It can be hard to hand out awards to a team that finished below .500 for the first time since 1992. Virginia Tech football waded through a tumultuous 2018 season and though the team struggled to win games, there are individual performances that are worth recognizing as the Hokies prepare to enter their winter conditioning period.
Let’s roll through some of this season’s superlatives and highlight some of those performances.
Offensive Freshman of the Year — Tre Turner
It took Tre Turner a few weeks to break into the rotation, but he made an impact from the beginning. Turner caught a 26-yard pass in Tech’s 24-3 win over Florida State, his first of 26 receptions. Turner finished the year with 535 yards and four touchdowns, most of which came late in the season.
Turner emerged as a reliable offensive weapon in November, catching 13 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns. He showed a penchant for not just making plays downfield, but also for being a reliable receiver on third down. Turner played in the slot and on the outside, which is no doubt impressive for a true freshman that missed most of his senior season due to injury.
Turner has all but guaranteed himself a starting role in 2019. Along with Eric Kumah and Damon Hazelton, Virginia Tech’s trio of top receivers should shine next season.
Defensive Freshman of the Year — Dax Hollifield
Is there really another option here? Though Dax Hollifield didn’t start at the beginning of the season, it didn’t take long for Hollifield to earn the lion’s share of the reps at his outside backer position.
Hollifield started Virginia Tech’s final six games and quickly became one of the few bright spots on the Hokie defense. Hollifield’s best game came against Miami, when Hollifield totaled six tackles and three tackles for loss. Hollifield put up 62 total tackles and eight tackles for loss in his freshman season, playing a position he isn’t best suited to play. Hollifield’s size, stature, athleticism and skill set makes him a better fit at mike linebacker, but he played on the outside in 2018.
Even if Hollifield plays backer in 2019, fans should expect the passionate rising sophomore to improve on his 2018 campaign. With Ricky Walker gone, Hollifield could become the heart and soul of this defense.
Most Improved Player — Eric Kumah
Last season was a pivotal one for Eric Kumah. The true junior didn’t produce a whole lot over his first two seasons, but Kumah did nothing but produce in 2018.
- 2016: zero receptions, zero yards
- 2017: 28 receptions, 324 yards, two touchdowns
- 2018: 42 receptions, 559 yards, seven touchdowns
As Hazelton’s production slipped towards the end of the season, Kumah picked up the slack. He caught five touchdown passes over the final two months of the season, and Kumah didn’t even play vs. Miami on Nov. 17.
At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Kumah played like a bully in 2018. He showed the ability to win 50-50 battles consistently and to produce in the red zone. Kumah will never be a downfield track star, but he doesn’t need to. Kumah’s senior season has the chance to be special.
Assistant of the Year — Holmon Wiggins
Holmon Wiggins had a good 2018 in two different ways — on the field and on the recruiting trail.
Virginia Tech’s receiving corps had a stellar 2018 season. The aforementioned Turner put himself on the map on the ACC, Kumah grew into a consistent and productive threat and Hazelton stormed onto the scene from the beginning. Tech’s 2018 receiving corps was much better than the 2017 version, and there’s no reason to believe the 2019 crew won’t be good as well.
Not only did Wiggins’ receivers produce on the field, he succeeded off the field in recruiting. Virginia Tech signed four wide receivers in the Class of 2019, all of whom Wiggins undoubtedly had a hand in recruiting. Jaden Payoute is one of the top players in the state, as is Tayvion Robinson. Jacoby Pinckney and Elijah Bowick were two of Tech’s top targets from the beginning, and they earned signatures from both.
Virginia Tech’s receiving corps is likely the best unit on the team. Not only do the Hokies have top-end talent like Turner, Kumah and Hazelton, they’ve got young depth and freshmen projects who will have the chance to develop before being thrust into the lineup. Wiggins has quietly built a steady room of receivers, and it should help the Hokies moving forward.
Most Valuable Player — Ricky Walker
Strictly by looking at the statistics, Ricky Walker’s 2018 season wasn’t MVP-worthy. The fifth-year senior started all 13 games but totaled just 49 total tackles and two sacks. Walker did lead the team in tackles for loss with 10.5, but his numbers weren’t awe-inspiring.
And yet, Walker’s presence was sorely needed for a defense that spent the entire season finding their way. He battled through injury to give Tech consistent snaps at a position where the Hokies have little to no depth. He couldn’t steady Tech’s leaky run defense, but can you imagine how bad it would have been without Walker on the field for all 13 games?
Walker will be sorely missed on Virginia Tech’s defense. Walker never filled the stat sheet in his career, but he was a steady presence on Tech’s defense for the last two-plus seasons. As bad as Virginia Tech’s defense was for most of the season, one can only imagine how things would have looked without Walker in the middle of the defense.