep expectations in check.

“We really don’t think about those expectations because we have high expectations for ourselves,” junior defensive tackle John Graves said.

The tailback situation should work itself out. As a redshirt freshman in 2008, Evans gained 1,265 yards and was named MVP in the Hokies’ Orange Bowl victory over Cincinnati. He set a single-game rushing record with 253 yards against Maryland. His absence is not a small thing.

But Virginia Tech always has had quality tailbacks, so the blow is not as bad as it could be. The Hokies will replace Evans with some combination of redshirt freshman Ryan Williams, sophomore Josh Oglesby (38 carries, 88 yards in 2008) and true freshman David Wilson.

The rest of the offense has a bit of a 1999 feel to it. Like Michael Vick in 1999, Virginia Tech has a dual-threat quarterback in junior Tyrod Taylor, who said he now knows the offense “like the back of my hand.” The 1999 offensive line had four players who went on to NFL careers. This line may not match that, but it is the Hokies’ deepest in years. Senior guard Sergio Render may be a high first-round pick.

The other side of the ball may be most responsible for creating hype. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s best units, including the 1999 group, share some traits. They need exceptional ends to anchor a fast line. Foster said he thinks junior Jason Worilds could be as good as any end the Hokies have had.

Foster’s standout defenses also had experience at rover (strong safety) and whip (outside linebacker). Foster’s scheme uses those two spots as wild cards - they can line up just about anywhere. With veteran players he trusts, Foster grants more freedom. He has that this year with seniors Cody Grimm and Cam Martin at whip, and senior Dorian Porch and junior Davon Morgan at rover.

Inside linebacker lacks experience with sophomores Barquell Rivers and Jake Johnson, but the rest of the defense should help them develop quickly. Rivers and Johnson are the only expected defensive starters who aren’t a junior or a senior.

“We’ve had a good camp,” Foster said. “Now it’s time to go see where are.”

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