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July 5, 2013Sign-up for HokieHaven.com Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone!
After a 7-6 campaign that marked Virginia Tech's least successful season in over 20 years, the pressure is on the Hokies to pick the program back up and restore it to where it was before last season.
Virginia Tech hired three new assistant coaches in January as a step towards getting back, but it will be on the players to control what happens on the field.
In preparation for what will be an important 2013 campaign, we cast our votes for the 13 most important players to a successful season. This includes all aspects of the game, both offensively and defensively, but also special teams, like kicking and return.
Players received 13 points for each first place vote, 12 points for each second place vote, etc. In a case of a tie, the players voted on by more staff members won the tie-breaker. If both players had been voted on by the same number of staff members, the next tie-breaker is which player had the highest vote by a staff member.
We continue our countdown at No. 9 with defensive end James Gayle.
Jason Stamm, publisher
Of all the Hokies' defenders, Gayle might be the most fearsome coming off the edge. Stats-wise, he had a slight drop-off, as Gayle finished with just five sacks, though he did have 11 tackles for loss. But that shows the high level of expectations Gayle has set.
Maybe more than anyone, Gayle benefits from his interior defensive linemen. And while that group had some good games, it struggled in games like Pittsburgh and North Carolina, which in turn affected Gayle.
Gayle can put up some big numbers. As a sophomore in 2011, he had a team-high seven sacks, to go with 12.5 tackles for loss.
With Virginia Tech's interior linemen, like Luther Maddy and Derrick Hopkins, poised for a strong year, Gayle has to take advantage. He'll have to be his same, bullish self that pressures opponents from the edge.
Doug Bowman, senior writer
If you are just using the eye test, Gayle wins it hands down for the Hokies. Strap on the pads and then put on the helmet and there isn't a more intimidating player on the roster. However, his play over the past two seasons hasn't exactly backed up that eye test potential.
He's been bogged down with injuries that have limited his ability to practice and play week-in and week-out, so that's key number one for him. However, if he can stay healthy, the Hokies need him to be a disruptive pass rusher off the edge.
Gayle got a lot of credit early in his career before leveling off due to the injuries, but I think this is the year he really proves himself as one of the better defensive ends in the league. Gayle and J.R. Collins need to produce, because Dadi Nicolas is coming after their spots, and competition can never hurt someone's motivation.
Mike Stancik, staff writer
The success of the secondary at Virginia Tech isn't just because of phenomenal coverage. It's also because of the unrelenting pressure of Hokie defensive ends.
The likely future NFL player, Gayle, will be looked upon to be a headache for offensive line coaches in the ACC. His 16 career sacks over three years shows solid evidence of consistency, but we're all waiting for the breakout year.
The Hampton native could be one of the most dominant defensive ends in the country if he seizes the opportunity. He's one of the rare guys at his position that possesses incredible size, speed, and strength. Gayle should be fun to watch in 2013. I had him at number 8 on my list- another group agreement in terms of importance.
Virginia Tech NEWS