BLACKSBURG – Woody Baron has heard his uncle tell the story many times. Jim Baron, Woody’s uncle and a former Virginia Tech defensive tackle, started in the 1995 Sugar Bowl game and his 20-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter sealed the Hokies’ 28-10 win over the Texas Longhorns.
“I’ve heard it many times,” Woody Baron said, smiling, of that particular play. “And every time, that return gets longer and longer.”
Like his uncle, Woody wasn’t the most highly decorated player coming out of the prep ranks. But also like his uncle, he plays defensive tackle, possesses a little speed and quickness and loves to work hard, all of which makes him a perfect fit in Tech’s defensive scheme. His work ethic and his ability to stay on his feet and control is gap has enabled him to move into a backup role to starters Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy.
The 6-foot-1, 264-pounder from Nashville, Tenn., will play as a true freshman when the Hokies open up against Alabama in eight days. Defensive line coach Charley Wiles said Baron is the third tackle, which also means that Baron has moved ahead of slightly more experienced guys like Kris Harley, Nigel Williams and Alston Smith.
“It surprises me a little,” Baron said. “It’s my first time playing college football, and it’s almost like playing a different sport. I had to make the transition from defensive end to tackle and then just going into college football in general, but I worked really hard this summer, and I continue to push myself in everything I do. I’m a little nervous. I’m a little excited. I’ve got mixed emotions, but I’m happy with where I’m at.”
Baron, who chose the Hokies over Vanderbilt, enrolled at Tech last January, so he did not play last fall. Instead, he took classes at Nashville State Community College in his hometown and lifted weights. He also worked on his technique, anticipating a move to defensive tackle.
The coaches actually expected to redshirt Baron, figuring he would get this past spring to learn things at the defensive tackle spot, redshirt this fall while working out in the weight room and then getting another spring to make himself an even better player before seeing action in the fall of 2014.
But Baron has nixed that plan with his solid play this August.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Baron said of his move up the depth chart. “I was afraid that I would regress [after not playing last fall], but they [the coaches] did a good job of not letting me bite off more than I could chew. We started out with weights, and I got back into team-oriented work. Then we put in some conditioning, so slowly, but surely, I was getting back to being a teammate. Then spring ball came around, it was like riding a bike. Once you learn it, you never forget it.”
Baron probably needs to get a little bigger, and every player can get stronger. But Wiles trusts him in spite of Baron not having the prototypical size of a tackle.
“Everyone always says you’ve got to get bigger and stronger,” Baron said. “I could always get bigger, but I like where I’m at. I’m doing fine in practice, so I think I’m big enough.
“One of my best assets is my speed. Since I used to play defensive end, I’m a little lighter than other guys, so I can move a little faster than everyone else [at tackle]. But I just adjust to the environment I’m put in, and I try to tackle the challenges that are put in front of me.”
One of those challenges is finding more video footage of his uncle’s playing days. He wants to learn just how good of a player Jim Baron was back in the day.“He’s told me how good of a player he was,” Woody said, with a smile. “All the time.”
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