Change has been the story of the offseason for Virginia Tech. Numerous players have left the team, whether by way of the NFL Draft, graduation, transfer or dismissal from the team. While the defense has gotten most of the attention regarding personnel changes, the Hokies’ offense will see its differences as well.
With some key figures no longer on the roster, certain players are now stepping into leadership roles as the Hokies get ready to begin the 2018 season.
“Just speaking up more, being more vocal, helping the younger guys out,” tight end Chris Cunningham said when asked how he’s become a leader on the field. “I am an older guy now. I kind of had to take a step back when camp started and really look at it like ‘Wow. I’m really the older guy now.’”
As a redshirt junior, Cunningham has enough experience to know how to be a leader on the team, but it’s not something that he’s used to.
“The leadership role is kind of cool,” Cunningham said. “I’m kind of uncomfortable with it because that was never really me, not saying I wasn’t a leader, but I wasn’t really vocal. I’ve always been alike I’m just going to go to work, do my own thing. But I think it’s a pretty cool thing to help the young guys out.”
As he begins to take on more responsibility with the team, he doesn’t have one particular player that he ever took notes from on how to be that kind of leader.
“I don’t try to emulate anything. I just try to go in there and just be myself,” Cunningham said. “I don’t try to do too much. I just kind of want to stay in my comfort zone but kind of get out of it as well so I can help everybody else out.”
Cunningham is just one of multiple players who will be stepping up to replace the leaders on last year’s offense.
The offensive line has been hit the hardest as seniors Wyatt Teller and Eric Gallo have both moved on. Even without those two veterans however, the front men should be in good hands. Kyle Chung returns for his sixth year while seniors Yosuah Nijman and Braxton Pfaff are both returning as starters.
Other areas of the offense may not be so lucky, though.
Travon McMillian, the Hokies’ second-leading rusher last season, transferred to Colorado for the 2018 season, leaving the running backs with just one senior.
Steven Peoples has embraced his role as a leader, saying, “I guess my leadership role is just how I practice. I’m not really a vocal leader, but they see how I practice. I practice hard.”
Peoples will lead a running backs group that consists of three freshmen and two sophomores. Coleman Fox joins him as the only other upperclassman at the position.
Elsewhere on the offense, the Hokies have some big shoes to fill at the receiver position. All-time leading receiver Cam Phillips headed to the NFL after last season, leaving this year’s receiving corps with just one senior in CJ Carroll. Tech has plenty of young talent at the position though, and some players are ready to step into a new role with the team.
“I remember when I came in there was Cam [Phillips], Isaiah [Ford] and Buck [Bucky Hodges], so watching them, they would teach the younger guys the plays, help them get lined up. After practice if anybody needed help, they’d show them what to do, tell them what to do,” junior Eric Kumah said. “Now I feel like that’s the role I play. Dame [Damon Hazelton] and Phil [Patterson], we all know that the young guys need help when we see them messing up in practice. We know just to give them a hand after practice.”
While the team’s receivers are mostly younger players, Kumah said that he’s been impressed with them so far.
“They can play. They can ball,” Kumah said about the younger guys on the team. “It’s actually really nice to see that they come in as true freshmen wanting to play, not saying, ‘Oh I’ll just redshirt this year and give it a year to get bigger, stronger, faster.’ You can tell in practice, when they came in, they want to compete for a spot and they want to play.”
The mentality of helping the younger players has spread around the Hokies’ offense, with Cunningham saying that he is focused on helping the inexperienced guys get better in order for the team to improve as a whole.
“We want everybody to be there with us,” Cunningham said. “As far as a leadership role, I’ve been trying to help everybody out. We have those dog day sin camp where you’re in the middle of it and you’re tired and I’m trying to help everybody get up and upbeat.”
This year’s leaders will have their work cut out as they act as role models for the young team. Given the players that they’ve had as role models in the past though, they should be just fine passing the torch.