Spring football nears closer for Virginia Tech, and the Hokies have plenty of players who are looking to take their game to the next level in 2021.
Three players who have already shown promise spoke to the media on Tuesday morning ahead of an important offseason for all of them. Each in their own ways, Norell Pollard, Luke Tenuta and Tayvion Robinson look to step up as major factors for the Hokies next fall.
Pollard Working With Williams, Price to Improve
As a freshman, Norell Pollard was thrown into the lineup and asked to make a difference immediately after arriving in Blacksburg. Through two years on the defensive line, he hasn’t disappointed. In the middle of the Hokies’ line, Pollard has produced 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons.
With Jarrod Hewitt moving on this offseason, Pollard could see his role increase as he grows into one of the older guys on the defensive front. He’ll get some help playing alongside Clemson transfer Jordan Williams. Playing behind elite talent with the Tigers, Williams’ production wasn’t quite what he had hoped. However, this duo in the middle could be exactly what the Hokies’ need now that Williams is back in the Commonwealth.
“The fact that Jordan came here is big-time. He came from that program, so he knows what it takes to win a championship and what it takes to be a good defensive lineman,” Pollard said. “He’s been around some great guys at Clemson on the defensive line. Everything he knows, he’s bringing it over here.”
The defensive front also gains experience with J.C. Price joining the coaching staff last month. A former All-American defensive tackle, Price has plenty of wisdom to impart upon Pollard as he begins his junior season.
“When he got hired, I learned as the days kind of went by. When he got here, every time we interact, he’ll tell us a little bit of a story about his time or the stuff that he’s been through here,” Pollard said. “I feel like it’s going to be a great experience. He’s a fired-up guy, and you can tell that he loves to be here back at his alma mater. I can’t wait to work with him in the spring.”
The Hokies’ defensive line looks to be a major strength with plenty of talent returning to the roster. Pollard could be the key piece in the pass-rush while clogging up the middle. The big question for Pollard has always been his size, which he looks to improve through the spring.
“I have two years in already and have played a lot of games, so I know what to expect,” Pollard said. “I know what I have to work on myself as far as size in the weight room, speed, and the little stuff that will help improve my game.”
Tenuta Ready to Fill Darrisaw’s Shoes on the Blind Side
One of the most excited developments of this offseason for the Hokies is the expectation that two Tech players will be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Cornerback Caleb Farley was always expected to hear his name called early, but left tackle Christian Darrisaw has seen his stock skyrocket since the beginning of last season.
Darrisaw was a consistent force at left tackle for the Hokies and leaves questions along the offensive front with his departure. The Hokies hope that redshirt-junior Luke Tenuta can calm any fears about the transition on the blindside with his improvements this spring.
“I’ll play wherever they need me to play, whether that’s right or left. I’m excited to have the opportunity to go to left tackle and replace CD,” Tenuta said. “I’ve been studying his tape during the offseason, and he had a great pass set and great hands, and his footwork was phenomenal. I’ve been going through a lot of his tape and trying to pick up some stuff that he did last year.”
Tenuta was a solid starter at right tackle for the Hokies last season and shows promise himself as an NFL prospect with six-foot-seven frame. A big year on the left side could send him on an exponential rise on draft boards similar to Darrisaw’s.
An added bonus for Tenuta in 2021 is the addition of his father to the coaching staff. Jon Tenuta has spent time at a dozen different programs including Ohio State, Virginia and, most recently, Cincinnati. He joins the Hokies’ staff for this season as a senior defensive analyst and will get to watch his son when the offense is on the field.
“He’s an old-school guy and he’s been coaching a while. I think the way he approaches the game is going to be a big asset for this program,” Tenuta said. “I think it’s awesome that he gets to watch me play and I get to be around him more. My mom is moving down here, too, so I think it’s going to be great.”
Robinson Growing as a Receiver and Returner
Tayvion Robinson’s sophomore season was marked by great improvement on offense and inconsistency on special teams.
At receiver, Robinson excelled, leading the Hokies in both receptions and receiving yards punctuated by a huge performance against Virginia to end the season. The Virginia Beach native played all three spots for Tech and showed flashes of his potential that he looks to reach in the near future.
“I felt like I played well. My freshman year, I was mainly in one position, but this year I moved around a lot more,” Robinson said. “I was just showing that Coach can trust me. I felt like I produced well and all of the receivers played well. We’re getting ready to get back into it this spring.”
Despite his success offensively, Robinson left a lot to be desired as a punt returner. In his freshman season, he stabilized the punt return unit and finished the season on the PFF College All-Freshman team as a returner.
In 2020, Robinson returned just ten punts which translated to just 21 total yards. The main issues were Robinson’s struggles with muffing punts. There were multiple occasions where the young returner put the defense in bad positions with fumbles.
It’s tough to know if Robinson will be able to regain the confidence he showed on special teams as a freshman. However, he should be given every opportunity given the production he had in his first year in Blacksburg.
“Mistakes happen and when they happen, I talk to the coaches, learn from it and move on. The only thing that I can do is move on and learn from it and try to get as many reps as possible,” Robinson said. “I want to get that back under my belt and maybe get another chance to go out and return punt.”