Tech Set To Open Spring Football Drills
March 30, 2000

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Just three months after completing the greatest football season in school history, Virginia Tech's football team faces what head coach Frank Beamer calls the most competitive and wide open spring practice in his 13 years at the helm. The Hokies will open 2000 spring practice on Saturday afternoon with 11 starters and 39 lettermen returning.

Tech fielded one of its deepest and most experienced teams in 1999. The results were an 11-0 regular season and a trip to the Nokia Sugar Bowl where the nationally second-ranked Hokies fell to No. 1 Florida State in the national championship game.

The '99 season brought unprecedented exposure and respect to the Tech program. But the season also brought to a close the careers of 20 seniors, including seven who were starters on defense and five who formed the heart of Tech's kicking game. Coupled with the loss of key junior starters Ike Charlton and Shyrone Stith who opted to enter the NFL draft, Beamer and the Hokies face some strong challenges heading into the 2000 season.

"I feel good about this football team, but I can't remember a time when we had so many positions - both starting and backup - to fill," Beamer says. "We are going to spend the spring determining who our best players are and getting them on the field.

"Most of our players have experienced first-hand what it takes in terms of effort, dedication and focus to play at the highest level. Our challenge is to see if we can do that again with this team. We're going to attack the season the same way as 1999, but without the experience."

Beamer and his staff will still have plenty of talent to work with.

In redshirt sophomore quarterback Michael Vick, the Hokies have a truly special player who has the ability to take over a game with his play-making ability as both a passer and runner. The offensive line, where four starters return, has the experience and depth to be one of the Hokies' best ever. And the receiving corps, led by record-setting redshirt junior André Davis, has great potential despite its youth.

Even on defense, where the Hokies suffered their heaviest losses, there are a number of positives, beginning with senior rover Cory Bird. Bird, one of the team's unsung heroes last season, appears ready to take a leading role for a new wave of Tech defenders.

There also will be plenty of the Hokies' defensive trademark - speed. Tech's two major position changes for the spring - switching senior Nick Sorensen from free safety to outside linebacker and moving junior Ben Taylor from outside linebacker to an inside linebacker position - were both made to add speed to their new positions.

"I think this is going to be a fast defensive team," Beamer says. "We may not be particularly big, but we should be very athletic."

Beamer lists five key priorities that must be addressed during the spring.

"First, and foremost, we must determine who our kickers are going to be," the Tech coach says. "We are going to dedicate a lot of attention to our kicking game during the spring."

The other priorities for Beamer and his staff this spring will be to see how the defensive end position develops to see what happens at free safety with Sorensen's move to linebacker to monitor the tailback situation following Stith's departure and to see if they come out of the spring with a good feeling about the wide receiver positions.

Tech's spring workouts, which are closed to the public, will be held on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The Hokies will conclude practice with their annual spring game at Lane Stadium/Worsham Field on Apr. 29 at 2 p.m.