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Tonight's The Night: Hokies To Watch During NFL Preseason

For fans hungry to watch their favorite pro football team, the preseason begins tonight for most of the NFL, and when the games begin, Virginia Tech will be well represented.

Currently, there are 25 former Virginia Tech players on NFL rosters. This year, there will be a few more guys playing significant roles than there have been recently – especially given the program’s impressive representation in the 2021 NFL Draft.

From VT To WFT

The Washington Football Team has rostered a few Hokies for the past few seasons, and although the faces have slightly changed, the WFT will still have more than its share of Virginia Tech players. Kendall Fuller remains one of their starting cornerbacks, while Logan Thomas (who recently received a three-year, $24 million extension with the team) is their top tight end (No. 82 at right).

Tim Settle will be one of their second-team defensive tackles for the third consecutive season, and Justus Reed (an undrafted rookie) has joined him this offseason as a reserve defensive lineman.

Cornerback/part-time kick returner Greg Stroman is also on Washington’s roster for the fourth year, but he is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

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ODU Football Notebook: New Players Making Their Mark

(Photo Courtesy Of Old Dominion Sports)
Levi Wentz (11) Has Shown Exceptional Speed At Linebacker

Under a blazing Norfolk summer sun, Old Dominion has completed its first few practices on the march towards the Monarchs' September 3rd opener at Wake Forest. A few things of note that have happened thus far near the corner of Powhatan and West 43rd:

Bly Making Good on Last Name

During the first practice last Thursday, freshman receiver Jordan Bly made a spectacular catch from Hayden Wolff, as a 40-yard pass to Bly was juggled and almost intercepted before Bly came down on his back with the ball.

After making some great strides during spring camp, Bly has continued to impress and was on the second team taking kick returns as well.

“He had a great practice,” head coach Ricky Rahne said after the first session last Thursday. “He plays with some confidence and I’m excited about how he went out there and for him, it’s always going to be about what kind of confidence he plays with because he certainly is a talented player and I think he can help us this year.”

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Barno Heads Up A Defense That Could Be Surprisingly Good

The 2020 college football season was full of things most fans are still trying to forget.

Chiefly among them was limited to zero fans in the stands.

Experiencing a player’s performance while in the stadium is entirely different than watching it on television or streaming it on your smartphone or computer. So when it comes to this season, I’m excited for people to have the opportunity to watch Virginia Tech’s players in person.

Amare Barno is one of those players, and Virginia Tech fans came close to never witnessing him play in person, which would have been an outright shame.

Barno is probably the most talented edge rusher to wear a Virginia Tech uniform since the mid-to-late 2000s. The Hokies have had some good ones since then — James Gayle, Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem come to mind — but none of them had the ceiling that Barno does.

That potential almost landed Barno in the NFL Draft this spring, but Barno ultimately decided to return to Virginia Tech and try and improve his draft stock. Barno’s return is a godsend for the Hokies, who have enough talent on the defensive front to make a difference on gamedays.

Barno plays a large role in that — the JUCO transfer registered 6.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 11 games in 2020, leading the Tech pass rush. His speed and length off the edge makes him someone that opposing coordinators will have to scheme heavily against each week.

But alongside Barno are some talented players with a chance to break out. Norell Pollard and Mario Kendricks both return at defensive tackle, as does Josh Fuga. Clemson transfer Jordan Williams is in the mix there as well, giving Tech a solid two-deep that allows defensive line coaches Bill Teerlinck and JC Price to keep their interior players fresh.

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Who Will Start At Quarterback For Old Dominion Sept. 3?

For the first time in two years, ODU will see the field when the Monarchs travel to Wake Forest to open their season on September 3rd.

But first, there's fall camp, and the biggest question being asked after the two session that have been open to the media is this: “Who will start at QB?”

(Photo Courtesy Of Old Dominion Sports)
Hayden Wolff

UCF transfer D.J. Mack, redshirt freshman Hayden Wolff, and senior Stone Smartt are the three QBs vying for the job. Coming into camp, I thought it would be Mack, but so far Wolff has shown more promise, even without the mobility of Mack, or Smartt.

Mack has shown flashes of why some think he may be the starter, especially in the play-action game. But Wolff benefits from having been here, as he is a standard pocket-passer who can run when needed, though not to the level of Mack or Smartt.

