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Anatomy of an all-ACC pick

On Monday, four Virginia Tech players were named first-team all-ACC by members of the news media. Five other players were named to the second team. Below is a look at each of the four first-team Hokies – how they earned the honor and a little on who they are.

Brent Bowden

senior punter, Centreville

Bowden was, at times, an unsung hero for Virginia Tech. He helped the Hokies win the field possession battle, and he leads the ACC and is 13th nationally with an average of 43.9 yards per punt.

It was a tremendous rebound season for him. Last year, Bowden admitted becoming something of a “head case” because he worried too much about making mistakes. Last summer, he worked with his punting coach and read four books about sports psychology. He was able to re-channel his focus and fundamental breakdown each step of punting; he stayed in the right mind-set by listening to heavy metal music during the bus ride to games, and classical music in the locker room moments before the game.

The difference in his approach showed immediately. Against Alabama, he punted eight times for an average of 45.6 yards, with a long of 57 yards and two that landed inside the Crimson Tide’s 20-yard line. Bowden’s high, booming punts sometimes relegated Alabama to starting field position deep in its own territory and allowed the Hokies to contain electric return man Javier Arenas. After that performance, Bowden was named a captain for the next week’s game against Marshall. Against Nebraska on Sept. 19, Bowden had eight punts for an average of 46.9 yards and had seven punts for an average of 44.9 yards against East Carolina on Nov. 5.

For Bowden, the honor puts a nice cap on a career that has been somewhat tumultuous. In 2005, a conversation with his half-brother, Chris Hall, a Florida State punter, inadvertently led to a difficult period for Bowden. When they spoke before the Hokies and the Seminoles met in the 2005 ACC championship game, Bowden’s roommate misconstrued the conversation and a rumor started that Bowden was feeding Hall information about Virginia Tech. Although it was untrue, Bowden said it stained his reputation.

After that, Bowden said he “decided when it happened I was going to make every person at Virginia Tech glad I came to this school.” He probably won over fans with his taped rendition of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” before the Hokies’ lost to North Carolina on Oct. 29; Bowden is a talented guitarist. And after a tremendous season that earned him first-team all-conference honors, it is safe to safe he has probably made Hokies fans proud he came to Virginia Tech.

Cody Grimm

senior linebacker, Fairfax, Va.

At 5 feet 11 and 210 pounds, Grimm is one of the most physically unimpressive players on Virginia Tech’s roster. But on Saturdays, something becomes immediately obvious: Grimm might be the best player on the Hokies’ roster.

Virginia Tech’s coaches have called Grimm the best pound-for-pound Hokies player. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said he would “stand on a table” to promote Grimm’s candidacy for ACC defensive player of the year. Grimm leads Virginia Tech with 99 tackles and an ACC-record seven forced fumbles.

Grimm came to Virginia Tech as a walk-on. Although his only scholarship came from William & Mary and he was viewed more as a lacrosse prospect, he has answered any questions about his ability. He brings a won’t-quit mentality on every snap and plays fast not necessarily his speed, but because of his good football instincts. Against Alabama in the season opener on Sept. 5, for example, Grimm caught running back Roy Upchurch 33 yards downfield and stripped the ball from him. Against Miami, Grimm punched the ball loose from Hurricanes tight end Dedrick Epps as he tried to corral a pass in the end zone; Grimm had his back to the ball but could tell the pass was coming by looking in Epps’s eyes. In the North Carolina State’s first four snaps against the Hokies, Grimm tied an NCAA record with three forced fumbles; only seven other division I-A players have forced as many fumbles in a game. Grimm has helped set the tone for Virginia Tech’s defense and has become one of the faces of the team as a senior leader.

Before the year, Grimm might have been better known for being the son of Russ Grimm, the Pro Bowl offensive lineman as a member of the Washington Redskins’ famous “Hogs” of the 1980s and early 1990s. But Grimm has made a name for himself at Virginia Tech. And he might also get the chance to make his mark in the NFL. Gil Brandt, a former Dallas Cowboys personnel executive and a draft analyst for NFL.com, said in October that he could see Grimm being selected in the sixth or seventh round of the NFL draft to play safety at the next level.

