Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Virginia Tech had goals last year, and a separated shoulder certainly wasn't going to get in the way of defensive end Jason Worilds. His gritty determination rubbed off on the entire team, but behind closed doors, Worilds was paying the price for each of his 18.5 tackles for loss.
He played the entire season with chronic dislocations in his left shoulder, and it popped out in three different games.
"He's like a brother to me," defensive tackle John Graves said. "We talked about it, and he told me that he was in pain. He's a warrior, though. No matter what anyone would say, he knew he had to do it for his team. He wanted to do it for his team. We just have the most respect for this guy to get hurt in the second game of the season and continue through the whole season with an injured shoulder."
"I just wanted to try to help my team," Worilds said. "We had goals. We came into the season, we wanted to win the ACC, go to the Orange Bowl again and avenge our loss from last year. I put so much into it that when the doctors told me I could still possibly play, I took that opportunity and ran with it."
Was it worth it?
"It was definitely worth it," he said.
Having Worilds back completely healthy when the Hokies are trying to make a run for the national title, though, could mean even more.
Worilds missed the spring because of his offseason shoulder surgery but said he was recently cleared and rehab is going well and his strength is coming back. Having Worilds at 100 percent will give the Hokies one of the ACC's most formidable defensive lines this fall, even with the graduation of defensive end Orion Martin.
"This summer I think we just need to pick up where we left off last year," Worilds said. "I think we left of at a great point as far as playing together, knowing our assignments, playing with great technique and just playing as intently as we have in the past. Going into the summer if we pick up on that and continue to improve, we have a chance to be one of the best d-lines in the country."
Worilds will be joines by Graves and Cordarrow Thompson, who both started every game last year. The Hokies have to find somebody to replace standout defensive end Orion Martin, but Nekos Brown is quietly taking care of that. Brown, the Defensive MVP of spring practices despite missing two workouts a week to attend classes, has been in the rotation at defensive end each of the past two seasons.
"Nekos is in the best shape of his life," said Graves, who worked out at the end spot this spring to help the coaches evaluate some of the younger tackles but starts the fall as the No. 1 nose tackle. "This man, you're talking about a work horse. When we get done with our lift, this man goes out and runs some extra. He's ready for the season. He's excited. That's a great combination right there."
So is the combination of Graves, Thompson and Worilds. Worilds was in on a tackle for loss in 11 straight games and finished with eight sacks even though he didn't play in the Orange Bowl. Even he admitted he was a little surprised - especially considering the pain he was in during most of the season. It kept him from working out and practicing like he wanted to, which is why he said even he has room for improvement this fall.
"Actually I went back and watched film and there were a lot of plays I didn't make," he said. "I was tired, I wasn't focused on that play. I just have to go back and fine-tune my game, really critique the little things and take it one day at a time in trying to get better at those little things."
That's the goal for the entire unit this summer.
"We have the potential to be great, but we have to do the things that are necessary to be great," Graves said. "That comes with working hard and doing the extra things, and I think our guys are doing a great job of it right now."