Friday, April 13, 2007
Throckmorton is Tech's 'feel-good' story
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- Payment for a knee injury
BLACKSBURG -- Forget about the battle for backup quarterback. Forget about who's going to be the third tailback. Forget about what big guys will supply the depth charges for the offensive line.
While those questions won't be answered for certain until Virginia Tech's August preseason practice, there has been one sure-fire development in the Hokies' ongoing spring workouts that ranks as one of the most compelling "feel-good" stories to come out of these parts in a good while.
Barring that he contracts some kind of unexpected case of "butterfingers" come August, redshirt senior Grant Throckmorton of Wytheville will be the guy doing the holding when Tech's yet-to-be determined place-kicker strolls onto the field this fall.
Hold it, you say. Does anyone really care?
"Yeah, just ask the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback about that ... that thing kept them from maybe being in the Super Bowl," noted Throckmorton, referring to Tony Romo's late-game mishandling of a snap that short-circuited an extra-point attempt that cost Dallas a chance to win an NFL playoff game at Seattle last season.
"Yeah, I know some people might not think it's a big job. But it's important to me, it's important to Coach [Frank] Beamer, and it's important to this team. And I'm excited to have the role."
They say good things come to those who wait. Well, Throckmorton has waited, waited, and waited some more since he joined the team as a walk-on in 2004.
He didn't dress for a game his first year. In 2005, his primary job was quarterbacking Tech's scout and junior varsity teams. He did get in for three snaps for the big team that fall, handing off three times on the final possession of the Hokies' 45-0 rout at Duke in Game 2.
Of course, that was a banner year compared to last season, when Throckmorton never put on a uniform. His season was canceled when he broke his right leg in a freakish fall on a wet, grassy hillside while en route from his apartment to his car to make an 8 a.m. summer-session class.
At the time, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound former George Wythe High standout seriously contemplated giving up a game he had played since he was big enough to wear pads.
"That was a big thing ... because some parts of this football is fun and some parts aren't fun," Throckmorton confessed. "And being a walk-on it's tough ... it's tough not getting a shot like you want or think you deserve. So after breaking my leg and being told I was going to have to sit out the rest of the season, I really thought, 'well, if I really want to give it up, now is the time to do it.' I knew everybody would understand.
"I started thinking to myself: 'Maybe I don't want to come back.'"
While the rest of his teammates went through August camp and the regular-season schedule, Throckmorton found himself basically divorced from the team and all his best friends. He rarely showed up to watch practice and he only attended a few home games in which his parents -- his father Dennis, a Tech graduate and a long-time football season ticket-holder, and his mother, Missy -- made the hour-long trip from Wytheville.
"I was in the stands for some games, but most of the time I didn't come," Throckmorton said. "It's tough to be out here [on the field] and then sit up there and be like 'I should be out there.'
"Being out for four months and then seeing the guys around town, though, I missed it. Now if you'd asked me that before I broke my leg, 'if you walk away, will you miss it?' ... I would have said, 'not a bit.'
"I think that says a lot about me playing sports because I've never not played sports ... not for one season, coming up as a kid and all through high school. Now, I'm back for my senior year. And that was big for me. I've been here with all my friends four years, so let's go one more year. So I talked to Coach Beamer and he said: 'Whenever you're healthy come back out and we'll see how it goes.'"
While he remains fourth in line among Tech quarterbacks -- the same position on the depth chart he's owned since his first day out with the club -- Throckmorton is excited as a young kid locked in a candy store about his new role of No. 1 holder. It's a development that will put him on the field and make him a integral part of the team.
"People ask me all the time about what it's like being in that quarterback line up here," he said. "As a freshman, it's like, 'I'm going to get a shot, I'm going to get a shot.' Now you realize how the system works, just take your role on the team and go with it.
"I know that I'm not going to be the starting quarterback. But I tell you it has been fun to hang around Bryan Randall, to be around Marcus Vick, to be around Sean Glennon, Cory Holt and Ike Whitaker. It's fun to quote-unquote teach them what I know and to have them teach me what they know.
"Football, needless to say, has created many great friendships for me. And that's the biggest thing, those friendships and the stuff I've been able to share with the guys, the stuff they've shared with me ... I'm going to remember those things for a lifetime.
"Plus, my brother Russ played for Kentucky and he always said: 'Grant, you don't want to hang it up because in five years you're going to regret it.' He was a scholarship swimmer who never played football in his life, and the Kentucky football coaches saw him in the weight room one day working out and asked him to walk on in football. And in his senior year, he started on kickoff coverage."
Throckmorton was a walk-on pitcher on Tech's baseball team in his first year on campus in 2003. He was one of six players cut from the squad his second year. Three days later, he was invited to join the football team after teammate Jon Kinzer lined up a meeting for him to talk to assistant coach Billy Hite.
"I threw in front of Kevin Rogers, who was the quarterbacks coach then, for 10 minutes, and the next think I know I was in a football uniform," Throckmorton recalled. "It made me feel good. Only days after being cut from the baseball team, telling me quote-unquote 'I'm not good enough,' to now being on the football team. That was a big turning point in my life because I thought right then that my sports career was over. And then, all of a sudden, I've got four more years to play football."
Now comes the final year at Tech, and almost assuredly the final year he'll ever play team sports on a competitive basis.
Throckmorton, who turns 23 in October, can hardly wait for what the biggest moments of his Tech career. So what he's a holder. So what he's a mere walk-on. Hey, how many other guys get to run out of the tunnel leading into Lane Stadium in front of 66,000-plus screaming fans playing for a Top 25-ranked team playing on national television?
"That's one of the peaks of the game," he said. "It's a privilege and an honor to put a uniform on, and much less the uniform have your last name on it. It's a big program, it's near my hometown, people in my hometown are are coming and watching us. Hey, it's exciting to get phone calls and they're saying, 'I saw you on TV.'
"It's a rush. One of the most enjoyable things for me is that my Dad has had tickets here for 26 years and he gets to see me run out of the tunnel. It's exciting to know that he really enjoys it, that my Mom enjoys it. It's something that they used to do, and now they can do it for a reason.
"I remember when I was a little kid coming to these games and just thinking in my mind 'what if I was out there one day?' And I never thought I would be. And then come to find out I'm out there on the field, and then this year I'm going to be holding for field goals."
Of course, the holder's job is a thankless task if there ever was one. Do the job right and no one ever says a word. Mishandle one snap, particularly on a kick in which a game weighs, and everyone will be looking at the roster card to see who's No. 14.
"If my job is done right, you will not be talking to me," a grinning Throckmorton said. "I will be anonymous. And that's the way I hope to be."
Oh, well. He's been there before. He's used to the scene.