BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) Deon Newsome wishes he had listened to his coaches when he first arrived at Virginia Tech.
Initially averse to playing defense, which was the coaching staff's preference, Newsome redshirted his first season. He saw little action as a running back the next two years - he had just 19 carries and seven receptions in a deep tailback rotation - before deciding the coaches were right.
Now a redshirt senior in his second season on defense, Newsome wants to have a memorable final year at Virginia Tech.
''I really think I probably should have played defense when I came in,'' said Newsome, a quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back in at Hampton High School in the talent-rich 757 area code of Virginia. ''Everybody thought I was playing defense when I came in.''
Coach Bud Foster has put him at whip linebacker, which seems like a tall task for someone who is just 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds. But Foster likes Newsome's speed, his ability to cover receivers and to make things happen on a blitz.
''He's done enough things that I've been really, really impressed with him,'' the defensive coordinator in his 30th season at Virginia Tech said during spring practice. ''And he's been one of the players who's had one of the better springs. I really appreciate the effort he's put into that and I like the way he's progressed.''
Barring an injury to Mook Reynolds, the incumbent starter at whip, Newsome is unlikely to start, but Foster said Newsome's abilities make him figure prominently in packages that typically require at least one extra defensive back.
Being part of the game plan has helped Newsome embrace what being part of the lunch-pail defense has long meant at Virginia Tech.
''Pretty much we feel like we're the alpha dogs of the team,'' Newsome said. ''We compete in everything. We just feel like we're . I don't want to say better, but we feel like we just run stuff, as far as on the team. But it's not that way. It's really not that way. But we just carry ourselves that way.''
As the backup to Terrell Edmunds at rover last season, Newsome was ''just running around with my head cut off trying to make plays,'' he said. ''But now I can sit there and assess and look and just read the offenses.''
The coaches have noticed his development.
''I like where we've got him,'' head coach Justin Fuente said. ''I think as we get healthier and deeper at receiver, to challenge him more, I think he'll need to continue to improve to meet that level. But, the thing about Deon is, he's a team player, he's a very good athlete, he's not afraid of contact, he has a little bit of a defensive mentality and has certainly looked more comfortable than he did a year ago.''
The season at rover helped, Newsome said, because it gave him a clearer view of how the entire defense works, and who is responsible for what.
He likes where he's lining up now, and the responsibilities that come with the position.
''It's two different positions, but to play both you have to have a general knowledge of the entire defense,'' he said. ''So I mean, it's pretty much the same. It's just now, at whip, I'm closer to the action.''
That means closer to the opportunity to hit someone, too, and in his new defensive mentality, that matters.
One of his previous roles at Virginia Tech was kickoff returner, and it's duty Newsome would be more than willing to take that on again as part of his campaign to make the biggest impact he can in his final year. He's not concerned about getting hit and having his bell rung, or the football-wide movement to limit exposure to returners.
''Nah,'' he said, ''I normally ring the bells.''
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