From the sidelines
By Marty Gordon
The past year has left many sports fans scratching their heads, wondering if any event would be held. In Blacksburg, Hokie fans were calling for a change that never happened. Instead, they will have to be optimistic and hope for the best.
2021 could give the Virginia Tech football program a breath of fresh air and an opportunity to regroup, possibly writing its own new chapter. The key is whether it will be the same old song and dance or something new.
The positive vibes start with the announcement that 25 student-students signed letters of intent to come to Blacksburg. This group is composed of players who competed at the prep level from 11 different states in addition to one player from Germany. Tech’s early signing list also included six players who completed their prep careers in Virginia.
The list of signees includes six defensive backs, four running backs, four wide receivers, three linebackers, three defensive linemen, two tight ends, two offensive linemen and one quarterback.
In addition to Virginia, Tech’s early signing contingent featured players from 10 other states: Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina. For the second straight year the Hokies landed a European player, offensive lineman Danijel Miletic from Germany.
Tech’s tradition of siblings following older brothers also continued. Tight end Jack Hollifield is the younger brother of current linebacker Dax Hollifield and defensive back Jalen Stroman is the younger sibling of current Washington NFL Team member cornerback Greg Stroman.
Several of those freshmen should see the field next season.
The team also received a boost with the announcement by tight end James Mitchell that he will return for another year instead of declaring for the NFL draft.
The 6-3, Big Stone Gap, Va., native had several moments of elegance in 2020 including 103 yards receiving and a touchdown against North Carolina. He was the 2017 VHSL 2A Offensive Player of the Year and helped guide Union to a trip to the 2A semifinals. Mitchell was a four-time all-state tight end and a USA Today All-Virginia First-Team selection.
He will provide some experience for a team that will be seeking more explosion in the passing game. In 2019, he caught 21 passes for 361 yards with two touchdowns for the Hokies.
The team will have several questions about who might be throwing the rock to Mitchell, but Braxton Brumeister does return after starting six games and playing in a seventh. He finished 48 of 84 passing for 687 yards and rushed for another 182 yards. Hendon Hooker and Quincy Patterson both announced they would transfer, so the question is who will be the backup.
Running back Jalen Holston will have to step up and be a team leader, but several backs who didn’t spend much time on the field this year will be asked to do so next season.
The offensive line will definitely miss NFL-bound Christian Darrisaw but gains a lot of experience in Maryland transfer Johnny Jordan, who started four of Maryland’s five games this season. The 6-foot-1, 305-pound Jordan played center and was on the Rimington Trophy watch list.
The Hokies benefited from the transfer portal in 2019, and Coach Justin Fuente will have to do so once again. Hopefully Jordan is just the first to change his zip code.
One of the biggest challenges might be in replacing all-world punter Oscar Bradburn and reliable kicker Brian Johnson. Both have been important cogs in the roster for the past four years.
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton will finally have somewhat of an off-season to develop and put together a game plan. He will be looking for help in the secondary and on the defensive line.
The 2021 schedule includes home games against Middle Tennessee, Richmond, Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina, Pitt and Syracuse. An out-of-conference trip to Morgantown to face the Mountaineers is also slated. ACC-road games include Boston College, Miami and Georgia Tech.