The Other Guy
by Bill Glose, 8/29/01
Michael Vick’s departure to the NFL created a quarterback controversy in Blacksburg. Most spirited conversations have swirled around a trio of talented freshmen expected to battle for the title of ‘quarterback of the future’ – Bryan Randall, Will Hunt, and Chris Clifton. Though each of these newcomers possesses great talent and will leave their marks on Virginia Tech, one QB has eluded most of the debate. That player passed for over 1000 yards and 13 touchdowns as a High School Junior. PrepStar rated him the number 2 quarterback in the Eastern Region and picked him as a preseason and postseason All-America. Most importantly though, he’s earned the coaches seal of approval and will be the Hokies' starting quarterback on September 1. I’m talking, of course, about Grant Noel.
With three years of practice and two years playing in the Hokie system, his experience is invaluable. Michael Vick was the number one quarterback in the country, and Noel had to work in his shadow. Little wonder that his hard work has gone unheralded. This year, he steps out from the shadow to take snaps under center, and if the preseason coach speak is any indication, Grant is ready to shine.
Coach Beamer says that he likes Noel’s toughness and leadership. Offensive Coordinator Rickey Bustle adds that Noel knows the system and has proven he’s a guy who can make plays when things break down – that he knows what he's doing and doesn't make mistakes. Beamer has often stated that the most important quality a quarterback can display is not making mistakes. No matter how much talent a high school quarterback possesses, he will make mistakes as he learns the complexities of the college system. Noel has been in the system long enough to be past those mistakes.
This won’t be the first time the nation’s best quarterback went on to the NFL and left fans worrying over his replacement. When Peyton Manning signed his pro contract, many Volunteer fans wondered who would fill his shoes and how the team would fare. The answer was that no one would fill his shoes and that the team would be just fine. Tee Martin took over the helm. He didn’t try to be the next Peyton Manning. Instead, he played inside his abilities and relied on help from the team. The result was a national championship for Tennessee. When Manning was quarterback at UT, he was the center of everything orange. How Peyton fared was how their team fared. But once he left, the team came together and played stronger than they had before. This presents a nice model for the Hokies to follow.
Virginia Tech can also look at their own team for examples. Virginia Tech was enamored with the exploits of the highly mobile Maurice DeShazo. After an incredible junior year, he was touted for the Heisman in ’94. When he left, no one really knew what to expect. Druckenmiller? Who the heck was that? Sure, he’d been in the system for a few years, but he hadn’t made any lasting impression. After the loss to Cincinnati, Hokies prepared themselves for a gloomy future. But the coaches proved, as they often do, that they knew more than the fans. They stuck with Druck, and the season became the turning point in the Frank Beamer era with VT’s first ever victory over Miami and a Sugar Bowl win over Texas.
Now it’s Noel’s turn, and he isn’t taking anything for granted. He, too, is an unknown commodity, and he knows that any mistake will come under scrutiny and receive heavy criticism. To limit errors, he stayed in Blacksburg throughout the summer to work on timing with the receivers and to get stronger. He says he lived in the weight room and can now throw farther than ever before. And now that practice has resumed, he has the added benefit of going against one of the toughest defenses in the country.
As with Vick’s first year as a starter, the schedule is tailored to develop a new quarterback, featuring a September slate that offers some leeway for mistakes. Additionally, a deep and talented stable of running backs and wide receivers will help ease his burden. Without such assistance, even the most talented QB can appear sloppy. Just ask last year’s starting quarterback for Rutgers, Mike McMahon.
So, what does that mean for this year? Corso’s prediction might once more ring true. But there’s a long season ahead, and as Frank Beamer has stated many times, we need to take things one game at a time. However, all the pieces are present for a great year – a spectacular defense, the nation’s best special teams unit, and a solid quarterback.
BILL GLOSE is a Virginia Tech graduate and a former paratrooper with the 82d Airborne Division. He is currently a full-time technical writer and editor of the magazine, Virginia Adversaria.