Virginia Tech Football: The 5 Most Underappreciated Players in School History
Imagine if former Virginia Tech athletic director Dave Braine had fired Frank Beamer after the 1992 football season, when the Hokies finished an abysmal 2-8-1.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen and the rest is history.
The 1993 season is often looked at as the turning point in the history of Virginia Tech football.
Beamer, in his first six seasons at his alma mater, had a record of 24-40-1. While football wasn’t as big in Blacksburg in the early 1990s as it is now, many were calling for Beamer to be fired.
In the 1993 season, the Hokies finished 9-3 and have now been to 19 straight bowl games.
But, Beamer didn’t do it alone.
Many casual fans know all about Michael Vick, Cornell Brown, Tyrod Taylor and Kevin Jones.
But, Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster built the Virginia Tech program on lesser-known players.
The following is a list of perhaps the five most underappreciated players in the history of Virginia Tech football. All five of these players played in the Beamer era, after 1993.
John Engelberger, DE (1996-1999)
Engelberger was a perfect example of the type of player Beamer used to build his program.
Originally a walk-on, Engelberger was a three-year starter for the Hokies at defensive end. He was a two-time second-team All-Big East selection and as a senior was first-team All-Big East.
Engelberger often didn't get the recognition he deserved because he played opposite of a former first-team All-American, Corey Moore. But, Engelberger was as adept playing the run as he was rushing the passer.
The Hokies haven't had a defensive end quite like Engelberger in several years.
Engelberger was a second-round draft pick of the 49ers in 2000 and enjoyed a solid nine-year career in the NFL.
Ernest Wilford, WR (2000-2003)
Another former walk-on from the state of Virginia.
Amazingly, Wilford was recruited to Virginia Tech as a defensive end, but left as the school's all-time leader in several receiving categories.
Many will forget that Wilford was a first-team All-Big East selection as a senior. Perhaps, some remember Wilford for his game-tying drop of a two-point conversion in his sophomore season versus eventual national champion Miami.
Wilford played for Virginia Tech at a time when the passing game was not prominently featured, and while many of his receiving records have since been broken, Wilford's place in Virginia Tech history should be more prominent.
Wilford played seven seasons in the NFL, last appearing in 2010.
Cody Grimm, S/LB (2006-2009)
Grimm, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Russ Grimm, was a lightly recruited player out of high school who walked on at Virginia Tech.
Many saw Grimm as too light to play linebacker and too slow to play safety. But, Grimm was the perfect fit for Foster's whip linebacker position.
A special teams standout, Grimm began to make his mark on defense in his sophomore season. In his junior season he finished second on the team in tackles for loss and sacks. A pretty impressive feat for someone of Grimm's size.
In his senior season, Grimm put up even better numbers and was a defensive force. He became the second walk-on—Engelberger was the first—to receive All-American honors as he was a third-team All-American. Grimm also was a first-team All-ACC player and won the Dudley Award, which honors the state of Virginia's top Division I football player.
Grimm was a seventh-round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2010 draft. Due to injuries, Grimm has yet to make his mark in the NFL. But, he was the starting free safety in both of his first two years when he went on injured reserve.
Andre Davis, WR (1998-2001)
Davis came to Virginia Tech on a track scholarship. He didn't begin playing football until his junior year of high school.
Davis made his mark as a sophomore catching passes from electrifying freshman quarterback Michael Vick. He finished the 1999 season with 42 receptions for 1,070 yards, 10 touchdowns and an amazing 25.5 yards-per-catch.
When Vick went on to the NFL, Davis began to make his mark as a punt-return specialist. As a junior, Davis ran three punts back for touchdowns.
In his Virginia Tech career, Davis totaled 110 receptions for 2,094 yards. He had 19 receiving touchdowns, four punt returns for touchdowns and even four rushing touchdowns.
Imagine if Davis had played with Vick his senior season?
Davis is perhaps the best wide receiver of the Beamer-era. Sure, Antonio Freeman and others may disagree, but Davis was often overshadowed by Vick and running backs like Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones.
While the Hokies are still predominantly a run-first team, they throw the ball much more now than they did in Davis' tenure as a Hokie.
Davis was a second-round selection of the Cleveland Browns in the 2002 NFL draft. He played for nine years in the NFL for four teams.
Bryan Randall, QB (2001-2004)
In his first three seasons, Virginia Tech's fans wanted Randall gone.
What exactly was Randall's problem? In essence, he succeeded Michael Vick and preceded Marcus Vick.
In his senior season of 2004, Randall and the Hokies started the season 2-2. But, Beamer stuck with Randall after rotating him and Marcus Vick the year before. Of course, Vick's year-long suspension forced Beamer to stick with Randall early in the season when the team was struggling.
Beamer's patience with Randall paid off in a major way. The Hokies reeled off eight straight victories to win the ACC in Virginia Tech's first year in the conference. Randall won ACC Player of the Year.
Randall's biggest contribution to the Hokies was his leadership. Perhaps no player in Virginia Tech history will be remembered for their leadership quite like Randall was.
Unlike most QBs who come to Virginia Tech, Randall did not get the opportunity to red shirt his freshman year. Judging how much better he got through the progression of his career, Randall could have been remembered as an all-time great.
In that 2004 season, Randall set several passing records which Tyrod Taylor would later break.
Ask any Virginia Tech fan about Bryan Randall, and he or she will likely praise him for his character as well as his play.
Unfortunately for Randall, Virginia Tech fans appreciated him more after he was gone.