Tech staff still with quarterback decisions entering next fall
The Roth Report
April 25, 2001
By Bill Roth

With Michael Vick at quarterback, the 2001 Virginia Tech football team would likely be a preseason top-five pick. Perhaps even the No. 1 team in the polls.

Without Vick, the Hokies are ... well ... an unknown to a certain extent.

On paper, the 2001Virginia Tech team is so deep, athletic and talented that even Beamer marvels at his roster. "Our depth now is so different than it was just a few years ago. We've got more good players and the most athletic ability we've ever had," he said.

But who will quarterback edition No. 15 of Beamerball in Blacksburg? Junior Grant Noel and redshirt freshman Jason Davis are the two quarterbacks currently in the program. They got all the work this spring. And the results?

"Grant Noel is our No. 1 guy coming out of spring, but we're going take a look at the freshmen quarterbacks when they get here," Beamer said.

That wasn't exactly the ringing endorsement Noel would want to hear even though the 6-foot-1, 224-pound fourth-year junior from Ridgeley, W.Va., had a very solid spring, earning the respect of both his teammates and coaches. But Tech's staff signed three quarterbacks in February - Bryan Randall (6-2, 205, Williamsburg, Va.), Chris Clifton (6-4, 200, Chesapeake, Va.), and Will Hunt (6-1, 205, Springdale, Ark.) - and Beamer wants to take a close look at them.

As you might recall, when Vick enrolled at Tech for the fall semester in 1998, he knew he would redshirt. Tech's staff had made that promise to Vick, his family and his high school coach. But that's not the case with Randall, Clifton and Hunt.

"We're going give 'em a good look and see where they fit in," Bustle said.

"Grant Noel is No. 1 right now, but you've got three new people entering the equation this fall," Beamer added.

Davis is still not out of the picture either, although the coaches want to see more out of the strong-armed redhead from Tennessee.

"Jason needs to get here this summer and work with our wide receivers," Bustle said. "He made a few plays in the spring game which he hadn't done, so that's encouraging."

Davis is really the guy to watch in this equation. If he doesn't earn the No. 2 spot in August, then expect one of the freshmen to play - and play a lot.

"If one of those freshman quarterbacks is the second guy, he's not just gonna mop-up," Beamer said. "We've had to use our second quarterback extensively in each of the past four seasons. Those guys have played a prominent role on this team, so you better have a second guy who can play.".

Ideally, the Hokies would rather redshirt their freshmen quarterbacks - "It's the toughest position to play as a freshman from a mental standpoint," Bustle said.

You could argue that spot duty in 1998 would not have hurt Vick's 1999 season. But Beamer and Bustle would rather bring a youngster along slowly.

"You don't know what adverse effects it (playing as a true freshman) might have on a kid," Beamer said. "You want to bring him along mentally, so he sees things and knows how to react under pressure when things start happening fast."

Still, with kids leaving Tech early for the NFL - as Shyrone Stith, Ike Charlton and Vick have done in the past two years - you wonder if highly skilled freshmen might see more time in Beamer's program.

"It might change what we do," Beamer admitted. "You always want to do what's right for the player in the long run. If the guy can play, then he should play a lot. But if he's not going to play enough, he should redshirt."

Randall, for one, is hoping to play.

"I'll do what they (the coaches) ask me to do," he said during Tech's spring game. "I'm prepared to play and have been working hard studying the materials Coach Bustle has given me."

The state's player of the year will be in Blacksburg for the second summer session eager to compete for the job. And Tech's offensive coordinator is developing several formations and plays which offer simple reads for a true freshman quarterback - just in case he needs one of the rookies.

Like any coordinator, Bustle would like an experienced quarterback leading his offense, but he will eventually choose the quarterbacks - yes, plural - who give the Hokies the best chance to win.

The decision on who is No. 2 could very well affect who is No. 1 - or at least how playing and practice time is divided among all the quarterbacks.

"Grant is a solid No. 1 heading into the fall," Bustle restated. "But we are going take a look at the freshmen and see where they fit into what we're doing."

It's a tough call for Bustle because there is more than one position to consider, and if a freshman is the backup, Beamer is committed to giving him more than just spot duty.

So in reality, Noel and Davis must both beat out the freshmen quarterbacks. If not, you'll see an 18-year-old on the field this season - or at least sharing time - at quarterback of Tech's deepest and most talented team.

Burnop's take

Veteran Tech network radio analyst Mike Burnop has his take on what we'll see this fall at quarterback. Having spent the past 19 years in the broadcast booth, he's seen an awful lot of quarterbacks come and go - from Strock to Vick.

"It's a tough situation to replace Vick, but this team is so talented and experienced and I think Grant Noel will be the starter of the first game against Connecticut," Burnop said. "And hopefully at halftime, the game is over and the best of the newcomers will play the second half.

"I'm not sure this is like 1998 when you try to get through the entire season and bite the bullet by redshirting the freshmen. You have to play your No. 2 quarterback early in those first four games. The last thing you want is to have a young quarterback with no experience having to play against Elmo (WVU and former Tech coordinator Phil Elmassian's defense) in the fifth week."

If Burnop is right, the Hokies will have a true freshman quarterback playing for the first time in the Beamer-era. While Tech's coach started Will Furrer and Vick in their first games as redshirts, not one quarterback has made the jump from high school to Beamerball and played. At least not yet.

Recruits were impressive

Both the physical and mental makeup of Tech's 2001 football recruiting class was impressive this past weekend when many of the incoming freshmen visited Blacksburg.

Tight end/defensive lineman Andrew Fleck made the 16-hour trek from Edmond, Okla., with his father and brother earning 'longest drive award' for anyone who attended the spring game. Running backs Kevin Jones and Justin Hamilton also watched the spring game from the sidelines and both hoped to be on the field this fall when Tech opens its season against Connecticut.

While most regard this as Tech's best recruiting class, we won't know for years. And looking back, they'll have to be sensational to surpass the Tech class of 1998 which included Vick, Noel, Keith Burnell, Lamar Cobb, Anthony Davis, Jake Grove, Jake Houseright, T.J. Jackson, Emmett Johnson, Joe Marchant, Anthony Nelson, Shorty Nihipali, Luke Owens, Terrell Parham, Willie Pile, Lee Suggs, and Ronyell Whitaker.

Looking back at the list brings to mind another question: Had Travis Turner stayed at Tech, would the Appalachia, Va., product be in the Hokies' quarterback mix today? We'll never know, of course. Turner left Tech during the fall of '98.

WKWI joins full time

A special welcome to WKWI-FM in Kilmarnock, Va., which has signed an exclusive multi-year arrangement to carry Tech football and men's basketball games as well as the Advance Auto Parts Hokie Hotline show from the Virginia Tech ISP Sports Network.

That's great news for Tech fans in Lancaster, Middlesex and Northumberland Counties - plus anyone who enjoys boating on the Rappahannock River and the southern Chesapeake Bay while listening to Tech sports (always a popular recreational activity in the fall)

Tech stations in Warsaw, Onley, Norfolk and now Kilmarnock reach boaters (plus crabbers, sailors and others with marine interests) from Smith and Tangier Islands in the Bay all the way to the Oregon Inlet south of Nags Head.

(Now, perhaps that's not an issue to you until you're on your friend's yacht sailing off the Eastern shore trying to pick up the Tech-WVU game broadcast from Morgantown).

More radio and TV network news to come in the next few months.

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