James Johnson Fired

HokieSports.com announced James Johnson was released as men's basketball coach. The following statement is from new Athletic Director Whit Babcock.

"I want to thank Coach Johnson for his dedication and hard work for our university and our basketball program over the past seven years," Babcock said. "A change of this significance affects many people and is never taken lightly, but I felt a change and a new direction was necessary for the long term, best interest of our department."

Johnson took over a program that had been gutted, and was in need of a rebuild. However, he could only muster 6 ACC wins in two seasons of play.

Versatility Brings Out the Best in Stone Bridge's Tanner Karafa

At the end of his junior season, 6-foot-3 tight end Tanner Karafa earned new responsibilities.

When Ashburn's Stone Bridge High School lost a linebacker due to injury in the playoffs, Karafa got the call.

There wasn't much time to learn how to play outside linebacker.

"We put him on the edge and told him to go get the football," Bulldogs Coach Mickey Thompson said. "He came up with a lot of amazing plays, but didn't know how to make many reads.

"You can't just go to linebacker and play."

Happy Birthday, Thekeyplay.com!

Four years ago today, the website went live online. What began as a humble hobby has grown into a small business, but more importantly a thriving online community.

I've said it a billion times before, but you, the readers and posters, are second to none. Word of mouth, especially on social media, was crucial for our growth. Over the last four years you denizens of our virtual space have cultivated a special place for intelligent discussion of football and all things Virginia Tech, while understanding the former is not that serious a topic of discussion. That is a rare occurrence for a sports website. So thank you!

Catching Up with 2015 Commitment DuWayne Johnson

Last Sunday evening I spoke with 6-1, 160 pound H.D. Woodson defensive back DuWayne Johnson. Johnson committed to the Hokies on February 8th while attending a Virginia Tech junior day event.

Although, he didn't intend on giving his verbal while on the trip. "When I went down there, I had no idea... I didn't plan on committing when I was in town. It just happened."

What To Do With James Johnson?

Editor's Note: Pierson and Brian had an epic debate discussing the pros and cons of retaining/dismissing James Johnson. Enjoy it. --Joe

Pierson: My wife and I watched Taken 2 last night. Aside from rationalizing how producers actually thought they could pass Maggie Grace as a 17-year-old, it's easy to be endlessly entertained by Liam Neeson "doing what he does best" and hunting down vindictive Albanian mobsters. After establishing himself with powerful roles in The Mission and Schindler's List, he began to move into this uber-intimidating, "world beater" type role in films like Batman Begins and Taken. The older Neeson gets, the more he's typecast as a soft spoken badass. The A-Team? He is Hannibal—nothing more needs to be said. The Grey? Neeson is surviving in the wilderness, showing the wolves who's boss. Non-Stop? I'd be willing to bet the movie was pitched as Taken at 35,000 feet. And for what it's worth, he will always be remembered as Ra's al Ghul.

Where am I going with this?

ACC Tournament Preview, Power Rankings Style

As an undergrad, I'd sit at home and tell myself it was okay that I didn't go anywhere for spring break because March Madness was happening. Now that I'm out of college, nothing could possibly get in the way of my absurdly high basketball viewing habits.

We haven't talked about the conference (basketball-wise) on the website much, but given that the "BRAND NEW, BIGGER AND BETTER ACC TOURNAMENT" starts today I figured that there was no better time to write about it than now.

Well that, and I wanted to write about winning basketball teams once this season.

I ranked each of the 15 teams in the tournament by how high I think their chances are to win the thing.

Hokie Hoops: Build a Compelling Basketball Environment

Finally, after what was possibly the worst two-and-a-half month stretch in the history of Virginia Tech men's basketball, the 2013-14 season is over. I know there's a conference tournament game still to come (and yes, a singular game, let's not kid ourselves), but I think it's time to assess the most dilapidated sport on campus.

Now I know what you're all thinking, that winning cures all ills and if new Athletic Director Whit Babcock fires head coach James Johnson, everything else will sort itself out. While that is definitely up for debate, this problem stems from something deeper than just the product on the court.

Fixing the problem that the men's basketball team has become goes much further than the job of one man. We can all have our disagreements over whether or not JJ should retain his post, and I'm sure Babcock has been thinking long and hard about that decision. However, what Whit needs to look at is how to undo the damage done to the program by years of inattentiveness. A general malaise and lack of creativity has cut this program off at the knees, and it has finally caught up to it in the program's worst season.

