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Hokies defensive backs run with DBU nickname

BLACKSBURG

He's sure Virginia Tech's defensive backs were calling the school DBU much earlier, but secondary coach Torrian Gray knows when he embraced the moniker.

He was watching a replay of the 2011 Orange Bowl against Stanford, before the game got out of hand, when Jayron Hosley intercepted Andrew Luck in the second quarter. Commentator Jon Gruden referred to the Hokies as DBU.

"As soon as I heard him say it, I was like, 'Well, let's just take it and run with it then,' " Gray said. "If he feels that way, if we think that way, then we're DBU."

While sorting out which school really can lay claim to labels like that one - like Jerry Seinfeld once quipped about "World's Greatest Dad" T-shirts, "I don't know how official any of these rankings really are" - the Hokies can certainly make a case for being Defensive Back University.

From Norfolk's Ronyell Whitaker and Chesapeake's DeAngelo Hall at the turn of the century... to Jimmy Williams, Brandon Flowers and Victor "Macho" Harris in Tech's early days in the ACC... to Hosley, Antone Exum, Kyle Fuller and Kendall Fuller in recent years, Virginia Tech has a strong argument for the mythical title.

ESPN.com attempted to rank the defensive back groups in the offseason, putting the Hokies 10th, although that metric was largely based on all-conference selections, national award winners and NFL draft picks.

Strictly by stats, Virginia Tech's unit compares favorably to other defensive backfields. The Hokies' 260 interceptions since 2000 (though not all were by defensive backs) lead the nation - 14 more than No. 2 Oklahoma.

Since 2000, the Hokies have finished in the top 40 in passing defense 11 times, tied for the most with Louisiana State and Georgia. Miami, whose secondary dominated in the early 2000s but has petered out since, has the most top-10 finishes with seven, followed by the Hokies, LSU, Texas and Georgia with five apiece.

Florida State, which has had the nation's top-ranked pass defense each of the last two years, has a strong case for the title, although the Hokies stack up well against the 'Noles this season.

Tech had the eighth-ranked pass defense last year and returns senior safeties Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner, in addition to standout sophomore cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson.

"I try not to think about it," Facyson said. "We just want to get as close to perfection as possible."

"I keep them humble, keep it in perspective," said Gray, whose work with the group last year was impressive enough to garner a nomination for the Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant coach.

"I guess it's nice to be talked about and be in certain discussions, but at the same time, our expectation, I tell them every year, is to be one of the top secondaries in the country, be one of the top defenses in the country. So that's not new. It's just right now people expect us to go out and do it."

It's been that way for a while. With Kyle Fuller and Exum being drafted in May, the Hokies have had 19 defensive backs selected in the NFL draft since 1999 - at least one every year except 2013. Even before that streak, the '90s featured standout defensive backs Tyronne Drakeford, Antonio Banks and, long before he was a coach, Gray.

"You can't pin it on one secondary coach, because you go back to Lou West, you go to Lorenzo Ward, you go to Torrian. Each coach has had his," said defensive coordinator Bud Foster, the constant in that time frame. "I think it goes back to our scheme a little bit and obviously who we're recruiting."

The scheme often puts corners on an island, testing their mettle in one-on-one situations, but Tech's gap defense also requires them to be good tacklers in run support and able blitzers.

"We do a lot of things with those guys, and I think they get a chance to showcase their talents," Foster said.

"I think we're hard-nosed corners," Bonner said. "I think DBs, we hit well. I think we play physical. I think we can all cover as a secondary. And that's what I think defines DBU itself."

That attracts a certain athlete - not just a cover guy, but a "football player," Foster said - one that the Hokies have been able to regularly mine in their recruiting classes, whether it's underrated players coming out high school (Kam Chancellor was a two-star out of Maury High, while a good number of Tech's DBs have been three-stars) or recruiting darlings (Harris and Kendall Fuller were five-stars).

"I love cerebral football players," Gray said. "The game is so much easier to coach, it's so much easier to play.

"So during the recruiting process, if I can say this kid has a great IQ, he has a great work habit and loves the weight room... then those are the type of guys I would prefer to bring into the program, because it seems like you get more out of them."

Virginia Tech's current crop of DBs fits that mold. Jarrett and Bonner both are cornerbacks-turned-safeties, giving the Hokies speed at a position that typically focuses on size and willingness to hit. They also serve as the guardians of the group's legacy, letting newcomers to the group know about its standards.

"Once you get here, you just feel the vibes," Bonner said. "You know everyone has got one goal on them. And that's to be great, to be exact as possible. And you just feel like you've got to uphold it."

Both Kendall Fuller and Facyson burst on the scene as true freshmen last year, filling in admirably when injuries derailed Kyle Fuller and Exum's senior season. At 6-foot-1, Facyson is the tall, lean corner Gray prizes, and a smart one to boot - a biological sciences major whose goal is to become a heart surgeon.

Kendall Fuller, meanwhile, is everything the Hokies look for in a corner, with football instincts and smarts all rolled into an impressive physical package. Both Foster and Gray said the most complete corner they've had at Virginia Tech was Flowers, but they acknowledged if Kendall Fuller continues to develop, he's got a chance to reach that level.

"He's got the total package," Foster said.

The Hokies would like to think the same can be said of their entire secondary. Injuries to the two veteran corners prevented the group from ever reaching its full potential last year, but with everyone back, there's hope that this year's group can exceed last year's results.

History would suggest it's not unreasonable.

"I know there's talk about who's had the best group of DBs over the years," Foster said. "But in the last 20 years, I don't think we're second to anyone in terms of the type of kid we put out there and how our productivity has been."

Posted to: College Football Sports Va. Tech Football Virginia

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