BLACKSBURG – One of the more interesting battles on the Virginia Tech roster this August has been the one for the starting fullback spot, as Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer looks to replace two-year starter Joey Phillips at the position.
Riley Beiro appeared to be the favorite, but he decided to give up football after suffering a shoulder injury last year. So Beiro’s departure left guys like Greg Gadell, Fuller Hoepner and Sam Rogers battling for the position. All three of them are walk-ons.
Rogers, a 5-foot-10, 220-pound freshman from Mechanicsville, Va., has been a surprise this August and may be on the field when the Hokies play Alabama. He played quarterback as a senior at Hanover High School, rushing for 1,178 yards and 18 touchdowns and throwing for 1,006 yards and six touchdowns.
Rogers picked Tech over UVa, which tried to get him to come to Charlottesville as a recruited walk-on.
“Sam’s a guy who was a great, great high school football player, but other teams shied away from him for whatever reason,” Beamer said. “We wanted him to walk on and UVa wanted him to walk on. He took an official visit to both places. Mike London [UVa head coach] did a home visit to try and get him to UVa. He decided to come to Tech. He’s done a good job. He’s tough, he’s athletic and he’s physical. He’s got a lot of ability.”
Beamer also thinks highly of both Gadell and Hoepner. Gadell, a 5-10, 207-pound redshirt junior from Vienna, Va., played in six games last season, seeing most of his time on special teams. He somehow finds time to practice football despite being a mechanical engineering major.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Greg Gadell. He’s been cut from this team two or three times even before I came here to coach, and he just kept coming back,” Beamer said. “He refused to be denied. He was a tailback and then he showed up in August of 2012, and we told him that we needed him to be a fullback. He got the heck beat out of him, but he worked hard in the weight room and did some things on special teams.”
Hoepner is a 6-2, 258-pound redshirt junior from Chesterfield, Va. He did not dress for any games a year ago.
“Fuller was a walk-on tight end, but saw an opportunity at fullback, so he moved to fullback,” Beamer said. “He’s the biggest of the bunch.”
The fullback’s role in Tech’s offense has been reduced over the years, but there are important situations in which the staff would like to use a fullback. Being versatile is a must in the Hokies’ scheme, and Beamer agreed he’s looking for more than just a blocker.“The more you can do, the better,” he said. “If you’re a guy who can catch and run routes and has some skills with the ball in your hands, then that allows us to do more. With most teams, the fullback trots out there and there’s only a specific number of plays you can run. When you can do more, then that opens up a lot of different possibilities offensively.”
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