July 20, 2005
BLACKSBURG - Just weeks before the start of the 2004 football season, Jim Davis didn't know where he fit into Virginia Tech's defensive plans. He had to find his place again.
Davis, a senior last season, was coming off surgery for a torn pectoral muscle that forced him to sit out all of the 2003 season. Oh, he knew he'd be playing in 2004. He just didn't know where. Defensive end? Defensive tackle? It really didn't matter to him. He wanted to be on the field.
Of course, we all know how it turned out for Davis. He jogged onto the field anywhere he was asked to play, and he wound up finishing with 28 tackles, including 12 for losses, and five sacks. He punctuated his season by helping Tech seal up the ACC title, via a batted-down pass on Miami's last-gasp effort in its final drive against the Hokies.
There are other scenarios similar to Davis' heading into Tech's 2005 season, guys who must overcome injuries, setbacks and/or depth chart shuffles to make their marks. Several Tech players have the potential to be comeback players this season.
Let's disqualify the obvious leader in the clubhouse for this distinction, quarterback Marcus Vick. His off-field troubles have been well-documented, and those who haven't been traversing the Himalayas for the past year and a half know what he's up against.
There are plenty of other Hokies who may be called upon to make major contributions this season after spending 2004 in obscurity for various reasons. Here's a look at some of those players:
Justin Hamilton - Few observers would argue that there's another player on the team more deserving of a rewarding senior season than Hamilton. Like Davis, he has done everything Tech's coaching staff has asked of him.
When Tech had a shortage of receivers three years ago, Hamilton moved from tailback, where he was one of the state of Virginia's top recruits coming out of Clintwood High, to flanker in spring practice. He did it. No questions asked. He didn't play much in 2002, but he finished second on the team in receptions with 23 in 2003.
When tailback Cedric Humes went down with an ankle injury in the spring of 2004, Hamilton was asked to resume his backfield duties. He did it. No questions asked. He spent most of the season playing second- and third-team tailback, but he still managed to gain 336 yards and three touchdowns on 75 carries.
When Tech's coaches anticipated some depth issues in the secondary after last season, Hamilton was asked to move to free safety. He did it. No questions asked. This move likely will be his most challenging yet. He has had precious little practice time at the position, because he has been rehabilitating an ankle tendon injury this offseason and missed spring practice.
Brandon Flowers - While a fractured right fibula kept Flowers from making an impact as a freshman cornerback last season, his off-field woes during the offseason created questions regarding his maturity.
Flowers was arrested in May and charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a misdemeanor. Cornerback Theodore Miller was charged with brandishing a firearm, also a misdemeanor, in connection with the same incident.
Based on coach Frank Beamer's gushing before Flowers even played a down, it appeared that Flowers was on the fast track up Tech's depth chart. His performance in the only game he played in before his injury last season - a 63-0 Tech victory against Western Michigan that included a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown by Flowers - did nothing to taint anyone's impressions of Flowers' athleticism.
Now Flowers will start over from close to square one as a redshirt freshman. He has recovered from his leg injury, but he may have to sit a game or two at the start of the 2005 season. He's 19 years old, and he still has a lot of room to mature, but he'll have to do it in a hurry if he expects to get back on Beamer's good side.
John Kinzer - It wouldn't be much of a surprise if Kinzer's head was spinning these days. The sophomore probably would do himself a lot of good by consulting with Hamilton about his many moves.
Kinzer began last season as the undisputed starter at fullback. By the end of the season, he was struggling with a neck injury and an uncertain future. He played in every game last year, but he was limited in the final four games because of the injury. In that late-season span of games, he was supplanted at starting fullback by Jesse Allen, a walk-on who since has earned a scholarship.
Kinzer was a highly recruited tight end coming out of Robinson High in Fairfax, Va. He'll have to draw on that experience now, because he was moved back to tight end in spring practice and played well.
Jordan Trott - There aren't many players on Tech's roster who have given up as much as Trott did to become a Hokie. He was a promising baseball player in high school, and he received an invitation to an exclusive camp organized by the Los Angeles Dodgers for promising West Coast players.
He instead left the state of California to play linebacker at Tech, and he started to move up the depth chart in 2003, when he finished with 48 tackles. Depth concerns on the defensive line precipitated a move to end during spring practice in 2004, but back surgery put him on the shelf for nine games. When he returned, he had trouble getting his conditioning back, and he played just eight snaps on defense.
Trott, who was the first California player to sign a football scholarship at Tech right out of high school, is healthy again, but he finds himself in a logjam of talent at end heading into preseason camp. The senior will need to find a niche if he hopes to get on the field for significant playing time, other than on special teams.
Reggie Butler - It's a real simple equation for the 6-6, 345-pound senior from Monticello High in Keswick, Va. Get it done this year, or forever hold your peace.
Butler was supposed to become a permanent fixture at guard for Tech last season, but he wasn't able to make it happen. He played in 13 games last fall, starting six, but graded out at just 78 percent on his blocks and assignments. He'll get a shot to replace tackle Jon Dunn, who has graduated.
Butler's problem has never been size. He's a prototypical block-out-the-sun kind of lineman, but his weight advantage is based more on girth than muscle. Butler allegedly has spent more time in the weight room this summer than in the past, so it'll be interesting to see how that translates to performance in the fall.