[Ed. Note: Bumped from Fan Posts]
Well, the decade has come to an end, and it was one to remember. Early on it looked like it was going to be rough, being undefeated three times going into November and collapsing to finish the season below expectations. Then with the move to the ACC and a re-birth of the traditional Tech TEAM under Beamer, the Hokies got back on track, making the second half of the decade worth the wait. We started the decade out in New Orleans in the Sugar Bowl, losing a toughly-fought National Championship game to Florida State and ended it by exacting some revenge on our ugly, hillbilly, trash-talking neighbors in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. So who were the best players at their respective positions this decade? Who makes my All-Decade team? Click here to find out, and let me know what you think and what omissions I may have made. I decided to go with two halfbacks instead of a fullback because I felt we had so much success at that position, it would be a crime to only have one halfback. Also, Hokiehaven.com already did one of these lists, but there were some things we differed on. It's worth noting the differences though. Here are the links. I promise I began mine before theirs was published though.
QB- Bryan Randall (2001-04)- Really this is a no-brainer. Despite his early struggles, Randall was the unquestioned leader on the 2004 ACC Championship team in our inaugural season in the ACC. Randall also finished his career as the all-time leading passer in Hokie annals with 6,508 yards and total yards with 8,034 (which is tops by almost 2,000 yards!). Randall was also named the 2004 ACC Player of the Year, the 2005 ACC Offensive POY, (and no that's not a typo. It's confusing, but this comes straight from hokiesports) and the 2004 Dudley Award Winner (an honor that goes to the top player in the state). He had such a command over the offense and such respect from his teammates that he could make his team walk across fiery coals for him. Add to that Randall's class and professionalism and it's easy to see why he is the right guy for this honor.
RB- Lee Suggs (1998-2002)- Statistically speaking, Lee Suggs was one of the best to ever play college football. Lee still holds the NCAA records for consecutive games in a single season with a touchdown (14) and consecutive games with a touchdown (27), a feat that is truly amazing. In total, Lee finished his Tech career with 2,771 yards rushing and 56 total touchdowns (53 of them rushing). What you must take into account is that Lee only started two full seasons and still put up those stats. Additionally, had it not been for Kevin Jones, it's hard to imagine what Lee Suggs would have been able to accomplish. Suggs led the nation in scoring in 2000, and picked up major slack as Michael Vick was not nearly as productive as he was in 1999. Suggs was named First Team All-Big East in 2000 and Second Team in 2002, and is the only two-time winner of the Dudley Award (given to the top player in the state of Virginia). Suggs opted not to apply for an extra year of eligibility based on injury and was drafted with the 115th pick in the 4th round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. Although Suggs was named co-Offensive Rookie of the Year with Anquan Boldin (still don't know how he pulled that off!?), he did not make the impact many Hokie fans thought he would. His career was abbreviated and he only spent four years in the league as they were marred by injury and a problem that he did not experience in college: fumbling. Lee is now the quarterbacks coach at Oberlin College in Ohio.
RB- Kevin Jones (2001-03)- What can you say about Kevin Jones? He was Tech's most heralded recruit in their football history (most recruiting services ranked him as the nation's top running back out of high school in 2000, some as the top player overall). Previous to this season and Ryan Williams' assail on the Tech record books, KJ owned the single season rushing record of 1,647 yards (set in '03), and is second on the all-time list at Tech in both rushing yards (3,475) and rushing touchdowns (35). Perhaps most impressive about Jones was his 2001 freshman campaign. When Suggs went down in the first game with an injury, Jones stepped up big...although he didn't quite click until late in the season, Jones finished the year a shade under 1,000 yards at 957, including 160 against one of the best defenses I've ever seen on the college level in undefeated and eventual national champion Miami. Jones continued his sophomore year in a backup role to Suggs, splitting carries and earning the moniker "The Untouchables." The two were supposed to be the top tailback tandem (mouthful) in the nation that year, and although they looked like it at times, an injury to Jones in the ninth game of the season sidelined him for several of the last couple games, hurting Virginia Tech's 1-2 punch. After Suggs' departure, Jones had the backfield all to himself, and shredded through the Tech record books, finishing the 2003 season with 1,647 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns. Jones was a First Team All-Big East player in 2003 and a consensus All-American. Jones left school a year early and was selected 30th by the Detroit Lions in the 2004 NFL Draft. Although Jones started out his career on an explosive note (rushing for over 1,000 yards as a rookie and leading the league in rushing the last eight weeks of the season), he was limited by injuries. Jones has never played an entire season, and as I'm writing this, he has been on injured reserve the entire season with the Chicago Bears. KJ still managed to collect over 4,000 yards of total offense in his first four seasons with the Lions. That's not bad at all. Unfortunately, with Jones' injury this season, it is unlikely that he will return to the Bears, and might be out of the league next year. Either way, KJ will go down as one of the top players ever to don the Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange!
