Who will be the most important to getting the Justin Fuente era off to a good start? As we've done the previous three seasons at our previous home, we've counted down the players we believed were most important to Virginia Tech's success. And this season is no different, as we've compiled the top 16 for 2016.
Each of our staff members compiled a list of who they believed were the 16 most important players for the Hokies this season. Each player then earned a score based on where each staff member ranked them (16 points for a first place vote, 15 points for second place, 14 points for third place, etc.) and the points were added up for a true staff ranking. Tiebreakers included most higher votes and most overall votes.
For each of the next 16 days, we'll reveal each of our top players. Be sure to chime in on our message board with your thoughts and who you think should be the most important players this season.
No. 8 Ken Ekanem
Jason Stamm, Publisher
When Frank Beamer announced his retirement last fall, only two Virginia Tech players were made available to speak to the media: Sam Rogers and Ken Ekanem. The two have essentially become the spokesmen for the Hokies, regularly available to the media, including last week at the ACC Kickoff.
Part of the reason has been because they’re well-spoken, like their new coach, Justin Fuente they don’t give much away, but also because they exemplify what Virginia Tech wants in its student-athletes. Both are smart, thoughtful players who are more about the concept of the team than themselves.
On defense, Ekanem has become a pillar for the Hokies. He’s one of the biggest keys to the lunch pail defense’s success, by his play, but also by his exemplary leadership on and off the field.
It’s clear, observing the defense, that Ekanem’s teammates look up to him. He’s now the grizzly veteran who’s been through plenty of ups and downs in his first four years at Virginia Tech. And for the Fuente era to get off to a good start, Ekanem will have a huge role, in more ways than one.
Doug Bowman, Senior Writer
With the uncertainty of the other end position, it is absolutely critical to get a big year out of Ekanem. It was expected out of him last season, but he recorded just 4.5 sacks (down from 9.5 in 2014) last year. If he can get back to that 2014 level and draw double teams, it will make life so much easier on whoever is lining up at the other defensive end spot.
Virginia Tech is deep and talented at defensive tackle, but it will be even more difficult for them, and the rest of the Hokies defense, to succeed if there isn’t a pass rushing threat coming off the edge.
Kelly Porazzo, Staff Writer
Ekanem exhibited a strong year last season, which included two forced fumbles with six quarterback hurries, three breakups and three passes defended. He kept the defense on top, which will play a critical roll in balancing with the new offense.
Ekanem must continue to work on his athleticism and blocking in order to stop the opponents from marching down the field.
Delaney Hall, Staff Writer
Ekanem started all 13 games at defense end, totaled 740 plays, tallied 39 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss. If the stats don’t speak for themselves, then his work ethic will. With key players such as Corey Marshall and Luther Maddy graduated, it’s Ekanem’s time to take the spotlight.
Virginia Tech’s defense succeeds when they have a rusher that can create chaos allowing quarterbacks the time to scan the field and throw the ball. With the question of quarterback still in the air, the Hokies need a concrete defense end regardless of who is chosen. Ekanem can definitely be that player Virginia Tech needs to succeed.