News With Commentary by TSL Staff

Thursday, March 28, 2002
by Will Stewart,

Spring Football Notes

The first week of spring football has been relatively slow from a news standpoint, but at the end of this week, things are going to get interesting.

Burnell Moves Again: Keith Burnell, the former tailback-turned-rover-turned-cornerback, has been moved yet again, this time to wide receiver. The reason was that Burnell is familiar with the offensive sets, plays, and terminology, so he will "only" have to learn a new position. Had he stayed on the defensive side of the ball, he would have had to learn defensive terminology and formations, in addition to learning a new position.

The perception at the beginning of spring football was that Burnell's move to rover was to bring as many players as possible to bear on that position. The Hokies were already looking at rising redshirt junior Michael Crawford and rising redshirt senior Billy Hardee at the position, backed up by Sam Fatherly, and it was not unthinkable that current QB's Will Hunt and/or Bryan Randall could be moved to rover, or even backup cornerback D.J. Walton (a good football player whose 4.71 speed may not be fast enough for the cornerback position).

The coaches are said to be pleased with the progress of Crawford and Hardee, though, so that freed up Burnell to move. He made a very brief stop at cornerback, and then the decision was made at the end of Wednesday's practice to put him at wide receiver, where he can hopefully use his team-record 4.21 speed to his advantage.

QB Decisions Soon: Meanwhile, in the great quarterback derby, it's starting to look as if Noel and Randall will be 1-2 (no predictions at this point who will be which), and Clifton will be moved to wide receiver, with Hunt being moved to defense.

Clifton possesses the strongest arm, but he also has a reputation as being a very talented receiver, and if you look a couple of years down the road, VT's receiver situation is grim. Clifton could be more of a difference-maker at receiver than QB, so he is probably going to be on the move.

Randall has arrived this spring with renewed confidence and dedication. He earned 5 of 6 "Commitment to Excellence" T-shirts in the 6 a.m. winter workouts, four more T-shirts than Hunt, Clifton and Noel combined (Hunt bagged one on the last day -- making an impressive comeback from a "did not finish" on day 1 to a T-shirt on day 6 -- but other than that, the trio pulled an oh-fer).

Since last August, Randall has gained 5 pounds (from 208 to 213) and has shaved 0.07 seconds off his 40 time (from 4.61 to 4.54, tied for fastest among QB's with Clifton).

But sources tell TSL that he continues to be an average passer on the deep ball, though he is hitting the intermediate routes very well.

At this point, the most likely outcome is that Noel and Randall will be 1-2 in the fall, with Marcus Vick a redshirting #3, to be used only in case of emergency, and maybe even not then. But the final decision on which QB's -- and other players -- to move probably won't be made until after a Friday or Saturday scrimmage, when the coaches get to see the players perform in game situations.

All Eyes on Wilford and Johnson: In the first week of practices, split end Ernest Wilford and flanker Richard Johnson have been the most impressive receivers. This is both expected and hoped-for by Hokie fans.

Johnson was impressive last spring, making several nice catches in the 2001 Spring Game in particular, before a fall hamstring injury that persisted all season long slowed him down.

Wilford has been injured for both of the last two springs, and given that spring is a critical time for learning and developing (fall is spent in preparation for the season and for games), that has slowed down his maturation as a player.

If Tech is to have a good receiving corps this coming season, keeping Wilford and Johnson healthy all spring and all fall is critical.

The Infamous Noel-Hall Locker Room Brawl

We have spent the last week trading emails and phone calls with sources close to Virginia Tech players and coaches, in an effort to find out what the truth is behind the rumored locker room fight between quarterback Grant Noel and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

The rumor of a locker room scrap between Noel and Hall broke on the message boards last week, and Noel was asked by both Roanoke Times beat writer Randy King and a staff writer about the alleged incident.

Noel told King, "I don't know where people get that kind of crap. Yeah, we were going back and forth, mouthing off to each other like we do a lot of times. It happens all the time, no big deal."

Noel told that he and Hall engaged in some verbal sparring, but nothing even close to an actual fight. "It's ridiculous the things that people say anymore," Noel said. "There's absolutely nothing to it."

We have conferred with sources close to both Tech players and coaches, and we've drawn the conclusion that while something did happen, whatever it was, it's not a big deal.

First of all, the football coaches don't appear to be aware of any such incident, although it does appear to have been witnessed by multiple players. Secondly, sources who are close to some of the Virginia Tech players acknowledge that yes, something happened, but that it should be forgotten about and shouldn't be blown out of proportion.

One source quoted a player as saying that Noel and Hall were engaged in some good natured locker room jawing, when one of them went over the line, offending the other. A push occurred, a retaliatory punch was thrown, and things were broken up quickly by their fellow players.

"Grant and DeAngelo do not dislike each other or anything," the source said, "and everything is fine now. Just one of those spur of the moment things. The joking just went too far and they lost their tempers for the moment and that was it."

We also received an email from a former Tech player who commented on player fights in general, saying, "One year when I was on the team, Antonio Freeman and Tyronne Drakeford got into a huge brawl in practice one day, and it was over and done with. Those things happen with a hundred-plus growing men being around each other all the time."

While a physical confrontation may seem like a big deal to those of us who haven't been in a fight since, say, the seventh grade, it is the kind of thing that can occur between two college football players and be immediately forgotten about, in the same way that a vicious tackle between teammates is forgotten about the next time the ball is snapped.

These are young men, pumped full of testosterone, who are trained to confront each other physically, day in and day out. Football is intimate, man-to-man violence, carried out most of the time on the field, but sometimes it spills over into a locker room or elsewhere. And most of the time, when it does, it's "no big deal" to the players involved. This appears to be one of those times.


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