WR- Ernest Wilford (2000-03)- Wilford will go down as one of the most enigmatic players in Tech's history. Whether it was the dropped two-point conversion against undefeated and eventual national champion Miami in 2001, wide open in the back corner of the South End Zone that would have tied the game at 26-all, or his fracas with Beamer on the sideline during a 2003 loss to WVU, or his dropped pass that lead to an interception against UVA in 2003, it seemed like Wilford was always one play away from being a great at Tech. However, he does hold the single-game school record for receiving yards/receiving touchdowns (279 yards/4 touchdowns), and the Big East record for receiving yards in a game. He also made a spectacular diving catch against UConn that is one of the best in the history of Tech football. Giving Wilford his props, he finished his career first all-time at Tech in receptions (126) which still stands. He also finished his career with 2,052 yards and 11 TD's, including one of the best all-time years at Tech with 925 yards and 7 TD's in 2002. Wilford was a two-time All-Big East Second teamer (2002-03). As a pro, Wilford has been one of Tech's most successful, although inconsistent. Wilford has 2,142 yards and 15 TD's in six NFL seasons, and has since been moved to tight end. He is currently a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars again, after spending one year in Miami.
WR- Eddie Royal (2004-07)- Eddie Royal was a special kind of player the likes of which we had never seen and may never see again. Eddie was a very cerebral player, a good route runner, and as sure-handed as they come. I mean, who remembers Eddie dropping a pass? The most frustrating thing to watch was how seldom the Hokies' coaching staff elected to get the ball in Eddie's hands. I know he returned kicks and punts and got the occasional reverse in addition to his receptions, but really, what Eddie did at Virginia Tech just scratched the surface. I know we were chock full of good receivers, but one compound word comes to mind to describe Eddie at Virginia Tech: under-utilized. Nothing says more about this than Eddie's first NFL game in which he bested his collegiate highs in both receptions and yardage. This prompted my roommate (who was tired of hearing my insistence to get Royal the ball for two full years) to say those beautiful words...you're right. Back to his accomplishments on the college level, Royal is Virginia Tech's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage with 4,686, he is fourth in career receptions (119), fifth in receiving touchdowns (12), and sixth in receiving yards (1,778). Royal also finished his career as the ACC's all-time leader in punt return yards with 1,296. Royal also received Freshman All-American honors from The NFL Draft Report in 2004, Second team All-America honors from The NFL Draft Report in 2007, and made an All-ACC team twice (First team in 2007 and Second team in 2006). Eddie was drafted in the second round by the Denver Broncos, and is probably the highest-profile/most successful active Tech player in the NFL now. Despite his sophomore slump, Eddie's 91 receptions as a rookie rank second all-time behind Anquan Boldin. He also finished seventh in the NFL in receptions in 2008 and sixth in total yards...AS A ROOKIE! Royal also became only the 11th player in NFL history to return a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the same game.
TE- Jeff King (2002-05)- Jeff King made his college career by doing exactly what tight ends are supposed to do...bail out the quarterback. Time after time Jeff would come open right as the quarterback would have to throw the ball, make the nice catch in traffic and lumber his way downfield for a first down. The most impeccable thing about Jeff were his hands. If you bail out a quarterback as often as Jeff did, you are bound to drop some balls. Jeff rarely ever did, and certainly not under pressure. He was CLUTCH! Jeff posted career marks of 724 yards and 12 touchdowns, which is not bad in an offense that rarely uses the tight end in the passing game. Jeff was also a fantastic teammate, and as the ESPN broadcasters once noted, Jeff had the highest IQ on the team! He played like it too. Jeff was drafted by the Carolina Panthers and has been their starting tight end for three years.
