By Randy King
Joseph Clayton came to Virginia Tech to make a name for himself at the highest level of college football.
That said, let's get one thing straight. Don't call him Joseph. And he's no Joe, either.
"Everybody calls me Ju-Ju... they have my whole life," Clayton said. "My Mom gave me that nickname when I was a baby. And it has the dash or hyphen it in, too. Some people get that wrong."
Well, if the Hokies lose starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor for any sustained time this fall, as they have during the past two seasons, they might be turning to Clayton.
Five months from the Sept. 5 season opener against Alabama in Atlanta, Tech opened spring practice Wednesday for a season that figures to shape up as one of the most anticipated in program history. The biggest question in camp? Easy. Who's going to be Taylor's backup?
The first two candidates are a pair of redshirt freshmen - 6-foot, 215-pound Clayton from Richmond and 6-4, 235-pound Marcus Davis of Virginia Beach. If Tech has to go to a Plan C, then senior tight end Greg Boone (Oscar Smith High), who played some snaps behind center last season in the Hokies' "Wild Turkey" formation, will be the guy.
Clayton, who threw for 2,117 yards and 22 touchdowns his senior season at Hermitage High in 2007, is the early favorite. He played the role of scout-team QB last season while redshirting, plus has a decided edge on Davis when it comes to knowledge of the Hokies' offense and reading defensive coverages.
Both got a good share of the reps with Taylor on Wednesday. Hokies QBs coach Mike O'Cain saw what he expected to see.
"We've got a long way to go... like I thought," O'Cain said. "Marcus is very raw. He just hasn't done anything in a year. He's thrown some, but he hasn't done anything out in a situation like this. He's got a long way to go, but I saw some good things, too.
"Ju-Ju... same thing. He's much farther along because he's been doing it for a year. He understands what we're doing offensively better. He's been sitting in on the meetings, but it's still a long, long way to go."
Davis was expected to play wide receiver last season, but was sidelined by a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He threw for 1,837 yards and 20 touchdowns his senior season at Ocean Lakes in 2007. Tech coach Frank Beamer liked what he saw then, so knowing he might need an extra QB this fall he asked Davis to move back to his old position this spring.
"I don't mind it all..." Davis said. "But he also told me that if I felt that receiver was more comfortable to just come to him and it's no problem, we can make the change. So it's all going to work out for the best."
Clayton has confidence that he can be the guy that Tech needs.
"Last year, I came in here and took a peek at the highest level of competition, so this is what I'm getting right now," he said. "I'm still young, but I'm not going to always use that as an excuse. I'm ready for this."
So remember the hyphen.