Now that it is officially over, it is time to hand out some Virginia Tech Football Awards for the 2022 campaign. Yes, it was a season to forget. The 3-8 record was the fewest wins since that 1992 team went 2-8-1. But still, the young men on this team never quit, they did show a lot of resilience, and let’s be real – they are football players, and that alone is laudable. These kids are definitely worthy of recognition.
Not Your Typical Virginia Tech Football Awards
This was the worst win-loss outcome in the last 30 years of the program. A large reason for that was the historically bad offense that ranked 118 in scoring offense and 119 In total offense. Compounding the issue were the inconsistencies of the defense. Despite being the better unit – by far statistically – they still struggled at times and finished as the 62nd ranked defense in the nation.
The end result is that no Virginia Tech football players were named to the All-ACC teams. As David Cunningham of Techsideline.com wrote, it’s the first time Virginia Tech has not had a first, second or third team all-conference player since 1950!
I must admit, it’s a little difficult naming Most Outstanding or Most Dominant or Most Impactful players after a struggle of a season such as this. But there was still a lot of sweat and soul that went into the season, so there are shout-outs to be made here. Certainly I will miss Dax’s heart. Chamarri has the potential to be Tech’s highest – and maybe only – draft pick. Silas unselfishly played the entire year out of his natural position. These are just a few of the props to give out, so here it goes – my not-so-obvious end of season accolades:
The Lunch Pail Award
Anyone who knows Virginia Tech knows the Lunch Pail Defense. It was the symbol of Bud Foster’s dominating defensive units for over 20 years. Blue collar mentality. Work ethic. Toughness. Perseverance. No-nonsense, get it done.
First year head coach Brent Pry brought the Lunch Pail out of retirement as he tried to re-instill those values. At times, Pry’s unit showed why the Lunch Pail is the symbol of Virginia Tech’s defense. So naturally, the recipient of this award is from the defensive side of the ball.
Winner: DE Tyjuan Garbutt – In only 9 games, Garbutt tallied 12 tackles for loss, almost double the next player on the team. He also led the team in sacks with 6.5, while the next closest was only 2. He forced 2 fumbles, which was tied for the team lead. Two of his career best PFF grades occurred this year – against Boston College and Liberty.
In addition to these stats, Garbutt was a hard worker and a vocal leader. He had a motor that never quit. It is only fitting that his final play in a Hokie uniform was a strip sack of the Liberty quarterback, essentially ending any hope of a Liberty comeback and sealing the victory. Garbutt’s play this year most reminded me of the Lunch Pail Defenses of yore, and he is thus most deserving of this award.
Honorable Mention: LB Dax Hollifield
The Most Improved Award
Although the win column did not see the improvement, several players made great strides this year. Many of them were younger players, which bodes well for the future.
Winner: CB Mansoor Delane – The true freshmen saw the field sparingly in the first month, both because of injury and because he just was not ready. However, Dorian Strong went down after the West Virginia game and others were not getting the job done, so Delane’s opportunities were out of sheer necessity.
He first saw the field in the second quarter of the UNC game. He played well. Against Pitt he only played 13 snaps, but after the secondary was torched in the first half of the Miami game, Delane was called on again to help stop the bleeding. It worked, and he played 42 snaps, mostly in the second half. That led to a full game, every-play-79-snap performance against NC State and a starting role the rest of the way.
Delane is a playmaker and has the potential to be a superstar. He recorded one interception and forced two fumbles, including the key turnover late in the Liberty game. He also has done extremely well according to PFF, consistently grading out around 80 in his games with significant snaps. His tackling grade is the highest of all Hokies, and his overall PFF grade is third highest on the team.
Chris Coleman of Techsideline.com wrote an amazing article where he analyzed some of Delane’s numbers from the year. Here is a brief summary of some of the highlights of Coleman’s article:
- Out of 50 ACC cornerbacks who have played 200+ snaps this season, Delane’s PFF grade of 83.3 is the second-highest in the league
- Delane’s coverage grade ranks 4th out of those 50 ACC cornerbacks
- His run defense grade ranks 5th out of 50 and his tackling grade is 2nd out of 50
- Opponents completed only 45.7% of their passes against him, which ranks 6th in the ACC
Among the 241 Power 5 cornerbacks who have played at least 200 snaps this season, this is where Delane ranks amongst those players:
- Overall grade: 11th
- Run defense grade: 20th
- Tackling grade: 8th
- Coverage grade: 14th
- Opponent completion percentage: 33rd
He has come a long way in a short time. But his ceiling is high. He finished second in the ACC defensive rookie of the year ballots, so he is primed to be an All-ACC player in the years to come. Hokies, get this guy some solid NIL and lock him down with Dorian Strong for the next three years!
Honorable Mention – LB Keli Lawson, RB Jalen Holston
The Janet Jackson “Miss You Much” Award
With such disappointing statistics on both sides of the ball and a roster devoid of all-conference players, it is difficult to say that losing any one player changed the course of the season. However, there were two particular injuries, one on each side of the ball, that created holes that were never fully filled this year.
Winner/Defense: CB Dorian Strong – Before he went down with an injury after the West Virginia Game, Strong was Virginia Tech’s best cornerback. In only four games, he had 10 total tackles and one fumble recovery. He also had 3 passes defended. Such few stats suggest that teams were not throwing his way.