LT- Jimmy Martin (2002-05)- It's hard to put a guy who never went pro in front of a first rounder in Duane Brown, but in college, Martin was a better, more consistent option than Brown. Martin came in as a freshman and took the starting job at right tackle midway through the season. Jimmy was a starter from then on out, and was named Honorable Mention All-ACC in 2004 and Second team All-ACC in 2005. Vastly underrated, Martin was a player who just did his job and got back into the huddle.
LG- Will Montgomery (2001-05)- Montgomery was our most consistent and versatile offensive lineman of the post-Grove era. He came in as a defensive player before being switched to offense and redshirted. He won the Richard Bullock Award and the Frank O. Moseley Award as the team's most improved offensive player and one of the top hustlers in spring practice. He started for three years (two at guard and one at center) and played both equally well. Though he floundered in his professional debut with the Panthers, he has since recovered and found a role as a backup guard for the Redskins.
C- Jake Grove (1999-03)- Jake Grove was named a unanimous All-American (just the third at Virginia Tech at the time) and the Rimington Award winner given to the nation's top center as a senior. He was also awarded First Team All-Big East in 2003. He started at both guard and center for a total of three years, and was known for his nasty streak, getting it done before and after the whistles. Grove was drafted in the second round of the NFL draft by the Raiders, and found success, starting most of the games over the several years he was there. His playing time was limited by injuries, and although he was one of the most consistent offensive linemen on the team (when healthy), the Raiders opted to let him search for a new home. The Dolphins just locked him into a five-year $29 million dollar contract to be their starting center.
RG- Sergio Render (2006-09)- THE BEST offensive lineman to ever suit up in the Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange. Period. Although, it must be said that he tended to disappear at times during his last two seasons (wait, isn't that good for an offensive lineman!?). A four-year starter for the Hokies, from the moment he stepped on the field in 2006 to the moment he stepped off as a Chick-Fil-A Bowl Champion, he was his team's BEST offensive lineman. That says it all right there. But, for you stat-hungry readers, Sergio started 52 of the 54 games he played in, leading the team in knockdowns with 37...AS A FRESHMAN! The biggest disservice for him is that he NEVER was named First team All-ACC! He was twice a Second team All-ACC player and an ACC offensive lineman of the week, but NEVER a first-teamer. That's just wrong. The most memorable Sergio moment came in a severe beating at the hands of LSU. When ESPN asked the sophomore how he felt about going up against the nation's best defensive tackle, Glenn Dorsey, Sergio replied "No, I'm not scared. The way I look at it, he puts his pants on the same way I do...one leg at a time." I really appreciated that, because that along with Render's performance against Dorsey placed him back into the realm of humans and out of the "Impossible to stop so don't even try" club that ESPN and co. had placed him in. True to his word Sergio handled his business against Dorsey, winning the individual matchup (probably the only one on the team to do that that night!). And if he had heard what Render had said before the game, maybe Dorsey would be the one shaking in his boots. I love Cody Grimm, but we will miss Sergio Render more than any other player on our team next year.
RT- Dave Kadela (1997-2000)- I'm also aware that it's hard to justify putting a player on this list that only played one season in the 2000's, but he was the best this position had to offer. Jon Dunn may have been a good player (although goofy), but Kadela was a much better player. Don't believe me? He started his last 34 games for the Hokies and allowed a whopping...1.5 sacks (sorry for the misleading adjective). That's right, Dave Kadela was our version of Robert Gallery (minus the hardest contract to move in the NFL). He made two All-Big East teams (Second in '99 and First in '00). He saw little success in the NFL, going from team to team, but he was an all-star in the NFL Europe League, making the All NFL-Europe team in his only season in Berlin.