Class of 2014 First Look: Holland Fisher

No member of Virginia Tech's incoming class is perhaps as highly anticipated and shrouded in mystery as Holland Fisher. Fisher, an Under Armour All-American safety from Manchester High School in Midlothian, Virginia, was one of the highest ranked players in the Hokies' 2013 signing class. Tech had to fend off a late push for Fisher by Alabama that included breakfast at Nick Saban's house. In the end, Fisher remained committed to Virginia Tech, but had to prep at Fork Union. Fisher signed with Tech again last February, and now that he's qualified will enroll in Tech's first summer school session on May 27.

For me, that is where the mystery begins. Fisher was regarded as a preeminent safety prospect. At 6-2, 210 pounds, Fisher harkens back to the days of the big, intimidating Hokie safety ala Kam Chancellor or Aaron Rouse. However, when I watched high school film of Fisher, he was used almost exclusively at the inside linebacker spot. Fork Union used Fisher as a free safety, but FUMA head coach Mark Shuman told the Roanoke Times Doug Doughty, "Holland Fisher played free safety, had one interception, had a couple sacks. He's a pretty good player. I think Fisher will be more of an outside linebacker. He's got good speed, good range. With what they like to do, I think he'll that rover-whip type guy."

2015 DT Aaron Crawford Talks About His Recruitment

On Tuesday night I talked to 6-2, 290 pound defensive tackle prospect Aaron Crawford (Stone Bridge) about his recruitment. In addition to Virginia Tech, Virginia, Old Dominion, Maryland, Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Duke have offered Aaron a scholarship. He's leaning towards pursuing something along the lines of a business or economics degree in college.

Aaron last visited Blacksburg on February 8th for a Virginia Tech junior day. He said of the trip, "It was great." He was able to spend time with Bud Foster and Charley Wiles. Aaron said of Coach Wiles, "He's a great guy, feel like he really knows what he's talking about." Aaron plans on returning to Tech again during the spring, and he'd like to commit right before his senior season at Stone Bridge begins.

Class of 2014 First Look: Isaiah Ford

As I discussed in my film review of Cam Phillips, a pressing need for the Virginia Tech offense was developing a true split end that can beat man coverage and stretch the field vertically. The Hokies passing game was better than expected last season, but the lack of a deep threat allowed opposing defenses to play their safeties in inverted coverage, often coming forward immediately at the snap without needing to worry about providing deep help to corners in man coverage. This had two effects. First, defenses had safeties flying into the box to stop the run just after the snap. This allowed defenses to play seven men in the box, and bring a safety late from angles that the offensive line and tight ends could not identify prior to the snap. Second, it meant that the safeties could help the linebackers and nickel corners on the crossing routes and misdirection routes that Coach Loeffler had the most success with throughout the year.

It's The Least Wonderful Time of the Year

It's the least wonderful time of the year. C'mon, let the Andy Williams wash over you...maybe it will even make you smile. God knows we could use some of that right now. Football season is over. Basketball season is wrapping up. Mother Nature continues to give us the middle finger with this relentless barrage of the Polar Vortex and major snowstorms. Uncle. For the love of all things holy, Uncle! Two weekends ago I was drinking margaritas with the windows down, and the next I'm ice skating outdoors the day before a storm named Titan is about to roll into town. That brief glimpse of spring I experienced two weeks ago might have been the best and worst things for my psyche.

Evaluating Quarterback Transfer Michael Brewer

The transition from the Logan Thomas era has been a roller coaster ride, with many twists and turns, and those aboard don't know how it'll end. Tech's quarterback derby, already consisting of redshirt senior Mark Leal, redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley, three 2014 signees, Andrew Ford, Chris Durkin, and Travon McMillian, will feature another new face.

Where does Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer fit into Virginia Tech's quarterback competition? Even though he's transferring, Brewer will graduate in May, making him immediately eligible to play in the fall with two years of eligibility remaining. Loeffler's comments regarding Leal's preparation and performance in the Sun Bowl did not leave me feeling warm and fuzzy. Each of the three freshmen challengers have terrific upside, but it is rare that a true freshman can step in and effectively lead an offense against BCS competition.

Talking Recruitment with Ricky DeBerry

I spoke with 6-3, 240 pound defensive end / outside linebacker Ricky DeBerry on Saturday morning. The 2015 cycle prospect was on his way to Charlottesville for a recruiting event. Ricky's played defensive end for the last two seasons at St. Christopher's School (Richmond, Virginia). "I normally don't play defensive end. My coach asked me to play there because he didn't necessarily trust anybody else in that position, and he asked me to play that for him the last two seasons. I normally play outside linebacker, sort of a pass rusher hybrid."

Over the course of our conversation DeBerry made it clear rushing the passer, whether it's at end in a 4-3, or OLB in 3-4 is extremely important to him and what he wants to do in college. His favorite pass rush moves are the swim and side scissors. He told me Virginia Tech is recruiting him to play defensive end.

