Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hokies senior Danny Coale is an easy guy to like, just not on Facebook

Hokies receiver Danny Coale, a different kind of player and a different kind of person, has a message to share with fans before his last home game: Thanks. | Watch North Carolina at Virginia Tech, 8 p.m. on ESPN

Game day information

  • Tonight’s game is sold out. Gates will open at 6 p.m.
  • Pregame festivities will begin shortly after 7:30 p.m. and include a performance from the Highty-Tighties, senior day presentations, the National Anthem and the Hokies will take the field at 7:57 p.m.
  • Dress warmly — temperatures are expected to be in the 30s at kickoff, falling into the 20s during the game, with gusty northwest breezes.

Hokies for the Hungry

  • The Marching Virginians are collecting canned food as part of the Hokies for the Hungry program to be distributed by the Montgomery County Christmas Store. Cans can be dropped off at all Lane Stadium entrances.

In today's paper

BLACKSBURG — Danny Coale does not have a Facebook account. He's never posted on Twitter.

It's rare, perhaps, to see a 23-year-old college athlete without such social-media vices. But Coale is a different kind of guy.

The way he answers questions — calm, measured and thoughtful responses, typically with long pauses throughout — suggests his true opinions could never be captured in 140-character increments. He's got little use for stats and notes that enrich his resume. He suffers no real thirst to know his place in Virginia Tech history.

Coale is an in-the-moment guy. And as the moments dwindle on his college football career, it's starting to hit him how few he's got left.

Coale has tried to put this day off as long as he could. Three months ago, the thought of celebrating senior day at Lane Stadium seemed abstract to him — too far away to contemplate. But tonight, the fifth-year wide receiver from Lexington can't avoid it.

"I'm going to try to enjoy every moment of it, from the pregame warm-up, every moment of the game," Coale said this week. "It's probably something that won't hit me until afterward when you see the stadium empty and your last game has been played. This whole community's been so special to us as a class and to me. I'm just looking forward to going out and playing my hardest, one more time."

If that answer sounds like it belongs on a Hallmark card, well, so does Coale's career. His journey's been remarkable enough that it almost feels contrived: Extra! Extra! Lightly recruited kid from Lexington gets a shot to play receiver for Hokies, becomes one of school's best ever!

But it's real, and it's un-deniable, even if you'll never convince Coale of that. He enters tonight's game with 149 catches and 2,478 yards. Only one Tech player has ever amassed more of either: his teammate and friend Jarrett Boykin.

They've never compared numbers. Boykin's style is similar to Coale's — punch the clock, do the job — but his size (6 feet 2 inches tall, 219 pounds) made him more of a prospect than the 6-foot, 196-pound Coale ever was.

Like that mattered.

"I always had high expectations for myself," Coale said. "It was five years ago I was sitting in the stands watching those seniors — Josh [Morgan], Josh [Hyman], Justin [Harper] and Eddie [Royal] — run out on senior day. I saw what that they did and the special moments they brought to this program and I kind of thought to myself, 'One day, whenever I run out of the tunnel, I hope I look back on a pretty good career.'"

It's a career packed with steady production as well as its share of electric moments. Like that 81-yard catch from Tyrod Taylor in the final minutes against Nebraska that set up the winning touchdown. Or that six-catch, 143-yard effort against Florida State in last year's ACC title game.

Or how about just a week ago, when he made that 63-yard touchdown grab — the longest scoring catch of his career — in the first half to help the Hokies win 37-26 at Georgia Tech. The ACC honored him as its receiver of the week.

More than a few people tweeted that note. Coale wouldn't see that.

"He has just kind of always been what you thought he would be," Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. "Dependable, consistent, smart, heady player, productive. And he's only gotten better. You never have to worry about him lining up in the wrong place or [running] the wrong route — or wrong anything."

Despite his stoic nature, Coale's no robot. He's used his recruiting status to drive him to success — "You've got to find that one motivation that really gets you going each and every day," he says — and the prospect of his career ending almost makes him wish he were on Facebook or Twitter, just for a few days, so he could interact with fans.

"If I was, I'd be thanking them a lot more publicly than I have in the past," he said. "I'm just really grateful and blessed, to be honest with you, to have the support that I've had. Not only within the program, the coaching staff and the opportunities I've been given, but the opportunities I've been given by the fans.

"They've really kind of opened their arms and their eyes and supported me and allowed me to play at the best level I can. And I'm just grateful with them for sticking with us when we were young guys as redshirt freshmen and things weren't going so great and sticking by us and seeing it through. I don't think I could have asked for a better fan situation than I've got."

So here you go, folks: one more night for both sides to enjoy it.

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