2015 Football: Hokies have good reason for high hopes

Virginia Tech's Dadi Nicholas (90) celebrates during a game last season. Courtesy photo/Virginia Tech Athletics Communications

BLACKSBURG — Coming off a disappointing season, there’s plenty of reasons for optimism for Virginia Tech this year.

They return eight starters on both sides of the ball. As usual, things start with the defense.

“I really like this group of kids that we have right now. They’re working really, really hard,” Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “I like the chemistry we have. … Experience sometimes is the best teacher and we do have some experience. At the same time we have a couple new faces that will be in some critical spots for us.”

All four starters return on the defensive line: seniors Dadi Nichols, Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall, and junior Ken Ekanem.

Virginia Tech head football coach Frank Beamer said they could have as many as 10 guys rotating in and out on the defensive line.

“We got some talent, and we’ll turn them loose and see if they can’t sack the quarterback,” Beamer said.

Deon Clarke is the only returning starter back at linebacker. The Hokies have three returners back in the secondary, including Kendall Fuller. The junior was a first-team All-ACC selection last year.

Virginia Tech’s offense was one of its biggest problems last season, but quarterback Michael Brewer is more confident and comfortable with running the offense, and he has a plethora of options to throw the ball to.

Wide receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips and tight end Bucky Hodges, all sophomores, started last year for the Hokies.

The 6-foot-6 Hodges can be a real match-up problem for opposing teams.

“You talk about a guy whose got that size and that speed. He allows you to do a lot of things,” Brewer said. “He can be involved in the run game at tight end. He can be involved in the pass game. He can split out wide. … He’s a downfield threat. He’s a versatile player — that’s the best way to put it. He’s going to help us a lot this year. He helped us a lot this year.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of year he has.”

The Hokies also have plenty of choices at running back where senior J.C. Coleman, redshirt junior Trey Edmunds, redshirt freshman Travon McMillian and sophomores Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams will be battling for playing time.

The Hokies’ offensive line has three starters — Jonathan McLaughlin, Wyatt Teller and Augie Conte — returning from last year.

Virginia Tech also returns sophomore placekicker Joey Slye and senior punter A.J. Hughes.

“We’ve never consistently kicked the ball the way we are here right now at Virginia Tech,” Beamer said. “So, that’s a good thing.”

The Hokies open the season Sept. 7 at home against defending national champion and the nation’s No. 1 ranked team Ohio State. Virginia Tech beat Ohio State last year, 35-21, in the second game of the season, but then lost their next two contests.

“It was nice to get the win against a quality opponent like that, and especially on the road in such a historical stadium against a historical team,” Brewer said. “But like I said last year that doesn’t mean a whole lot unless you get a win the next week, and we weren’t able to do that. So this year, win it or lose it, we gotta get it done the next week. We’ve got to take that approach each week.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com