RE- Darryl Tapp (2002-05)- The Virginia Tech lunchpail owes its mystique in the last decade to Darryl Tapp. The lunchpail symbolizes a person who puts on his hat and goes to work every day, never complaining, and working hard. It symbolizes a blue-collar worker that has no inhibitions about laying it all on the line (a that mentality that has typified and defined Virginia Tech football). Tapp WAS that guy. You could tell from his body of work, his effort on and off the field, and how the coaches talked about him. Tapp carried the lunchpail for two consecutive years (although it is traditionally given to the most deserving player each week, and aside from Tapp, the other players who have been given the lunchpail haven't deserved it for the entire season) and nobody had a problem with that. Even when Tapp had a bad week (though I can't remember many), it was clear he still deserved the lunchpail for his effort. The lunchpail meant so much to him and him to it (and what it stands for) that he left Blacksburg with it. And nobody had a problem with that (of course they did get a new one). Who can forget the motivation Tapp gained from his brother Charles who was stationed in Iraq? The main point is that Darryl Tapp was the quintessential effort player that every coach hopes, neigh, dreams, neigh, salivates about getting. His stats (166 tackles, 40 for a loss and 21.5 sacks) are almost academic compared to the other things he offered his team. Tapp was twice an All-ACC First teamer (2004-05) and a First Team All-American in 2005. The bottom line is that Darryl Tapp will go down as a Tech legend. He has had success with the Seattle Seahawks, recording 149 tackles, 18 sacks, 11 passes deflected, 2 INT's in his NFL career, and even returned one interception for a touchdown this year.
DT- Jonathan Lewis (2002-05)- Jonathan Lewis was a force at defensive tackle. He was physical, aggressive and a space eater on the defensive line. Despite his size, Lewis showed a great burst both to get into the backfield to bring down runners, and to get to the quarterback (which he did an astounding amount of times). Lewis came in right away and contributed, starting several games as a freshman and performing well. Jonathan solidified that position for the next three years, compiling 183 tackles 32 tackles for a loss and 15.5 sacks and earning Honorable Mention All-ACC in 2004 and Second Team All-ACC in 2005. He spent some time with the Arizona Cardinals and with the Cleveland Browns, but has so far yet to see consistent playing time.
DT- David Pugh (1998-2001)- Pugh was another player at defensive tackle who was capable of stuffing the run and filling a gap on the defensive line as well as wreaking havoc on the quarterback. Pugh surprised many offensive linemen with his explosiveness despite his size, getting off the ball about as quick as any player I can remember at DT. Pugh finished off his Tech career with 170 tackles, an absolutely UNREAL 41 tackles for a loss, and 13.5 sacks. Pugh was also selected as a First Team All-Big East player in both 2000 and 2001.
LE- Chris Ellis (2003-07)- This was a difficult decision, but in the end I went with Ellis over Nathaniel Adibi, although Adibi was the more complete player, Ellis was slightly more productive. Chris Ellis was a very versatile and athletic player on Bud Foster's defense. He was capable of rushing the quarterback and dropping into pass coverage (as proven by his interception returns for a TD against GT in 2005 and FSU in 2007). Ellis was a little inconsistent and plagued by nagging little injuries, but when healthy, he was capable of producing dominant performances as a rush end. His weakness was as a run stopper, although he got better as his career went along, wrapping up better and committing fewer dumb penalties. Ellis finished his career at Tech with 165 tackles, 35.5 tackles for a loss, 22 sacks, and the aforementioned 2 interceptions, both returned for TD's. He was also a First Team All-ACC pick in 2007. Apparently the pro learning curve has been pretty steep for Ellis who has recorded only 8 tackles in very limited action in his two years as a pro.
ILB- Vince Hall (2003-07)- Vince Hall was not only the most dominant defense player of this decade, but he may go down as the most dominant defensive player in Virginia Tech history (Sorry Bruce Smith). Who remembers a play that Vince Hall wasn't in on? Me neither. All joking aside though, Coach Bud Foster said that Hall was the best football player he has ever coached, and that says a lot coming from a guy who produces NFL talent on a yearly basis. Vince managed to rack up 404 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, 3 interceptions and a touchdown (no idea on forced/recovered fumbles or pass defense), and won the Dudley Award in 2006. But he was so much more than that. He was THE leader of our defense, and he is what made some of the best (including THE BEST in 2005) defenses in Virginia Tech history. That this guy hasn't stuck with an NFL team yet is a mystery to me, because his football instincts are off the charts. Some might laugh, but does anyone remember the scene from The Waterboy where Bobby Boucher attends LT camp to tell the kids how he stops the offense? Vince Hall made it look that easy too. Whether it was the quarterback, the running back, or someone else, Vince was the first one there.
