BLACKSBURG – Christian Darrisaw remembers the feeling he had before his first college start in last season’s opener at Florida State. Silas Dzansi had that same feeling three games later when, against Old Dominion, he was in the starting lineup for the first time.
“I had butterflies all through and out my stomach,” Dzansi said.
Darrisaw, Dzansi and Lecitus Smith all started games on Virginia Tech’s offensive line as freshmen last season. Darrisaw was a true freshman and the other two had redshirted in 2017. A year later, those players are back, along with juniors Zachariah Hoyt and T.J. Jackson and senior Tyrell Smith.
Still, offensive line coach Vance Vice has all of 29 career starts among returners, meaning the front five will still be a relatively young unit again in 2019 as the team looks to bounce back from its first losing season since 1992.
That could change if Coastal Carolina transfer Brock Hoffman, who started 24 games in two seasons with the Chanticleer, is granted an NCAA waiver to play this season.
Hoffman can play guard and center. Still, the Hokies head into 2019 only slightly more battle-tested than a year ago and need to replace senior starters in guards Kyle Chung and Braxton Pfaff and tackle Yosuah Nijman.
Tech opened fall camp on Friday, and Vice is far from ready to trot out his starting lineup for the team’s Aug. 31 opener at ACC foe Boston College.
Hoyt or Hoffman, if he receives his waiver, could start at center. Darrisaw and Tyrell Smith figure to compete for the left tackle position, with the loser of that battle a possibility at right tackle, where Dzansi is working.
Lecitus Smith has the inside track at left guard, with Jackson emerging at right guard. Junior Austin Cannon (Atlee) and redshirt freshman John Harris are also options at guard.
“We never have a sense of where we’ll be, because Coach Vice always mixes it up,” Darrisaw said. “You just have to be prepared to play everything.”
The uncertainty through spring and even in fall camp helps players learn multiple positions and develop chemistry in a number of lineup variations.
“I’ve gotten a feel for different guys, which kind of helps me become a better player,” Tyrell Smith said.
The 6-foot-6, 359-pound Jackson may be one of the lesser known but most intriguing prospects of Vice’s pupils. After redshirting in 2016, he played in 13 games over the past two seasons, seeing most of his time on special teams.
But according to Dzansi, his roommate and close friend, he’s poised for a breakout.
“T.J. can move anybody when he wants to,” Dzansi said. “When he turns that switch on, he can do what he wants.”
Dzansi and Jackson often talk about how much they’d enjoy playing next to each other, and the versatile Jackson has a good chance of being the team’s starter at right guard, next to Dzansi.
But like all of Tech’s offensive linemen, they said they know not to expect anything until the season opener.
“Every practice, Coach Vice kind of throws us around,” Jackson said. “My best friend, I might get to play alongside him. Or I might take his spot.”
“For us to play beside each other is a dream. But you never know what can happen in training camp.”