Hokies QB Competition: The Vision is Clear

On Saturday Andy Bitter published a candid interview with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler about Tech's quarterback situation. It's not business as usual at Beamer Co.

After the Sun Bowl loss, Frank Beamer gave, according to WaPo's Mark Giannotto, a definitive response about the future of the quarterback position, "Mark [Leal]'s the next guy in line here."

"He had a couple tough throws. He'll learn from that. ... That's not a great situation for your backup guy to step into. But I've got a lot of confidence in Mark. I've seen him in practice too many times."

Frank siding with seniority is neither new or surprising. Scot Loeffler stocking the cupboard with capable prospects and effectively declaring an open competition is.

Tech Aims for Strong, Humble Rockbridge LT Austin Clark

Former Rockbridge County High School football coach Jason White wasted no time pointing out his exception to the recruiting process.

After all, who could lose sight of 6-foot-6, 295-pound junior Austin Clark?

"You almost have to work your tail off to get kids looks," the nine-year head coach said. "With Austin, it's never been a problem of that.

"He got his first offer from UVa. the spring of his sophomore year, which is about a year ahead of schedule."

Clark holds offers from 15 Division I schools. The polite Lexington, Va.-native politely explained which way he leans.

Class of 2014 First Look: Cam Phillips

Last season, Coach Aaron Moorehead molded a wide receiver unit that looked utterly inept against Alabama into a group that had 3 receivers post more than 40 catches. The Virginia Tech short passing attack became the Hokies most reliable offensive weapon. By exploiting matchups, using counter-action, and pick plays, Scot Loeffler's passing game controlled time of possession and kept the Hokie defense off the field for long stretches.

Despite their surprising success, the Virginia Tech passing game struggled against teams than could successfully play man-to-man defense, especially against the smaller Willie Byrn and Demitri Knowles. The Hokies also struggled to create big plays over the top of the defense. One of the major goals in the 2014 recruiting cycle was to recruit wide receivers that could get separation against man coverage and beat it over the top.

2015 Center Brian Chaffin Talks Hokies and His Recruitment

I had the pleasure of speaking with 6-2, 280 pound 2015 center / offensive lineman Brian Chaffin from Charlotte, North Carolina (Charlotte Christian) about his recruitment. Brian is considering Virginia Tech as well as scholarship offers from Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina State, UNC, UNC Charlotte, Mississippi State, Cal, Northwestern, and Marshall. Brian told me he's going to take as many visits as he can to the schools that have offered him, do his due diligence, try to narrow his list of schools in May before making his decision in June. Because Brian's answers were insightful and detailed, I'm posting this Q&A style.

John Dobbins - The Integration of Virginia Tech Football

When the focus of Black History Month turns to sports it usually means learning about or rehearing the story of Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in baseball. What we sometimes lose sight of is that in many areas, and many sports, some much closer to home, integration came much later. Often, when it came, individuals were battling many of the same things Robinson did throughout his career. Even if they didn't play on a national stage, it doesn't lessen the harsh reality they were forced to endure, frequently alone.

This is probably a little out of the normal tone you're used to hearing from me, but after reading the story of Wally Triplett at Penn State and Syracuse's Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, I started digging into Virginia Tech's football past and when and how we integrated our football team. This is the story of John Dobbins, who broke the color barrier for Hokie football.

Class of 2014 First Look: Ricky Walker and Steve Sobczak

Virginia Tech will open 2014 spring practice with only three scholarship defensive tackles on the roster (Luther Maddy, Nigel Williams, and Woody Baron). Former Division 3 transfer Wade Hansen will be eligible and get some second team repetitions, and perhaps a defensive end will move inside. Either way, it is not a deep group, and Maddy is by far the biggest guy. I am sure that Maddy and Williams will be an excellent starting pair, and despite his small size, Baron did an excellent job of holding up against much bigger blockers in a limited role, but the lack of size and depth is deeply worrisome. For the 2014 Hokies to be successful, they will need immediate contributions from one or both of their freshman defensive tackles, Ricky Walker and Steve Sobczak.

Hokie Hoops: Wait...They Won?

They won? Yes, the Virginia Tech men's basketball team won a game this weekend, ending their losing streak at ten games. Despite it being their second ACC win, the strain of the last 10 losses made their first win (against Miami in early December) feel like three lifetimes and a thousand Jarell Eddie misses ago. What's worse is that the win was during that random period of conference games before the bulk of ACC play had actually started. While they may count all the same, picking up a conference win between games against Winthrop and VCU took some of the magic away from it.

Let's just not dwell on the negative though.

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