ILB- Xavier Adibi (2003-07)- Despite the fact that he has had trouble transitioning from the college game to the pro game, I don't think Tech has ever seen a more freakishly athletic defensive player than X! He completed the 9-11 duo (Hall and Adibi), and when opposing players took on the two of them on the field, they needed to recall their Boy Scout days for that emergency number...what number is it again? If they had ever found a permanent starter their equal in the linebacking core, it would have been game over. X was capable of so many things on the field that it was scary. He could stop the run, he could rush the passer, he could cover field quicker than SpeedRacer and cover the opposing team's fastest receiver and not be a glaring weakness. The point is X was legit. I thought it would be hard to match his older brother Nathaniel's (Tech DE 2000-2003) accomplishments, but Xavier proved he was the best in the family. Xavier finished his career with 291 tackles (including 115 his senior year), 30 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks and 8 interceptions returned for 170 yards and 2 TD's (take that Eric Berry!). As for his pro game, he is sort of a tweener, and he will always struggle with that because of his lack of size (think Vernon Gholston). But, the jury is still out, and given the opportunity, X could show us shades of his Tech career in the league.
WHIP- Cody Grimm (2005-09)- I actually struggled a lot with this position. It came down to Cody Grimm and James Anderson, and I gave the nod to Grimm because he was a true stat sheet stuffer, getting hustle statistics that Anderson just didn't accumulate. Also, Grimm was the 2009 Dudley Award winner, which represents the top player in the state of Virginia. How are you not going to include the best player in the state one year in your all decade team? Grimm also earned First team All-ACC honors this year, as well as Third team All-American honors from the AP. Grimm finished his Hokie career with 214 tackles, 26.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, 7 passes defensed, 16 quarterback hurries, 9 fumbles forced and 2 fumbles recovered. Pretty impressive for a guy who was mostly a special teams player his first two years. Grimm also tied an NCAA record against NC State this year with 3 forced fumbles, and set an NCAA record that is likely never to be broken with 3 forced fumbles in NC State's FIRST FOUR offensive plays! WOW! Also, did I mention he was a walk on?
BC- Brandon Flowers (2004-07)- Despite playing only three full years, Flowers blossomed (hope you enjoyed the pun) into possibly the best cornerback in Virginia Tech history. Flowers was not only a shutdown corner, but an absolutely vicious hitter. Some of his best highlights come from bone-crunching hits. One of the knack's Brandon had was shutting down a wide receiver screen. Any time an opponent ran that play to Brandon's side you really felt for what that poor receiver was about to experience. In his three full years Brandon helped to anchor three top-10 defenses, including two #1 defenses in consecutive years. Brandon finished his Tech career early, making the decision to forgo his senior year (which in his case was more than justifiable). Flowers totaled 158 tackles (17 for a loss) 3.5 sacks, and 10 interceptions with 172 return yards and 2 TD's (take that Eric Berry part 2!). Flowers was drafted 35th by the Chiefs and is now their #1 corner and one of the few bright spots on the team.
FC- Jimmy Williams (2002-05)- Jimmy Williams was a blazing fast, tall and hard-hitting player in the secondary for the Hokies. He started as a sophomore at the free safety position, recording 114 tackles, before moving to cornerback and putting together two of the most dominant seasons in Tech history at that position. In 2005, he became just Tech's fourth unanimous All-American. Williams was also named First team All-ACC in consecutive years ('04-'05). Although he was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round, he never really established himself, and was arrested for smoking marijuana. However, Williams finished his Tech career with 264 tackles, 12.5 for a loss, a sack and 9 interceptions for 173 yards (Ha, take that Eric Berry part 3!) and 2 touchdowns.