“Coach (Kirk) Campbell has done a really nice job of rotating them (QBs),” Old Dominion head coach Ricky Rahne remarked. “It’s been one of those things where they have each made an impression and each has to keep going."

"We are still at least a week, maybe a week and a half away from deciding,” Rahne said about the quarterbacks. “Right now they are doing a good job and we are very much in the process.”

Smartt was the starter much of 2019 when ODU went 1-11, but couldn't break out that season and grab the reins as Wolff started three games, and Smartt shared time with Messiah deWeaver.

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Extending Whit's Contract A Deal That Needed To Be Done

It’s not a huge secret that I’m not one of Whit Babcock’s biggest fans.

But today’s decision to extend the Virginia Tech Athletic Director’s contract through 2029 is an absolute no-brainer in my mind. It needed to be done.

That's because these are strange and interesting time in college athletics. With the looming specter of COVID in the background, I don’t think anyone can say for sure what’s going to happen one month from now, let alone 5 years from now. I’m sitting here in my office right now, with two tickets to a football game with North Carolina only 25 days from now.

I’m not 100 percent sure I’ll go. Or if it will even be played.

All because of COVID.

On top of that, the subject of conference realignment has come back from the dead like Lazarus, as  Oklahoma and Texas are supposedly leaving the Big 12 for the SEC in 2025 if not sooner. This supposedly will start a string of domino-like moves that could blow up the college football landscape as we know it, with teams changing conferences and maybe even breaking away from the NCAA.

The smart play in both of these is to have an experienced AD at the helm to navigate the proper course. As Ricky LaBlue wrote in this story, Whit hasn’t been perfect, but he’s done a lot of good things. He knows the lay of the land, he has assembled a team around him, and no school wants to be dealing with a brand new person driving the bus when all hell possibly breaks lose in college sports in 2025.

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Virginia Tech Extends Babcock's Contract Through 2029

True to its historical modus operandi, Virginia Tech once again valued continuity and stability in the athletic department when the university extended director of athletics Whit Babcock Monday.

The extension, which inks Babcock until June 2029, heightens the probability that Babcock will select Virginia Tech’s next head football coach.

Whether that is a good or bad thing is yet to be determined. Excluding football for a moment, Babcock has mostly made excellent coaching hires since arriving in Blacksburg in 2014. The list is actually quite extensive.

We can start with the men’s basketball program, where Babcock has made two hires already. Buzz Williams elevated the basketball program in true mercenary fashion, coaching the Hokies to consecutive NCAA Tournament bids (including a Sweet 16 appearance) before bolting for more money in a bigger conference. Babcock then hired NRV native Mike Young, who pushed the Hokies back into the NCAA Tournament in just his second season.

Then there’s Kenny Brooks, who’s headed the women’s basketball program since March 2016 and won 63 percent of games he’s coached. Brooks’ team made their first NCAA Tournament appearance this past season.

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Is Jordy Mercer Beginning a New Chapter in Baseball?

No matter what people tell you, Jordy Mercer knows baseball.

Admittedly, I’m in the minority who has consistently believed that Mercer belongs on Washington’s roster. He’s similar to the team’s backup infielders in past seasons. Stephen Drew’s presence from 2016–17 immediately comes to mind.

While he shouldn’t be asked to play much, Mercer is a dependable option off the bench or as a starter once or twice per week – not to mention as a leader in the dugout.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that Mercer (who turns 35 years old later this month) no longer merits much playing time in the big leagues, which puts him at a crossroad. Does he want to be a clubhouse presence off the bench, or is it time to acknowledge that he has no real future as a player?

Mercer was a nearly forgotten member of the Nationals roster earlier this summer. However, as the organization has battled COVID-19 during the last couple weeks, and since the departure of Kyle Schwarber at the Trade Deadline, Mercer has been serving as manager Dave Martinez’s unofficial bench coach.

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Gray And Adams Are A Reminder Of What Matters In 2021

Having witnessed a game in which young players like Josiah Gray and Riley Adams stole the show, the DC community should also be reminded of what’s important for the next two months.

Don’t let the potentially poor production of Gerardo Parra and Alcides Escobar cloud your opinion of the Nationals. The young players are who matter, whether they produce enough to win games or not.

Whenever he’s on the mound, that starts with Josiah Gray.

