When Silas Dzansi's senior year ended, he seemed bound to play at the FCS level as a defensive lineman. At only 242 pounds, Dzansi looked like a prime FCS guy who looked bound to either be a defensive lineman or tight end. Right after his senior season, Dzansi only had one offer via Delaware State.
Most FBS schools passed on Dzansi as an offensive lineman given his size even though most coaches likely saw Dzansi play a good amount at a C.D. Hylton program that had produced four-star offensive lineman Matt Burrell the previous year.
While most coaches passed on a guy that Vance Vice remembers being 242 pounds when he visited Blacksburg, the Hokies didn't, going against conventional wisdom for a guy who wasn't even a First Team offensive lineman in his own high school conference. Instead, the Hokies saw a guy with lots of potential due in part to how he didn't start playing football till his sophomore year of high school.
Meanwhile, most Hokie fans saw the offer and commitment that followed, and had major questions. Many likely already saw Dzansi as a guy who would get buried and recruited over along the offensive line after being a low chance flier in Justin Fuente's first recruiting class.
Instead, Dzansi arrived in Blacksburg at over 300 pounds a year after his commitment. Now, Dzansi is pushing for playing time and a starting offensive tackle job.
So how does a guy go from being an undersized, FCS-bound lineman to a physical-gifted offensive tackle that could start for a top 20 team as a redshirt freshman?
For Dzansi, it all started in his time of transformation from Signing Day to his Blacksburg arrival the following spring. That time included a stop at one of America's best prep schools, Fork Union.
When he arrived at Fork Union, Dzansi had already bulked up to 271 pounds, but head coach John Shuman and his staff knew that they could enhance Dzansi's physical development as they've done time and time again. Dzansi became one of the best example of the physical transformations that Fork Union can cause football athletes to have gaining 30 pounds in his time at FUMA.
So how is Fork Union's strength and conditioning so successful? Shuman gives a lot of credit to his DL coach Xan Thomas, who runs Fork Union's weight program, along with how FUMA makes sure their players are well fed.
"Our system is great for our players; we provide 3 to 5 meals a day and ample time to hit the weight room with Coach Xan Thomas, our DL coach. The way he mixes the lifts allows our guys to become physical and strong," Shuman told us.
That Fork Union approach proved valuable in developing Dzansi physically and helping him get over 300 pounds.
Outside of the weight room, Shuman saw Dzansi as a guy with great athleticism and without any ceiling on his potential. "We saw a rangy, explosive player who had a pop to his play. We knew once his mind caught up to his talent, Silas would be an All-American type player." Shuman saw the same high-ceiling offensive lineman that the Hokies saw in Dzansi.
When Silas Dzansi arrived in Blacksburg, Vance Vice knew he was getting a player who had been well-coached and developed in all aspects.
“(Silas) Dzansi came on his visit in January out of high school. When he as in high school, he weighed 242 pounds. I got him in January one year later at 304 pounds so that’s one thing I look for. Coach Shuman down there is unbelievable. He does an unbelievable job with the development of young guys. The one thing I can guarantee when I get guys out of there is they’ve seen hard, they’ve been through tough, and that’s probably the biggest characteristic that I’ve gained from those guys and we’ve got quite a few now," Vice said.
Dzansi's time at Fork Union gave him a great foundation for going into Ben Hilgart's strength and conditioning program. Since then, Dzansi has continued to add more weight onto his great frame, bulking up to 312 pounds at the start of this spring.
After redshirting last season, Dzansi has seen an opportunity to not only jump into the two-deep at offensive tackle, but push for a starting job. With Kyle Chung moving inside to center and D'Andre Plantin working at left guard, the door has opened for a new starting offensive tackle alongside Yosuah Nijman.
While older guys like Tyrell Smith and TJ Jackson entered the spring as the on-paper favorites for that job given their presence in last season's two-deep, the competition was wide open for anyone ready to earn the job.
So far, Silas Dzansi is taking advantage of that opportunity and turning heads in a good way.
"Silas has really turned some heads this spring in a good way. I’ve been really pleased with him. If he continues to work hard and do the things we’re asking him to do, I think he has a chance to play a big role on our team," Justin Fuente said.
Despite the focus from the outside being on Smith and Jackson for that openspot, Silas Dzansi has made it clear that he is a serious contender who even received some first team reps during the brief part of practice that was open to the media earlier this month.
Since then, Dzansi has continued to "get better every day" according to Vance Vice and from what we've heard, emerged as a serious contender to start for the Hokies next fall. While Tyrell Smith still appears to be the frontrunner to start at right tackle, Dzansi is going to give Smith a good run for that job and has a clear future as a starter for the Hokies whether that's in 2018 or 2019.
When Silas Dzansi signed with Virginia Tech two years ago, very few Hokie fans likely thought that Dzansi would be a starter. Instead, Dzansi is proving Vance Vice right for taking a chance on a 240-pound lineman who didn't start playing football till his sophomore year of high school and was never a first team all-conference player during his high school career.
Photo Credit: Jake Roth
Stay up with The Tech Lunch Pail for the latest on Virginia Tech. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our email updates.