The Future is Here to Stay
By Steve Winter, 1/15/01

Michael Vick, we will miss you. As an individual and an exciting athlete to watch, you cannot be replaced. But, because of your presence here, Virginia Tech will never be the same again. In a sign of the times, Michael Vick on Thursday joined countless other big name underclassmen leaving college early for pro football this year. At first, his departure is very disappointing and appears to put next yearís squad out of the running for a national championship. However, if you look a little closer, it signals that Virginia Tech football has now probably arrived to the big time.

Virginia Tech, with its coaching staff intact and on the verge of signing the greatest recruiting class in its history, is poised to take the college football world by storm for a long time. Five years ago, a Virginia Tech athlete leaving early at all would have been surprising and may have garnered some media attention. This year, a very special Virginia Tech athlete leaves early, hoping to be the No. 1 draft pick, and gives Virginia Tech unprecedented publicity. Disappointing? Sure. Trouble for the 2001 squad? Maybe. Bad for the program? NO WAY!

The trend of college football players leaving with one or two years of eligibility remaining may have started long ago but seems to really be accelerating now. Whatever the numbers, there appear to be a record number of quality underclassmen leaving college this year. Even though Virginia Tech probably suffered the single greatest loss this year with the departure of Mr. Vick, the overall run for the money by the younger athletes should benefit a team like the Hokies in the years to come, starting immediately.

Every year, Florida State, Michigan, Miami and the other tradition rich schools seem to gather all the top blue chip recruits from around the country. Although these schools are perennially at or near the top of the national rankings, rarely do we see a true dynasty anymore. Even Florida State, with their wealth of talent and penchant for reaching the National Championship game, can only boast one win in the last four attempts for the crown. Yet, a team like Virginia Tech that recruits regionally and rarely attracts the national recruit manages to not only reach the 1999 championship game but outplays and very nearly beats the most talented Florida State team of the decade.

How can that be? You could say Michael Vick, but you would only be partially correct. Even with Michael Vick, a team like the 1999 Florida State squad should have absolutely annihilated Virginia Tech. But they didnít. Without question, Michael Vick was the main man in that game. But the Hokies gained over 600 yards that night (including return yardage) and Vick had about half of that. This against the top rated defense in the nation. The reasons Virginia Tech can and will continue to compete and possibly dominate games with such teams are stability, philosophy and coaching.

The top schools are able to attract the best high school players year after year. But do they have mid level talent that may still be developing in high school and could blossom at the collegiate level? Arenít a large number of players they eventually sign prima donnas with a host of potential behavioral problems that simply leave just as they are reaching their potential?

Therein lies Virginia Techís past and future key to success. While the storied programs seem to load up purely on talent, Virginia Tech searches for, signs and then molds great football players. Vickís talent may never again be seen at Virginia Tech and the Hokies may never get the flood of top recruits that the traditional powerhouses corral. But it seems we are head and shoulders above all others when it comes to making the most of what we get. If we maintain our present recruiting philosophy, the solid team core that has existed since 1993 and that annually gets stronger will be there.

Now with a solid reputation and stable coaching staff, the Hokies should be able to attract three to five blue chip recruits a year. Add those young men to the strong mid level talent pool that Beamer and Co. traditionally sign each year, and the depth and ability of the team will improve. Run all that potential through the Gentry strength and conditioning machine and the remainder of the coaching staff, and you have some real potential. Meanwhile, the big boys are recruiting 15 to 20 potential problems, many of which may either cause trouble, leave early or both.

In addition to recruiting just physical ability, the top programs are losing their assistant coaches, scholarship limits are slowing the talent drain to remote power schools like Nebraska, and parity is becoming more and more evident. All these factors mean the likes of Virginia Tech should prosper mightily in the next decade. Virginia Tech doesnít have some of the historical or natural advantages that the traditional powers have. Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame have tremendous alumni bases and/or mass public appeal. Teams like Florida State, Miami, Florida and Texas have moderate weather and tremendous in-state high school talent. These factors make it all the more incredible that Virginia Tech has been and will continue to be able to compete with the big wigs of college football.

I foresee that with a few schedule modifications and continued stability in the coaching staff, Virginia Tech is not going anywhere but all the way to the top as a perennial contender and top 5 finisher.

          

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