Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tech's Antone Exum gets into spirit of season

The Hokies cornerback gave away to visiting kids a gift card he received as part of his bowl swag.

Virginia Tech's Antone Exum (right) grabs at Cincinnati receiver Kenbrell Thompkins during the Hokies' defeat.

The Roanoke Times | File September

Virginia Tech's Antone Exum (right) grabs at Cincinnati receiver Kenbrell Thompkins during the Hokies' defeat.

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- With some headphones already in the cart, Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum was thinking about finding some speakers and maybe a few DVDs on Christmas Eve to finish off the $470 gift card to Best Buy all the Hokies received as part of their Russell Athletic Bowl swag.

Then the giving spirit of Christmas got into him.

"It was really all wants," he said Tuesday. "It wasn't anything that I needed, so I just put it back and tried to help some kids out."

Exum put the items back on the shelf and sought out three kids visiting from the Bahamas he had seen earlier in the store, offering to let them go on a shopping spree with his gift card.

Their final haul -- a PlayStation 3, a few controllers, some video games and a Blackberry -- totaled over $500, which was a little more than what Exum had on his card. Teammates Tariq Edwards and Marcus Davis covered the difference.

"I was blessed to have a lot of fortunate Christmases when I was a kid," Exum said. "Every kid deserves to have those perfect Christmases."

Exum innocuously tweeted a picture of himself with the kids. It went viral, getting close to 500 retweets. A blog post about Exum's generosity made it up on the national sports blog Deadspin. Hundreds of people tweeted at him to thank him for the gesture. He could only respond to so many before landing in what he termed "Twitter jail" for posting too many times in an hour.

Universally praised for his good deed off the field, Exum, after some bumps along the way in his transition from safety to cornerback, is starting to get the same for his work on the field.

The junior from Glen Allen earned second-team All-ACC honors at cornerback and an All-America honorable mention from Sports Illustrated after a season in which he made 47 tackles, had a team-high four interceptions and a league-high 15 passes defended.

That was the end product. The ride there wasn't all smooth. Exum, used to the physical nature of the safety position, was a little too aggressive at corner to start out. That showed in the Cincinnati game, when, tasked with covering Kenbrell Thompkins for most of the day, Exum was flagged twice for pass interference and twice for face masks.

"I knew I would have some things that I would work through, some things that you would only get by having game experience," Exum said. "So I feel like I improved in a lot of those areas and continued to get better as the year went on."

He grew from the experience, playing strong coverage for the rest of the year. He had interceptions in the Hokies' final two games, the one against Virginia coming in the final minutes to set up a game-winning field goal as time expired.

Exum's physicality will come in handy in the bowl against Rutgers receivers Tim Wright and Brandon Coleman, who stand 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and 6-6, 220 pounds, respectively. He enjoys the challenge.

"It's not like I'm going to be out there being bullied around or pushed around or anything," said Exum, who at 6-foot-1, 224 pounds, is big for a cornerback. "So that will just slow him down out of his flow of things. Hopefully. That's the plan."

It's Exum's versatility, being able to cover all types of receivers and play multiple positions, that makes him attractive at the next level, although the junior has said he's probably coming back for his senior season, a decision he'll finalize after the bowl.

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said Exum could benefit from another year in college, where he could develop as a leader and continue to hone his skills as a cornerback, a position he's only played exclusively for one year.

Whenever Exum decides to pursue the NFL, he already has a plus in his column for character based on Monday's generosity at Best Buy.

"Hopefully it's a Christmas that they won't forget," Exum said of the kids. "And I know that it was a Christmas that I won't forget because I won't forget those smiles and the excitement on their faces."

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