John Engelberger embodies what Virginia Tech has been. He
arrived in Blacksburg in 1995 as a 6'4", 210-pound walk-on, then
used a Navy Seal's work ethic to transform himself into a 6'4",
269-pound All-Big East defensive end. Yet he receives virtually
no attention--which is how he prefers it. "I get five media guys
in my face, I can't talk," Engelberger says. "I can't even give
a speech in class. I told my Spanish professor that I'll take a
zero before I speak."
Anonymity also defines Virginia Tech, which has been to six
straight bowl games without gaining anything resembling national
acclaim. But the coaches don't mind having players who are
unspoiled by media attention. "The difference between here and
Alabama," says tight ends coach Danny Pearman, a Crimson Tide
assistant from 1990 to '97, "is that here you don't have to kiss
their ass to get them to play."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick embodies what
Virginia Tech would like to become. The Hokies have made it to
those six straight bowls with little offensive flair. Of their
12 First-Team All-Big East offensive players in the last six
seasons, five were linemen and four were kickers. Enter the
6'1", 211-pound Vick, with a strong left arm and quick feet.
When last year's starter, Al Clark, and backup Dave Meyer
suffered injuries, coach Frank Beamer resisted the urge to throw
Vick out there. Beamer instead returned free safety Nick
Sorensen, who had been a quarterback as a freshman in '97, to
the other side of the ball for three games, and Virginia Tech
made do, winning two of them. Judging from the comments of some
of Vick's coaches and teammates, Beamer's patience will be
rewarded. "Syracuse is getting ready to find out how we felt the
last four years," says running backs coach Billy Hite, alluding
to the frustration of facing a quarterback as talented as the
Orange's Donovan McNabb.
On defense Engelberger and senior Corey Moore are the best pair
of linemen on any team in the nation. Moore is 6 feet and 212
pounds. In theory offensive linemen, who often outweigh him by
100 pounds, should smother him. But he's so quick that few get a
clean shot at him. Engelberger can play end and tackle and
doesn't care which, as long as he's rushing the passer. While
three quarters of the Big East's best secondary of a year ago is
gone, the Hokies still have talent there. Sophomore cornerback
Larry Austin played well on special teams as a freshman, and
Sorensen is back at free safety.
Under Beamer, Virginia Tech has become a perennial Big East
power, with two conference titles in the last four years. The
goal is to become a perennial national power. If Vick has the
star quality the Hokies think he does, they will be hard-pressed
to stay anonymous.
1998 record: 9-3 (5-2, tied for 2nd in Big East)
Final ranking: No. 23 AP, No. 19 coaches' poll
1998 Averages Scoring Rushing Passing Total
Yards Yards Yards
OFFENSE 31.2 178.4 138.4 316.7
DEFENSE 12.9 102.2 182.7 284.9
Schedule strength 70th of 114
Oct. 2 at Virginia
The last time the Hokies won in Charlottesville (1995) they
finished the season in the Sugar Bowl.
Nov. 13 vs. Miami
To the victor will go the Big East championship, most likely.
The Hokies have won the last four meetings.
The Bottom Line
If Vick helps the offense catch up with the defense, Virginia
Tech will be looking at 10 wins this season.