Virginia Tech’s linebacker corps was full of young, inexperienced players last season, but that didn’t stop them from putting up impressive stats. Looking ahead to 2019, two of the players who stood out the most are ready to come back even stronger and make an impact for the Hokies.
Junior Rayshard Ashby and sophomore Dax Hollifield were two of the best defensive players on Tech’s squad last season, with Ashby leading the team in tackles and Hollifield not far behind him. Ashby had one season of experience, but had never started a game going into his sophomore year. He started 11 games at linebacker for Tech, giving him the opportunity for a breakout season.
Hollifield started six games and played in all 13 of his true freshman campaign. He registered 62 total tackles, including eight tackles for loss and two sacks.
Going into his second season with the team, Hollifield feels like he’s made some improvements, specifically on the physical side of the game.
“I’m a step faster than I was last year,” Hollifield said. “To be honest, it’s like I was wearing a weight vest last year. I can run with the running backs now.”
Hollifield struggled in coverage at times last season, but he feels like his increased speed will help him when it comes to staying on his man in 2019. He’s got a year of experience under his belt, which will help him even more when it comes to gametime next season.
“When they run routes, it’s not hard for me to do that anymore,” he said. “I already know my position really well, and adding speed and my feet and just overall strength has really helped me a lot.”
When it comes to his relationships with his fellow linebackers, Hollifield had praise for Ashby. As a junior, Ashby is one of the most experienced linebackers on the roster and will be looked to as a leader for the upcoming season. Despite that increased leadership role, Ashby isn’t all work and no play.
“He’s one of the funniest guys on the team,” Hollifield said. “On the field he’s very, very serious. He’s a leader by example. He doesn’t say stuff often, but when he does, they listen.”
The relationship works both ways, as Ashby had good things to say about Hollifield. The young linebacker was one of the most charismatic players on the team last season with his intensity on the field and his celebrations on the sideline.
“He has enough energy for the both of us,” Ashby said about Hollifield.
Ashby has been working on his intensity as well, and the Chesterfield, Va. native is eager to get back on the field this fall.
“I love to compete,” he said. “I always think I’m competing every day.”
Between the attitudes of these linebackers and the way the team has been training, there’s a different vibe around this team than there was just a few months ago. These players are hungry for success and have been working hard to reach their goals, and they know they’re in store for improvements next season.
“It feels like something special is going to happen, but we just need to make it happen,” Hollifield said.
The team has wrapped up its practice for the spring, but head coach Justin Fuente said they'll still be putting in conditioning work for the rest of the semester and throughout the summer, making sure the players don't lose focus of what's ahead of them.