Unfortunately, after he went down, Tech’s cornerback performance took a hit. UNC and Miami (at least for the first half) lit up the Tech secondary as the Hokies struggled to find his replacement. Eventually, Delane locked down the spot and returned the position to some semblance of consistency, but it took a few painful game results to get there, and Strong’s absence was severely missed.
Winner/Offense: RB Malachi Thomas – Those who watched Virginia Tech football this year know that the offense was just bogged down without Malachi Thomas in the lineup. Thomas sat out the first five games of the season, and the offense was not good. When he returned for the Pitt game, the Hokies scored a season high 29 points. The sophomore only had 146 yards rushing in three games, but he also caught 13 passes for an additional 91 yards, giving him almost 80 total yards per game.
Thomas had a knack for falling forward and he was able to run between the tackles when others previously could not. His presence also took the pressure off Keshawn King, who was tasked with being the every-down-between-the-tackles back. Although King performed valiantly in that role, he is better as a complementary back in space, not up the middle (and perhaps that would help prevent injury to King?). So Thomas’ injuries had a ripple effect that made his absence felt greatly.
The silver lining on this dark cloud is that both players appeared in four or fewer games, so they were able to preserve their redshirts. Both Strong (r-So+ in 2023) and Thomas (r-So next year) will still have three years of eligibility remaining.
Honorable Mention: OL Luke Tenuta, RB Raheem Blackshear, WR Tre Turner, WR Tayvion Robinson (I know, they all left after last year – but Tech never filled the void of those four quality players – four guys who still had eligibility!)
The Frank Beamer Toughest Shoes to Fill Award
When legendary coach Frank Beamer retired, whoever took the next job was destined to swim is a vast sea of openness because those shoes would be hyperbolically large. As we witnessed, that was a tough task that didn’t end well. Let’s hope the same does not happen with the replacements on the roster for next year.
There is hope, though, because with a 3-8 team that has no all-conference players, it is hard to argue that any player is irreplaceable. That said, and despite the struggles, there were a few leaders on this team whose presence will be missed next year.
Winner/Offense: WR Kaleb Smith – There was not a better model of consistency on this offense than Kaleb Smith. The senior receiver led the team in receptions (37), yards (674), and receiving touchdowns (3). His total receiving yards were 420 more than the next receiver! He performed admirably in his first year as “the guy,” and even though his stats are not eye-popping, his 674 yards are second most of any receiver since Damon Hazelton’s 802 in 2018. The only better season since? Tre Turner’s 675 yards last year – a single yard more than Smith.
He does have a Covid year of eligibility remaining, so if Smith does return, it will negate this award. If he chooses to leave, the Tech receiving corps will be left with no receiver who had more than 256 receiving yards this year. Ouch.
Winner/Defense: LB Dax Hollifield – For five years, Dax Hollifield has been an emotional leader on this team. And the past two years, in his natural position of inside linebacker, he was a physical leader as well. Although there may be more physically gifted athletes behind him, his graduation is going to create a huge void.
Here is what Tech is about to lose: 356 career tackles, 30 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 3 interceptions. For each of the past two years, he was the team leader in total tackles (92 in 2021 and 82 in two less games in 2022).
With Hollifield gone, the Hokies defense will not have its captain, its leading tackler, and its emotional leader. His shoes are very big!
Honorable Mention: DT Mario Kendricks and DT Norell Pollard – if they both forego their Covid year, the defensive line depth will be very thin.
The Greg Nosal Playing Through Pain Award
If you read my article about my 3 Favorite Hokies, then you know the story of Greg Nosal. To refresh your memory, he is the Tech lineman who got his finger caught it a facemask, ripping the tip of his pinky off, but he opted to stay in the game and play the second half. Only after the game did he have the fingertip sewn back on!
Unfortunately this year, a few Hokies were banged up and played through pain. They played admirably too.
Winner: DE Tyjuan Garbutt – The senior defensive end was battling injury for much of the year. He missed two games and played hurt in most of the others. But as he said in The Level Seven Podcast interview with Mike Burnop (around the 24:30 mark), he just let the adrenaline take over and he played through it. He was “in the zone” and just played in the moment.
As mentioned earlier, Garbutt played well throughout this year (see stats above), but it was despite the pain. And as he confessed to Burnop, he was hurting a lot after each game. This mentality and this effort not only wins him this award, but it solidifies his position as the Lunch Pail Award winner as well!
Honorable Mention: RB Keshawn King
Now that this difficult season is over, it is time for Hokie Nation to move on. Signing day is right around the corner, and Coach Pry and his staff have to finish strong as they try to add important pieces to this recruiting class. They are also in the midst of having those ever-so-important personnel conversations, figuring out who is staying, who is using their Covid year, and who is entering the transfer portal. Then the staff has to mine to portal for additions in key positions (namely offense!). As Pry mentioned when he came in, there is a lot of work to do, and this off season it will continue in earnest.
For the seniors and those who decide to move on, THANK YOU for your hard work and commitment to this program and good luck to you all! For those who are returning, get in that weight room, put in the work, and turn this thing around!
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