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. 5 Jonathan McLaughlin
Jason Stamm, Publisher
It's not often that offensive linemen make an immediate contribution at the college level. There's a big learning curve as far as footwork, schemes and a physical gap that needs to be overcome. Granted, he did spend a year at Fork Union Military for prep school, so he wasn't exactly a typical true freshman, but McLaughlin jumped in immediately in 2013 and has been a fixture of the offensive line since.
There's been some ups and downs, as McLaughlin will tell you himself. But each time, he's bounced back, made adjustments and kept his head up, all part of what makes him such a valuable piece for Virginia Tech.
The left tackle is also an essential position in itself. This is the guy who is routinely tasked with keeping a quarterback's jersey clean and fend off the horde of would-be tacklers.
McLaughlin is slotted right now as the starter at left tackle. He's played at right tackle, so he could be moved there as well. But his experience, in addition to his versatility and resiliency, make McLaughlin an essential cog in coach Justin Fuente's spread offense.
Max Esterhuizen, Editor
The offense’s success very well may begin and end with the offensive line and senior lineman McLaughlin will be a major part of it. He’s started 35 games in his career, including 13 in his freshman and junior seasons. He played all 13 games last season at left tackle and logged 837 plays during the regular season.
Regardless of whomever plays quarterback, the offensive line must protect them, especially in the pass-heavy offense that new Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente favors.
Doug Bowman, Senior Writer
McLaughlin is never talked about on the offensive line, but the dude has been playing every down since his freshman season. He’s the veteran of the group by far, but guys like Wyatt Teller and Augie Conte get more attention.
McLaughlin probably isn’t an NFL player, but he you can pretty much mark him down for 12 games and another solid season, and that is wildly important on a unit where continuity and consistency can breed dominance.
Kelly Porazzo, Staff Writer
As a true senior, McLaughlin will need to bring his leadership and experience to guide the offensive line in protecting the new quarterback. McLaughlin has been an important, passionate player for Virginia Tech and holds great responsibility with a right-handed quarterback.
It is clear that the offensive line lacked depth and did not always provide enough protection for Michael Brewer to find a connection. Now with a new starting quarterback, the offensive line must bring their A+ game in order for the quarterback to get adjusted.
Delaney Hall, Staff Writer
As one of the most experienced players stepping on the field next season, McLaughlin ended the season playing in all 13 games, logged 837 plays and has one of the most exhausting positions on the team. With experience on both the left and right side of the line, he’s able to get the job done regardless of where he is positioned. His unmatched experience on the field makes him the backbone of the offensive line.