The second start the 23-year-old made for the Nationals was better than his first – which was impressive in its own right. Against a Braves team that features some intimidating hitters (even with Ronald Acuña Jr. on the Injured List), Gray struck out 10 batters and allowed only four hits over five innings.

Sure, we can all argue that Dave Martinez should let Gray pitch into the sixth inning, but that’s not the point. Any double-digit strikeout performance from a rookie pitcher is worth getting excited about.

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Rahne May Be One Of The Nicest People You'll Ever Meet

Behind every public figure is usually a private person many of us never get to see.

For Old Dominion head football coach Ricky Rahne, however, what you do see is a person who is incredibly down to earth. On the field, he's energetic, and a leader of young men at Old Dominion. Off the field, Rahne is a family man who keeps things relatively simple when not acting as the Lion King and leading the new-look Monarchs.

(Photo Courtesy Of Old Dominion Athletics)
Ricky Rahne At ODU's First Practice

Simply put, Rahne may be one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

“I hang out with my family and hang out with my kids,” Rahne said of his off-field life. “We play video games together and we will go to the pool and hang out. I know everyone says it, but my wife is my best friend so whenever I can, I hang out with her. She’s pretty darn funny and sometimes she doesn't mean to be, but she is funny and makes me laugh.”

For Rahne, still young at 41 years old, he relaxes much as you would expect someone in his age range to. He may be in a higher profile job than the majority of his peers, but his choice of games is just what you would expect from someone in that stage of life.

“I play (NBA) 2K, although guys on this team would crush me,” Rahne said. “I play some Madden, I love Assasins Creed, (MLB) The Show. It's mainly sports games, but I will throw in some of that other stuff. I have Call of Duty but I havent been playing it,” Rahne explained. “ I know some other coaches play that a little bit more.”

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With Darrisaw Now Gone, Where Do Hokies Go From Here?

For the last three seasons, Christian Darrisaw has been a godsend for Virginia Tech football.

The former prep recruit turned first-round pick anchored Virginia Tech’s offensive line during that span of time, and played a critical role in the Hokies’ offense when on the field. But with Darrisaw now playing for money, the question for Virginia Tech is this:

Where do the Hokies go from here?

It’s not like the cupboard is bare. Virginia Tech has returning offensive linemen ready to go this season. Guys like Lecitus Smith (No. 54 at right), Brock Hoffman and Luke Tenuta are back in the starting lineup, and some offensive linemen who’ve been in the program are ready to fight for a spot.

But can any of them pick up the mantle that Darrisaw left behind?

Rather than one man doing it all, it needs to be a collaborative effort from the aforementioned returning linemen. Together, they can provide enough stability in production to maintain the offensive line’s position as an asset instead of a liability.

Smith has the best chance of catching on to an NFL roster out of anyone in that group. The 6-foot-3 tight end-turned guard has started each of the last two seasons, and in 2020, Smith was a Third Team All-ACC player per Pro Football Focus (PFF). ACC Network’s Eric Mac Lain put Smith on his second team.

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Gray Makes Nationals Look Like Trade Deadline Winners

If you want to learn about the new, young additions the Nationals made at the Trade Deadline, keep reading.

Right-handed pitcher Josiah Gray made his debut for Washington Monday night, and while it wasn’t spectacular, it was nonetheless impressive, and it could be a sign of things to come for the franchise.

Gray’s outing was inarguably a success. He didn’t go particularly deep into the game (71 pitches over five innings), but he was very effective and “looked the part.”

His first strikeout came against Jean Segura, who entered the night batting .308 with the No. 15 lowest strikeout rate in the majors.

The lone true blemish he suffered was a home run off the bat of Odubel Herrera to lead off the fifth inning. It was one of four hits “Jojo” surrendered – and the only run he allowed to score

Gray’s fastball frequently reached 95 miles per hour, and he seemed to have clear command of his pitches for most of the night – which is always key for young pitchers. He only walked two batters, and he kept his pitch count below 15 per inning.

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Ricky LaBlue

Ricky LaBlue

A longtime sports fanatic, Ricky is now channeling that passion into the world of sports media. Meet Ricky LaBlue.

Stephen Newman

Stephen Newman

The only things he loves more than following Virginia Tech and Washington sports teams are dogs. Meet Stephen Newman.

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