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Tailback is a big question mark for the Hokies in 2004. For the first time since 1998, Billy Hite doesn’t have a bona fide star in his backfield. He has unproven veterans and inexperienced freshmen. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be effective.
Looking back to the beginning of the Beamer Bowl Era, Billy Hite has always used at least two primary tailbacks. In 1993, the Hokies used the trio of Dwayne Thomas, Tommy Edwards and Ranall White. This unit helped put up 500 rushing yards on Pittsburgh early in the season. Thomas led the group with 1,130 yards on 214 carries, for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. He also scored 11 touchdowns. “Touchdown” Tommy Edwards was used primarily in goal line situations. He rushed 78 times for 357 yards and 9 touchdowns. Ranall White also carried the ball 60 times for 333 yards on the season, with a touchdown. His 5.6 yards per carry average was tops among tailbacks.
Fast forward to 1994, and the tailback position wasn’t nearly as productive. Dwayne Thomas’ production dropped almost in half, as he rushed for 655 yards on 142 carries and 5 touchdowns, an average of 4.6 yards per carry. Tommy Edwards’ stats fell off as well, at least from a yards per carry standpoint. Edwards rushed 115 times for 378 yards and 3 touchdowns, for an average of only 3.3 yards per carry. The young gun of the group was highly touted freshman Ken Oxendine, who only carried the ball 33 times, but ran for 258 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Ox averaged a very impressive 7.8 yards per carry, making him the running back of the future for the Hokies.
In 1995, Thomas and Oxendine were the primary ball carriers for the Hokies. Thomas’ production continued to go down, with 167 carries for 673 yards and 7 touchdowns, for an average of 4 yards per carry. Oxendine finished the season with 106 carries for 593 yards and 4 touchdowns. He continued to post an impressive yards per carry average, coming in at 5.6 ypc in 1995.
Tech faced some trouble at the beginning of the 1996 season. Marcus Parker, who would go back and forth from fullback to tailback during his career, began the season suspended. Ken Oxendine went down with an injury early in the season opener against Akron, and true freshman Shyrone Stith was pressed into service. Stith responded by rushing for 119 yards on 21 carries against the Zips, and he started the following two games against Boston College (20 carries, 80 yards, 2 TDs) and Rutgers (18 carries, 75 yards, 1 TD).
Oxendine returned from his injury the following week (against Syracuse), and Parker returned from his suspension the week after that, against Temple, and they would combine to form a very potent combination for the remainder of the season. Oxendine carried the ball 150 times for 890 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season, for an average of 5.9 yards per carry. Those are extremely impressive numbers considering he missed almost 3 full games with an injury. Parker added 467 yards on 82 carries and 4 touchdowns, for an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Those are very good numbers as well, considering Parker missed the first 4 games of the season as a result of his suspension.
Despite seeing his playing time greatly diminish with the return of Oxendine and Parker, Shyrone Stith still managed to gain 474 yards on 89 carries. That comes out to 5.3 yards per carry, which is very good for a true freshman. Stith also added 5 touchdowns.
1997 was a totally different story, as the running game suffered because of a young offensive line and lack of a consistent passing game. Ken Oxendine was the featured back and a workhorse in his senior season. He carried the ball 237 times, the most carries for a Tech tailback since Cyrus Lawrence had 325 carries in 1981. Oxendine had 904 yards and 8 touchdowns. His yards per carry average of 3.8 was by far the worst of his career. Clemson transfer Lamont Pegues served as the backup tailback. Pegues had 85 carries for 391 yards and 5 touchdowns, for an average of 4.6 yards per carry. Shyrone Stith took a redshirt year in 1997 because of the depth at tailback.
1998 was a better year for the Hokies on the ground, but the offensive line, and the offense as a whole, was a year away from being good again. As a senior, Lamont Pegues became the featured running back for Tech, carrying the ball 178 times for 745 yards and 7 touchdowns. Pegues finished the season with a 4.2 yards per carry average. Despite not starting, Shyrone Stith was the best back on the roster for the Hokies in 1998. Stith ran for 699 yards on 133 carries for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. He added 3 touchdowns.
