The tension in the conference room at Philadelphia's Cardinal O'Hara High last January was palpable after Parade All-America running back Kevin Jones arrived to announce his college choice. "Right now, my decision is...not Penn State," said Jones, tossing a Nittany Lions jersey on the table in front of him. "My decision is Virginia Tech." By signing Jones, the nation's top-rated player according to SuperPrep, and Bryan Randall, a blue-chip quarterback out of Bruton High in Williamsburg, Va., the Hokies served notice that they can recruit with the top dogs.
Now they have to show that they can hang with the elite programs. After leading Virginia Tech to back-to-back 11-1 seasons, quarterback Michael Vick left following his sophomore season to become the first player selected in April's NFL draft. His departure created a two-man battle for the job in spring practice. The winner appears to be junior Grant Noel, whose leadership skills give him an edge over redshirt freshman Jason Davis, but Randall, who both rushed and passed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his last two high school seasons, will get a look this month. "The question with quarterbacks, and Vick was no exception, is always, How will they perform when it counts?" says coach Frank Beamer.
The same uncertainty applies to the line, which has only one starter returning. "I know the coaches will bring the line together," says junior running back Lee Suggs. "They've done it before." Last season Suggs ran behind a group of hosses that helped spring him for a Big East-leading 1,207 yards rushing and a national-best 28 touchdowns.
The anchor of this team, however, is a defense that has nine starters back and is good enough to carry the Hokies into the regular-season finale against Miami undefeated. Wideout Andre Davis, for one, is thrilled by the prospect. "When I came here, I thought we'd get a few games on national TV," he says. "Now we're a program that's up there with Florida State, Florida and Nebraska. People think we're going to be weaker without Michael Vick. Any team that thinks that has another think coming."