BLACKSBURG — The weight room became Wyatt Teller’s and Augie Conte’s battleground this offseason.
The two up-and-coming Virginia Tech offensive linemen pushed each other head-to-head during the Hokies’ winter program, with fifth-year senior Brent Benedict joining the workout group as well.
In the end, they both earned Super Iron Hokie honors, one or the other finishing atop the four heaviest lifting categories during maximum testing. Teller edged Conte in the back squat (600 pounds) and power clean (385), and Conte got the better of Teller in the push jerk (380) and bench press (430).
“I think I’ve found my athletic twin when it comes to the weight room and athletic ability,” Conte said.
“Augie and I are going to be head-to-head until he leaves,” Teller said.
Conte, a redshirt sophomore, and Teller, a redshirt freshman, represent the next wave of offensive linemen at Virginia Tech, underclassmen who are big, strong and athletic, presumably the type that could revive the Hokies’ lagging power running game.
Alston Smith, a redshirt sophomore from Virginia Beach who, like Teller, switched from the defensive line last fall, is also in that young group that could push the veterans for playing time, although he rolled an ankle in last Saturday’s scrimmage and has been limited since.
“If those older guys want to keep their job, they better be competing,” new offensive line coach Stacy Searels said. “But I think those kids are going to play and are going to play a lot this year.”
Virginia Tech has a veteran offensive line this season, although it’s a group coming off mixed results last year. The spring began with four seniors working with the first team — left guard Caleb Farris, center David Wang, right guard Benedict and right tackle Laurence Gibson — along with sophomore left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin.
But with injuries to Wang and backup center Kyle Chung and subsequent shuffling, it’s opened up opportunities. Conte has gotten the most work of the next wave, at both right tackle and right guard with the first team. Teller has worked some at right guard, too.
“Augie has really, really made some great strides,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “Really excited about him. He’s strong as an ox, he can move well, football’s important to him. Really happy where he’s coming.
“Wyatt’s got all the talent in the world, just still developing. … We’ve just got to get him more consistent.”
That Conte is a little bit ahead is no surprise. The 6-foot-6, 293-pounder is a year older than Teller, a member of the 2012 signing class out of Blessed Sacrament Huguenot, a private school near Richmond.
His three years at Tech have included three different offensive line coaches — Curt Newsome in 2012, Jeff Grimes in 2013 and now Searels in 2014.
“It’s just finding out what the coaches like, what they don’t like, what their pet peeves are,” Conte said. “It’s just different coaching styles. Once you get used to it, it’s not too bad.”
Getting used to the speed and strength of the college game is, however. Conte said entering his third year, he’s better prepared for it.
Teller, a 6-foot-5, 296-pounder from Bealeton who was part of the 2013 signing class, can relate. He came to Tech as a defensive lineman, then switched to offensive line last fall. It’s been a steep learning curve, with the growing pains continuing this spring.
“Last year I had problems blocking anyone on the d-line,” Teller said. “It wasn’t just James Gayle, it wasn’t just Dadi [Nicolas]. It was everyone. And now I feel that I can hold my own.”
Getting Conte, Teller and Smith at least some experience this year would be beneficial down the line. Tech doesn’t have any junior offensive linemen on scholarship, so bridging the gap from this year’s group to 2015 will be a secondary goal to finding the best five for this season.
That process doesn’t sound like it will be finalized for a while, as Searels mixes and matches this spring to get used to his personnel.
“I would like to have the five [starters] Day One after the first rep, but I don’t know that yet,” Searels said. “It’s who can be consistent over a long period of time.
“You’d like to in the spring figure out who your candidates are to be your first five starters, and then who your swing guys are. But when it really counts is when we kick it off in August.”