First-year flourish

Freshman center Bryan Hudson of Scott County dropped the hammer this summer and earned a starting spot at Virginia Tech.

In a recent post on Twitter, Virginia Tech football beat writer Chris Coleman noted that for the first month of the season, including all major NCAA Division I programs, only 27 true freshman offensive linemen have played 90 or more snaps for their team.

Raise your hand if you’re not surprised that a certain 6-foot-5, 315-pound Scott County product on Coleman’s team is in that select company.

Bryan Hudson took over as VT’s center to start the second half of a Sept. 7 victory over Old Dominion. He has been the Hokies’ starter in a win over Furman Sept. 14 and a loss Friday night against Duke, both home at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.

Hudson had all the stars and check marks from national recruiting services, and the Hokies won a bidding war with about 20 schools — including Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Florida, Kentucky and Louisville — for his services.

Despite all that, and even after starting every game for four years at one of the elite programs in his home state, Hudson took little for granted.

“I was working towards that, and that was always my goal, just to work as hard as I can and do everything I can to give myself the opportunity,” Hudson, interviewed after attending SC’s homecoming game on his bye week, said of being an almost immediate starter. “When the opportunity presented itself, I took advantage of it and picked the offense up.”

Virginia Tech actually has two first-year players in its starting lineup. Next to Hudson at right guard is Doug Nester of Westmoreland, West Virginia, who was a last-minute switch to the Hokies from Ohio State in the 2018-19 recruiting cycle.

According to Coleman, it is the first time Virginia Tech has started two true freshmen without a year of prep school under their belts since the initial year of former coach Frank Beamer’s remarkable run in the mid-1980s.

Hudson’s meteoric rise on campus is surprising on at least two other levels.

Center is mostly a new gig for him. Hudson was entrenched at tackle for Scott County and played guard sporadically. His only experience at center was in the Cardinals’ goal-line offense, when they needed a human shield for a quarterback sneak.

The Hokies run the now-requisite spread offense, which means every snap comes out of the shotgun formation.

“Shotgun snapping kind of came naturally to me,” Hudson said. “I’ve been working it on all through high school and everything, waiting for that opportunity, just in case, because I knew that was something that kind of ups your stock as a recruit and everything.”

Also, Hudson reported for summer classes and training at Virginia Tech between the regional and state rounds of what was an abbreviated senior track and field season. He dislocated his left kneecap, breaking off a piece of bone in the process, during a track workout last Dec. 26. The injury required surgery and significant recovery time, so he wasn’t in peak shape for the head start to his freshman campaign.

That changed in a hurry.

“I went over in May and went on the weight program and worked out through summer and everything, and fall camp,” Hudson said. “It’s treated me really well. The weight program is awesome. I feel a lot different myself.”

How different? Try a complete body transformation.

Between May 25 and Aug. 1, Hudson lost six percent of his body fat, yet still gained five pounds from his initial weigh-in.

“That was ridiculous,” Hudson said. “The weight program is awesome. From the beginning, coming off my knee injury, obviously I hadn’t been able to do much. They got me back up to running and lifting and everything.”

Head coach Justin Fuente and offensive line coach Vance Vice followed the plan of having Hudson watch Virginia Tech’s game at Boston College, which was both the season and Atlantic Coast Conference opener.

With starters T.J. Jackson and Zachariah Hoyt sidelined after that game, Hudson entered Week 2 as the backup center to redshirt freshman Josh Harris. After an up-and-down first half for the Hokies’ offense, they turned Hudson loose.

Hudson felt ready despite what was whirlwind training at all five stations.

“The hardest thing was I was already learning a whole new playbook, the calls to make and everything like that. Having to come in that early and learn what every position on the offensive line does and having to tell everybody, that was the biggest thing,” Hudson said. “Just me working on it and staying on that every day was really what helped me in picking it up pretty fast.”

Like UK, Virginia Tech is 2-3 and has a faithful but frazzled fan base after the slow start. The Hokies barely sneaked into a bowl with six wins a year ago, and youth movements never needed long to solidify during Beamer’s nearly three decades at the helm.

Patience will be rewarded, one of those new stars promised.

“We have lot of young talent,” Hudson said. “We’ve just got to keep working and building on getting ourselves better every week.”

Hudson, who reached the state’s final four in each of his final three years of high school football while winning seven state track championships, remains thrilled with his choice of Virginia Tech, which is allowing him to pursue both sports.

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it so far. I’m loving it. It’s great.”

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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