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D.J. Coles, almost a forgotten man despite being the elder statesman of this receiving corps, has 11 catches this year. Nearly half have gone for scores.
Virginia Tech's D.J. Coles (18) pulls in a touchdown past North Carolina's Jordan Darty (24) on Saturday in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech won 27-17.
Joel Hawksley | The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech's Demitri Knowles (80) and Joshua Stanford (5) celebrate after Knowles scored a touchdown against North Carolina on Saturday in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech won 27-17.
Saturday, October 5, 2013
BLACKSBURG — No chance he’d get the ball.
D.J. Coles was Virginia Tech’s first receiving option on the play, but one glance at the North Carolina defense told him the Hokies would have to go to option No. 2. Both a nickel corner and a safety were lined up over him, suffocating him.
But then Tech snapped the ball … and those guys in blue disappeared. The corner crashed the line of scrimmage. The safety peeled away to cover the outer third of the end zone.
Coles found himself alone.
“I was wide open,” Coles said. “I couldn’t believe it. That’s the easiest touchdown I’ve had all season right there.”
He’s had five of them already. Can you believe that? Coles, almost a forgotten man despite being the elder statesman of this receiving corps, has 11 catches this year. Nearly half have gone for scores.
He snagged two first half touchdown passes in Tech’s 27-17 victory over the Tar Heels on Saturday, continuing to establish himself as an odd hybrid: half assistant coach, half red zone wizard.
“I guess you could say that,” Coles said with a smile. “That’s my area: 25 and in. I’m a big guy, a big target for the quarterback. That’s what I do — 25 and in.”
It hasn’t always been that way. As a junior in 2011, Coles played more than 400 offensive snaps, making catches inside and outside the red zone, thriving as a perfect part of the flow. But then came the knee injury that cost him all but the season opener last year. Other receiving candidates emerged.
Coles evolved into something of a niche player, but he’s been maximizing every opportunity.
“Hey, I tell ’em: Hurry up and get in, because if it’s inside the 25, you know it’s my time,” Coles said. “That’s a little joke we’ve got going on.
“No, I can play [more than just in the red zone]. That’s just where coach chooses to put me in. I want to play more. I want to be more in between, the whole field. But right now, that’s my package. I’ll take it. We’re winning. That’s what matters — helping out the team.”
Coles’ contributions to that effort go well beyond the 10 to 15 snaps he’s playing per game. With three freshmen and a sophomore among the top six players in the receiving corps, the 24-year-old Goochland High grad has embraced his role as pass-catching sage.
“He’s pretty much a coach,” said fellow wideout Willie Byrn, a redshirt junior. “He’s about old enough to be a coach, too.”
A coach, though, might not have given Byrn the invaluable advice Coles gave him this week: Take it easy. Relax. Don’t practice hard.
Byrn was coming back from a knee injury he suffered against Georgia Tech. As somebody who’s been through that himself, Coles realized Byrn was trying way too hard to prove his readiness in practice, possibly jeopardizing his effectiveness when it mattered.
“It’s practice.” Coles told him. “There’s no need to go out and push yourself so hard in practice that you can’t play in the game. Do certain things to ease your way back. … You don’t need to kill yourself.”
Byrn called the advice “extremely helpful,” and he heeded it. Then he put up Tech’s first 100-yard receiving game this season.
One by one, the younger receivers have praised Coles for his guidance. After Josh Stanford dropped a pass in the first half, Coles approached him immediately and encouraged the freshman to put it behind him and make the next one.
In the fourth quarter, Stanford made difficult catches of 21 and 18 yards on the same drive.
We should mention, too, that Coles and Stanford play the same split end position. The better Stanford does, the fewer snaps Coles is likely to play.
“It’s incredibly unselfish,” Byrn said. “You’ve got those guys every once in a while that are just going to be complaining and crying and will give up. He’s certainly not one of those guys.
“He could. He could just kind of pack it in, and when he scores his touchdowns say, ‘This is why I should be playing!’ But he’s out there scoring touchdowns and telling us to get us some. If he hasn’t shown that he’s unselfish before, he’s shown it this year.”
That’s called the sowing. Two defenders lining up on right top of you and then vanishing?
For Coles, maybe that’s the reaping.
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