Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
When Virginia Tech senior cornerback Stephan Virgil was at Rocky Mount High in North Carolina considering his college options, he almost wound up committing to UNC. It was one of his final two choices, along with the Hokies.
"[UNC] had a pretty good football team, but there wasn't a lot of stability there with the coaches," Virgil said. "Coach [John] Bunting, he was on the hot seat for a couple of years in a row, and I just didn't feel safe and comfortable there, and being so close to home, I know I could've gotten in a lot of trouble. I wouldn't have been totally focused on what I needed to focus on.
"Virginia Tech, they had stability here with Coach [Frank] Beamer -- he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. The tradition here was great. The football tradition here is amazing. I wanted to be a part of that tradition, and the environment here was great, and it was far enough away from home where I could distance myself from the trouble back home."
As the Hokies begin practice today, not only has Virgil distanced himself from any trouble (he was in class this spring instead of practice), he also is now at the center of the defensive tradition. Virginia Tech has made a habit in recent years out of moving its best corner from the field position to the boundary position, and this year, Virgil is next in line to take over the spot vacated by Victor "Macho" Harris.
"Coming from Jimmy Williams, to Brandon Flowers, Macho and now me, it's an honor to be a boundary corner for Virginia Tech," Virgil said. "That's where the best corner is on the field. So it's an honor to be in that position."
Virgil's teammates have confidence he's the right player for the job.
"Obviously we have a history at the boundary corner," said linebacker Cody Grimm. "We always call on our best cover guy to go there. Coach [Torrian] Gray puts a lot of responsibility on the boundary corner, a lot of man-to-man coverage. It's a privilege to get the call to boundary corner, but at the same time, he understands what he needs to do. He's been working hard."
Virgil enters summer camp as the Hokies' most-experienced cornerback, and he's a proven game-changer. Last year, he started all 14 games at field corner where he was a true difference-maker. He returned a fumble for a touchdown against East Carolina, made a game-clinching interception at UNC, blocked a punt for a safety at Nebraska and grabbed an interception in the ACC title game.
"He had some big, big plays for our football team last year," Beamer said, "and he's a kid that makes plays."
Virgil tied Harris last year for the team lead with six interceptions. He isn't much of a numbers guy, and said he is more focused on team results and getting the most he can out of film sessions and team meetings. There were things Virgil learned from watching Harris last year, like how to read receivers' body language, read offenses and come out of breaks. But he's been studying the Hokies' boundary corners for a few years now, and understands what he has to do to fulfill the expectations for the position.
"I have to be a more physical guy than I was last year," he said. "I have to be smarter. I have to do everything better. I have to be on my keys, and be a leader out there on the field. The boundary corner is a leader on the field. I just have to step my whole game up."