August 23, 2004 * For the first time since 1998, Virginia Tech wasn't ranked in either of the two major preseason polls, and most ACC previews projected the team to finish sixth or seventh in the conference. That didn't sit well with players, coaches and alumni. The Hokies are one of only six teams to play in at least 11 straight bowl games, and that streak could be in jeopardy. Coach Frank Beamer has made no mystery of the fact that several young players will need to make big contributions. With 11 freshmen and redshirt freshmen listed in the two-deep, the Hokies will sink or swim with their youth.
* Two players re-joined the team after sitting out the 2003 season. Chris Burnett, a 6-2, 280-pound defensive tackle, missed last season in order to work out some academic issues. He was third-string on the depth chart during the week leading up to the opener against Southern California. Burnett has bounced around a lot in his short Tech career. He came to Tech in 2002 as a defensive tackle, then moved to offensive guard. He switched back to the defensive line in 2003 during spring practice before being forced to sit out. Meanwhile, D.J. Walton, a 5-10, 193-pound junior rover, is back with the team after being suspended in 2003 for being charged with his second DUI. Walton also was third-string on the depth chart in late August.
Mike Green, a freshman fullback, drew scrutiny from the coaching staff for showing up at preseason practice in terrible shape. He checked in at 6-0 and 260 pounds, about 20 more than his playing weight last season. Green, who has almost no chance of playing this season and reportedly considered going home to New Jersey, ran for more than 3,000 yards and had 300 tackles at linebacker during his prep career.
Sophomore receiver Robert Parker (6-1, 213) won Tech's prestigious Iron Man award this summer. He finished first or second among several Tech players in a series of interesting events: pushing a truck 75 yards, sumo wrestling, a run to the top of the stadium steps wearing a 30-pound vest, carrying a 300-pound weight for the longest distance, and flipping an oversized tire for 60 yards. Past winners of the award include quarterback Jim Druckenmiller (1995), defensive tackle Chad Beasley (1999), receiver Ernest Wilford (2002) and defensive tackle Tim Sandidge (2003). The Iron Man award hasn't helped Parker yet on the depth chart, where he bounced between No. 3 and No. 4 at split end in the preseason.
Three walk-ons played well in August and could vie for playing time. Jared Develli, a freshman, displayed good height and distance on his kickoffs and could be in line to assume that duty. Fullbacks Jesse Allen, a sophomore, and Carlton Weatherford, a redshirt freshman, also made positive strides and could get on the field.
The best athlete pound-for-pound in Tech's fall max testing weight room drills might have been a kicker. Nic Schmitt, a 6-1, 254-pound sophomore listed No. 2 at placekicker and punter, benchpressed 350 pounds and had an excellent squat of 500 pounds. Backup center Danny McGrath, a 6-2, 283-pound sophomore, had the team's best bench of 450 pounds, tied for ninth-best in team history. Backup guard Brandon Gore, a 6-5, 353-pound sophomore, had the team's best squat of 620 pounds.
Beamer indicated before Tech's Aug. 28 season opener against No. 1 Southern Cal that freshman tailback George Bell likely will play this season, but the coach said he was uncertain whether fellow freshman tailback Branden Ore would be redshirted or not.