Grimm has defied expectations his whole career, and the latest evidence came with Monday’s all-ACC announcement. Before long, he might be turning heads in the NFL.

Matt Waldron

senior place kicker, Oakfield, N.Y.

Waldron led the conference in kick scoring and was a perfect 44 for 44 on extra-point attempts. He was 17 for 20 on field goals. But he did not envision his career ending up in the ACC. He started it in Big Ten country.

When Waldron was a freshman, he stood on the sideline and watched as his talented freshman teammate firmed up the school’s starting job kicker for the next three years. That was at Penn State, where freshman Kevin Kelly helped the Nittany Lions win an Orange Bowl by nailing a 29-yard field goal in triple overtime. Waldron transferred to Virginia Tech.

But Waldron did not get his shot with the Hokies until this season, becoming the third consecutive fifth-year senior to become the kicker. Heading into the season, Coach Frank Beamer expressed concern over with Virginia Tech’s situation at kicker. While Waldron had looked good in practice and during the spring, Beamer said there was not much that could replicate kicking in a game, with a lot at stake.

Virginia Tech has not had any close-and-late situations when Waldron has been called to make a last-second, game-winning field goal. But he has made 3 of 4 from 40 to 49 yards out and 7 of 7 from 30 to 39 yards out. He was 7 of 8 from 20 to 29 yards out, with his lone miss coming on a 25-yard attempt in the monsoon-like conditions against Miami on Sept. 26. Waldron’s long is 41 yards.

A little-known fact about how Waldron strengthened his legs, however, is that he would run up hills backwards to help build muscle. Whatever Waldron did, it worked. In his first and only season as Virginia Tech’s kicker, Waldron has been consistent and reliable.

Ryan Williams

freshman running back, Manassas, Va.

After Darren Evans went down in August with a season-ending knee injury, Virginia Tech’s backfield suddenly seemed less lustrous. The three candidates to replace Evans, last season’s leading rusher, had a combined 38 carries among them. As a redshirt freshman, Williams had none. But it did not take long before students stopped him for autographs and pictures on his way to class.

Williams has emerged as the type of star who comes along once in a rare while. With 1,538 yards rushing, he is only 110 shy of breaking Kevin Jones’s single-season school record (1,647 in 2003). He is fourth in ACC single-season history, needing 95 yards to move into third place past Maryland’s LaMont Jordan (1,632 yards in 1999).

Williams is the first freshman to make first-team all-ACC since the Hokies joined the conference in 2004, and is the first Virginia Tech freshman to be named first-team all-conference since Michael Vick was voted to the all-Big East squad in 1999.

Williams has a dazzling blend of speed, strength and shiftiness. Add good vision – once he gets the ball, he says, he scans the field and simply runs to patches of grass – and it has made Williams nearly impossible to stop. He has nine 100-yard games. He was slowed at Duke (83 yards on 24 carries). His costly fumble against North Carolina on Oct. 29 allowed the Tar Heels to set up for a game-winning field goal as time expired; the mistake hit him so hard that he shut himself in his room and skipped his Friday classes. But those were blips on an otherwise fantastic season. He shined at Virginia (183 yards, four touchdowns), at East Carolina (179 yards) and against Miami (150 yards, two touchdowns). Williams has an ACC freshman-record 20 touchdowns. And he has a penchant for big plays, ripping off touchdown runs of 66, 57 and 32 yards this season.

Away from football, Williams has a little bit of the same flash. He has more than 100 pairs of sneakers. He has six piercings. He is something of a free spirit; he has stars tattooed on his arm because he dreams of becoming one and prefers cartoons such as "Dragon Ball Z" over ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” But his style off the field has matched his substance on it, and Williams has become the Hokies’ star.

By Mark Viera  |  December 1, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
 
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