Starting in 1999, the tailback position has only once failed to produce a 1,000 yard rusher. Shyrone Stith began the run in 1999 with 226 carries for 1,119 yards and 13 touchdowns. Shyrone averaged 5 yards per carry on the season. Andre Kendrick became the primary backup to Stith, and he was able to break the Virginia Tech record for yards per carry in a season with a 6.3 average (Oxendine didn’t have enough carries in 1994 to qualify). For the year, Kendrick rushed 103 times 645 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Shyrone Stith left for the NFL a year early after the 1999 season, and r-sophomore Lee Suggs rose to the top of the depth chart at tailback. He certainly didn’t disappoint, as he shattered the Tech record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 27. Suggs finished the season with 222 carries for 1,207 yards, an average of 5.4 yards per carry. The dependable Andre Kendrick finished out his Tech career with 547 yards on 107 carries and 3 touchdowns.
2001 was a very intriguing year for the Hokies at the tailback position. Tech had just signed Kevin Jones, the consensus number one running back prospect in the nation. He was expected to compete for playing time as Lee Suggs’ backup, then take over the position in 2002 after Suggs left for the NFL following his junior year. However things didn’t go as expected when Suggs tore his ACL in the 2001 opener against UConn. For most of the year, Jones served as the backup to Keith Burnell, but still received a lot of playing time. By the end of the season however, Jones had cracked the starting lineup and was showing flashes of brilliance. Jones completed his freshman campaign with 175 carries for 957 yards and 5 touchdowns, for an average of 5.5 yards per carry. Keith Burnell racked up 707 yards on 149 carries and 9 touchdowns, for an average of 4.7 yards per carry.
With Lee Suggs returning for his senior year, and Kevin Jones poised for stardom sooner rather than later, the Hokies anticipated the most powerful rushing attack in school history in 2002. Suggs and Jones, nicknamed “The Untouchables”, both enjoyed very successful seasons that would propel Suggs to the NFL and Jones into his breakout junior season. As a senior, Suggs was the starter for the entire season. He finished the season with 257 carries for 1,325 yards and 22 touchdowns, and gained 5.2 yards per carry. Unfortunately, Jones missed an entire game due to an injury, and wasn’t 100% in a couple of others. Otherwise he would have had an opportunity to join his backfield mate with a 1,000 yard season. KJ finished the season with 871 yards and 9 touchdowns on 160 carries, good for 5.4 yards per carry.
In 2003, Kevin Jones finally had the opportunity to become the full-time tailback for the Hokies. It was an opportunity he took advantage of, rushing for a single-season school record 1,647 yards on 281 carries. KJ added 21 touchdowns to go along with 5.9 yards per carry. Backup Cedric Humes didn’t see as much playing time as other backup tailbacks under Billy Hite, but how could anyone take a player with the talent of Jones out of the game for an extended period of time? Humes finished the season with 65 carries for 380 yards and 5 touchdowns, good for 5.8 yards per carry.
Going into 2004, junior Cedric Humes looks finally establish himself as a big time running back. Unfortunately for Cedric, he is still not 100%, as he is still in the process of recovering from a broken ankle that he suffered in the spring. However, he is close to 100%, and he is a very big tailback who is fast for his size. Billy Hite has raved about his performances in practice throughout the last few years, and now it is his turn to prove it on the field. However, his injury could prove to be a hindrance that effects him for the entire season.
Backing up Humes at this point are juniors Mike Imoh and Justin Hamilton. Imoh is short at 5’6”, but he is very stocky and has outstanding agility. However he is suspended for the first 3 games of the season, so the primary backup position will be filled by Justin Hamilton. Hamilton started his Tech career as a tailback, but was moved to receiver. Now he is back at tailback due to depth problems, and could be the starter on August 28th if Humes is not healthy.
True freshmen George Bell and Brandon Ore could figure into the rotation as well, especially Bell. Bell is big (5’10” 226) and strong, and he has been through spring practice. He is the 2nd highest touted tailback to every sign with Tech, behind only Kevin Jones. Ore has impressed the coaches in practice thus far, and could play as a true freshman, but Beamer said that he will most likely redshirt.
With injuries, suspensions
and inexperience, don’t expect one tailback to establish himself as the
primary ball carrier this year. In fact, the 2004 season is shaping up to be
very similar to the 1996 season. The Hokies have an injured starter (Humes), a
suspended backup (Imoh), and a true freshman who is ready to make his mark
(Bell). The final statistics could end up being roughly the same as well.
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