May 2, 2006
BLACKSBURG -- From the moment Jimmy Williams showed up at Virginia Tech and played defensive back as a true freshman, it was obvious that he was a future professional. He had "it," and that was obvious.
Same thing with Darryl Tapp. Though undersized, it was clear that he was something special when he, too, started playing at defensive end as a true freshman.
James Anderson already was a year into the program when those two arrived. If someone had said at the time that he'd go on to be a first-day NFL draft selection like Williams and Tapp, the laughter would have been long and loud.
James Anderson? The kid with no position? No way.
Well, Anderson did indeed join Tapp and Williams as a selection on the first day of the NFL draft. He'll ply his trade as a professional for the pro team closest to Blacksburg, the Carolina Panthers. And it's a safe bet that those who have followed the Hokies over the years now will give him as much of a chance of becoming an established pro as they do Tapp and Williams.
Of the three -- and this is no disrespect to the considerable talents of Tapp and Williams -- Anderson might be missed the most back at Virginia Tech. The first reason is tangible.
As good as Tapp and Williams were for the Hokies, clearer replacements for them are on the roster. Chris Ellis, Noland Burchette, Orion Martin and William Wall give the Hokies a strong two-deep at defensive end. They may not possess Tapp's leadership skills, but all four can play. Ellis has the most star quality among the quartet, though Wall is not far behind.
Tech likes its two-deep at corner, too, with Roland Minor, Victor Harris, Brandon Flowers and Jahre Cheeseman. When Williams was tossed out in the first quarter of the Gator Bowl last season, Flowers stepped in and did an excellent job.
Anderson's replacements are senior Brenden Hill and junior Corey Gordon. Neither has much experience, and while Tech's coaches think both can handle the position, they're not entirely sure what they're going to get out of either.
The second reason Anderson will be missed is intangible, and perhaps most important: He was a positive example. If another player struggles through his first two seasons, as often happens, Tech's coaches will be able to use Anderson as a reason to stay encouraged.
The coaches' pitch typically goes like this: It doesn't happen overnight for everybody. It takes talent, sure, but sometimes it takes patience and hard work. That's Anderson. He's atypical for a football player, an artist with serious talent, a deep thinker. He doesn't say much. He prefers painting to partying. He isn't afraid to work.
Anderson's low point came as a redshirt freshman. Though he wasn't physically ready, an injury to Vegas Robinson forced him to play in a game at Syracuse that Tech eventually lost in three overtimes. Speaking of lost, that was Anderson on the field. He was overmatched physically and earned a negative grade for the game.
It was the type of experience that could have ruined a player, shattered his confidence forever. All it did to Anderson was make him realize he had a lot more work to do.
The coaches realized Anderson's body wouldn't handle the weight needed to play inside linebacker regularly. So he was moved outside. The next season, he became a force on special teams. The next season, he stepped in as the starter at outside linebacker. It was a move that gave a little pause to Tech fans who remembered the overmatched kid from the Syracuse game.
But this wasn't the same kid. Anderson became one of the most reliable Hokies in his two seasons as a starter. He wasn't a star in the mold of Tapp or Williams. He never made an All-ACC team, not even honorable mention. He wasn't flashy. He didn't stand out. He just did his job, play after play, with lots of dependability and very few mistakes.
"James developed as well as any player I've ever coached," long-time Tech assistant Jim Cavanaugh said. "He gets it, and not all of them do."
Cavanaugh, as old-school as they come, often has expressed a simple plan for players to follow: Keep your mouth shut, do your work and be ready when called upon to play. That, as it turned out, was a perfect description of Anderson.
When he signed with Tech out of Deep Creek High in Chesapeake, Anderson was the least heralded of a trio of teammates about to become Hokies. Chris Clifton never panned out at quarterback; he moved to receiver but never cracked the depth chart there, either. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall stayed for three years before moving on to the NFL, where he became a Pro Bowl player in his second season.
"You watch James," one of his high school coaches said at the time he signed. "No one knows who he is, but he's going to go in there and do the job for them."
Tech's coaches no doubt would say the same thing about Anderson now, as he moves onto the NFL along with his more famous teammates.
MUNSON AIMS TO SUPPORT SENIORS
On the basketball front, next season will be a transition year for the Hokies. While seniors Zabian Dowdell, Jamon Gordon and Coleman Collins will get the bulk of the playing time, replacements for them will have to surface.
In guard Nigel Munson, Tech seems to have a solid "point guard of the future." Munson, who made the Washington Post's all-metro first team, said after the recent Capital Classic all-star game that he's eager to spend a year with Dowdell and Gordon.
"First thing, I'm going to view it as a learning experience," Munson said. "If I get in the game, I'm going to just do what the coach tells me. But by the second year, I think I can make a great fit for them and get some wins for that ballclub."
This will be Tech's first senior-dominated team in coach Seth Greenberg's four seasons. He had one senior in each of his first two seasons and then two this past season, though neither was part of the regular rotation.