“It wasn’t too bad,” Mihota said. “It was painful, but you get to those kind of things whenever you’ve got everybody looking for you to do so.”
Still, Hill and Mihota were about as productive you could ask for. As a starter, Mihota registered seven tackles for loss and two sacks, as well as three pass breakups. Hill was Tech’s first end off the bench, and made six tackles for loss and totaled 2.5 sacks. Hill also registered four quarterback hurries.
“Like I said, you’ve got to have that savage mentality,” Hill said. “It goes along with being team-first. You’ve got to put the team first. That’s definitely what Coach Fuente preaches, and we go out there every day and practice our butts off.”
That savage mentality has allowed Hill and Mihota to fight through multiple injuries in their career. Hill was rehabbing a torn ACL when he enrolled at Virginia Tech, and then suffered a shoulder injury last year. Mihota suffered an ankle injury as a freshman that caused him to miss time as well.
Now, both are feeling fully healthy.
“Since high school I’ve had surgery [every year], so it definitely means a lot coming back off injury 100 percent,” Hill said. “I’m just trying to have a great season and help the young guys come up and better themselves.”
For Mihota, last season’s setback was just a bump in the road as he continued his transition to defensive end. After originally enrolling as a tackle, defensive coordinator Bud Foster and defensive line coach Charley Wiles moved Mihota outside to better fit his strengths.
Since then, Mihota has noticed a marked improvement.
“Substantially,” Mihota said. “It wasn’t so much a quickness thing, it was learning how to play in space. I had the ability to early on, and I just really learned how to through coach (Charley) Wiles and Bud (Foster) getting on me.”
Now, Mihota is becoming more and more of a veteran, learning the ins and outs of the position.
“He’s just a pretty savvy guy,” said head coach Justin Fuente. “What he may lack in open area movement, he makes up in old dog savvy. A very knowledgeable player, highly intelligent guy that’s awfully steady.”
“Old dog savvy” isn’t exactly football jargon, but Mihota gets it.
“At this point, he probably means I’m playing smarter,” Mihota said. “I was banged up a little bit this past season, and I felt like I was still producing, just playing a lot smarter and playing to my strengths and understanding my opponent’s weakness.”
For Mihota, another move could be coming. As Virginia Tech searches for defensive tackle depth, the coaching staff has broached the idea of moving Mihota inside in certain situations, in order to spell starting tackles Tim Settle and Ricky Walker.
“I think that’s something that he could do,” Fuente said. “It’s something we’ve certainly talked about. He probably has less control over that. It’s more about how we feel about the other ends. If those guys really came on, we really felt good about them — not to say if he doesn’t move in that we don’t feel good about those guys. Their development I think will be key to continuing that conversation.”
As of now, it doesn’t sound like Virginia Tech is having a lot of success finding other defensive ends to contribute consistently.
“Well, I’d say they’re all pretty much the same right now,” Fuente said. “I wouldn’t single anybody out in a good way or a bad way. Finding the next guy is still very much in the air, and hopefully in the next two weeks we’ll be able to maybe put a little order to it.”
Even if Mihota has to move inside, he’s not worried about the potential change.
“I worked at it for about my first year here, and I’d feel pretty comfortable,” Mihota said. “I still remember all of the stuff. It’s a lot of the same techniques when you look at a 7-tech and a 2-tech, and a 3-tech and a 5-tech, so it’s pretty much all of the same stuff. I’ll do whatever my team needs me to do. I feel like it’s something I would have no problem doing.”
Fortunately for Virginia Tech, Trevon Hill seems ready and eager to see the field as much as possible. The redshirt-sophomore has impressed again this offseason and seems poised for a big year.
“He’s fully healthy. I’d say he’s more explosive than ever, and I’d say he’s really a grand slam guy,” Mihota said. “He can make big plays for us whenever we need him to.”
“I feel really good,” Hill said. “In the spring, I had the surgery. Coming into this year, the doctors, they did real well rehabbing me. I feel real great going into the season.”