With the 2011 Virginia Tech Hokies' football season coming to a close with the disappointing loss to the Michigan Wolverines in the Sugar Bowl, Hokie fans also have to face the disappointment of saying good-bye to a number of key players.
However, that's college football for you, and good programs like Virginia Tech are always reloading with new talent. The Hokies are currently in the process of reeling in the No. 20 recruiting class in the country.
Players like Danny Coale, Jarrett Boykin, David Wilson and Jayron Hosley will be hard to replace, but there are guys who are ready and willing to take the challenge. Here are five of the Hokies' 2012 recruits that you should be most excited about, listed with the Virginia Tech players they are set to replace.
Undoubtedly, all Virginia Tech Hokies fans were saddened by the news that ACC Player of the Year David Wilson has decided to enter the 2012 NFL draft. After the defections of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans last year, the once-crowded Virginia Tech backfield is suddenly empty.
However, the next great Hokie running back might be J.C. Coleman. Despite being undersized at 5'7" and 169 pounds, Coleman has great 4.4 speed. He is perhaps more like a Darren Sproles-type than the traditional running back, but the kid out of Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Virginia, is a dangerous athlete either way.
With Wilson gone and Josh Oglesby graduating as well, Coleman could be starting for the Hokies as a true freshman, which worked out well the last time with former Detroit Lion Kevin Jones.
The Hokies were hit by another junior who is leaving for the 2012 NFL draft when Jayron Hosley declared his intentions to move on to the next level.
Hosley was an All-American when he led the FBS in interceptions last season with nine. His production was hindered by injuries this season, but he was still a shutdown cornerback at times, especially in the 2012 Sugar Bowl against the Michigan Wolverines (where he had two picks called back).
Hosley will be the seventh Hokie cornerback drafted in the last seven years. There's a rich tradition at the position, and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray may have found the next great in Donaldven Manning. The star from Miami Central High School may be ready to start alongside Kyle Fuller as soon as next season. The Hokies have had great success getting defensive backs from Florida after current Kansas City Chief star Brandon Flowers, Hosley and now Manning.
The Virginia Tech Hokies are losing their two all-time leading receivers now that Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin have graduated.
However, there's a new guy to be excited about. Hailing from Calhoun County High School in St. Matthews, South Carolina, Mark Irick is a big target at 6'3". Irick has good speed and solid hands as well.
With Marcus Davis and D.J. Coles still around, Irick is not going to be expected to take on a heavy load early on. He will have some time to get his feet wet, and perhaps even redshirt if Dyrell Roberts gets another year of eligibility.
No, Bruce Taylor is not graduating. He will be playing for the Hokies in 2012. However, that will be his last season in Blacksburg, at which point he may be replaced by Deon Clarke.
Deon Clarke, out of L.C. Byrd High School in Chesterfield, Virginia, is a highly-rated prospect. Despite his size (6'2", 205 pounds), he has excellent 4.5 speed.
With his athleticism he could also theoretically play at the rover spot (which is sort of a hybrid safety/linebacker position) if Antone Exum wanted to move to free safety.
With David Wilson carrying most of the load this season, Virginia Tech didn't have a big-bodied running back specifically useful in goal-line situations the way they did with Darren Evans in the previous few years.
That may change next season with Drew Harris coming to Blacksburg. At 6'1", 210 pounds, Harris is considerably bigger than the Hokies' other running back commitment J.C. Coleman. However, he still has good 4.5 speed to go along with his size.
With Coleman and Harris, Hokie fans should be salivating over the prospect of having another one-two running back punch like they once did with Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones (and recently did with Evans, Wilson and Ryan Williams).