FS- Willie Pile (1998-2002)- Once again, this was a tough choice as there were plenty of good free safeties from this decade (Pile, Williams and Parker stand out). But Willie was a true leader on the defensive side of the ball. He was tenacious, defending sideline to sideline. His character was fantastic and his effort was superb. Looking at his stats, I had forgotten what a productive player Willie was. Willie finished his career with 267 tackles and a WHOPPING 14 interceptions with an EYE-POPPING 276 return yards on those interceptions (ERIC BERRY, TAKE THAT PART 4!) and two touchdowns. Pile finished third all-time in Tech annals with those interceptions and second in return yards. Pile also compiled two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, 21 pass breakups and 1 sack. After a brief career in the NFL with the Chiefs (who drafted Pile in the second round) and the Cowboys, Pile found success with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.
ROV- Aaron Rouse (2003-06)- Known as the hardest-hitting safety in Virginia Tech history, Rouse had a penchant for sending guys to the sideline. He was a head hunter at the Rover position, laying hit after hit on unsuspecting receivers and tight ends...and the occasional Wake Forest fullback! Of course, Rouse was also known as one of the dirtiest players in college football, landing late and unsportsmanlike hits by leading with his helmet on multiple occasions. He started his Tech career at linebacker before seamlessly moving to the Rover spot his junior year. He possessed rare size/speed ratio (which had pro scouts drooling) as well as soft hands. Rouse recorded 5 interceptions in his career to go along with his 217 tackles and 12 tackles for a loss (is anyone else surprised he didn't ever record a sack?). Rouse's interceptions always seemed to be at huge moments in the game, allowing Tech to come away with the W. After seeing marginal success with the Green Bay Packers, Rouse was traded to the New York Giants, where he has since made a name for himself as a starter in their secondary.
K- Brandon Pace (2003-06)- This is a simple choice. After suffering through what seemed like years, and years, and years without a quality kicker (I'm only referring to Carter Warley), Pace solidified the position, making 58-68 field goals in his career including 20 in a row. His only miss as a senior was his last attempt of the regular season against UVA. Aside from Shayne Graham, Brandon was probably the best kicker Tech ever had. He missed two crucial field goals in '04 (one that would have won the game against NC State and another that would have tied the bowl game against Auburn). But considering everything else, Brandon was our best kicker this decade.
P- Brent Bowden (2005-09)- It was hard not to put Nic Schmitt here, because before I looked at the stats, I had him in mind. However, Bowden had almost as many punts in 2007 (88) as Schmitt had in his entire career, which means more room for error...error which didn't appear. Bowden finished his career with a 42.2 career average, (including 43.8 this year!). He dropped a whopping 72 kicks inside the 20 and also finished his career booting an amazing 44 kicks over 50 yards! Hands down the best punter of the decade for Tech, in a decade where Tech had three quality punters (Bowden, Schmitt and Burns...no, not Peaslee for those of you who had thought I was off my rocker).
KR- Dyrell Roberts (2008- )- This was a tough one once again, as no kick returner really stood out from the last decade. Eddie Royal racked up the yardage...but never scored a touchdown on a kick return. Mike Imoh did a good job...but had limited attempts and yardage. Macho Harris returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Clemson 100 yards in 2007...but that was about it there. So the winner is Roberts. In two years Roberts has scored a touchdown and become a HUGE big-play threat all over the field. Most notably on kickoff returns. I have NEVER, EVER, not even in a world which includes Devin Hester, seen a guy get kicked away from as much as Tech's opponents did to Roberts the second half of this year. So even if the stats (which are still on pace to SHATTER the Tech record books) don't give this to him outright, Roberts could be even more entrenched in this space if he had the opportunity (i.e. getting kicked to). I'm absolutely giddy about this kid in the future!
PR- DeAngelo Hall (2001-03)- Although DeAngelo was an immensely talented individual at Tech, garnering many honors and racking up very good stats, he just couldn't break the top-two corners of this decade in my mind. I'm only listing his stats as they apply as a punt returner. Hall racked up 831 yards and 5 TD's as a punt returner at Tech, setting school marks for punt return touchdowns in a season (3) and a career (5). He has enjoyed success in the NFL, becoming the youngest player to ever return an interception for a touchdown in NFL history, and collecting 22 interceptions so far as a pro.