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The Hokies' only proven receiver says he's "100 percent" for spring practice after ligament surgery, but his value to the team is more in the fall than it is now.
The Roanoke Times | File 2011
Virginia Tech’s D.J. Coles (18) escapes the grasp of Appalachian State’s Troy Sanders in 2011, which turned out to be Coles’ breakout season.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
D.J. Coles watches his teammates play on the first day of Virginia Tech spring football practice in the Rector Fieldhouse in Blacksburg.
The Roanoke Times | File 2011
D.J. Coles (18) hauls in a touchdown catch against North Carolina. After an injury, Coles was given a medical waiver to play this coming fall.
Monday, April 1, 2013
BLACKSBURG — When Virginia Tech opened spring practice last Wednesday, receiver D.J. Coles stood on the sideline in a green, no-contact jersey, prompting fears that his balky right knee wasn’t fully healed.
Fret not. The knee is fine. Coles was just battling a virus he had contracted a few days earlier.
“Real bad timing for the spring,” he said, speaking softly with his head peeking out of a Hokies hoodie.
Forgive Virginia Tech fans for holding their breath for a second. Coles, a 6-foot-4, 238-pound senior from Maidens, is back for a fifth year, their only veteran option in a green group of receivers.
But he plans to be a full participant — or close to it — this spring, trying to get himself back in football shape after being kept out for the better part of a year with a slow-to-heal right knee that required posterior cruciate ligament surgery in the winter of 2012.
“I’m 100 percent on everything,” said Coles, who received a medical waiver to get a second shot at his senior season.
His coaches, knowing his value and experience, are less declarative about his recovery, knowing Aug. 31, not April 1, is when he’ll need to be ready.
“I don’t want D.J. to do anything more than D.J. has to do to get himself healthy and play,” new receivers coach Aaron Moorehead said. “Right now, he’s been a year out of football. He’s going to have some stuff that he’s going to need to get back doing to get himself to be the play-maker we believe he can be in the fall.”
Coles’ knee troubles started near the end of 2011, right when he was emerging as a factor in the offense. A third option behind Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, Coles had 36 catches for 480 yards, scoring the Hokies’ only touchdown in a seven- catch, 116-yard performance in the ACC championship game loss to Clemson.
But he had PCL surgery on his right knee in January, a procedure that kept him out of spring. His rehab progressed slowly, dragging into August. After missing the early portion of camp, though, he was cleared to practice and play in the season opener against Georgia Tech.
Still not 100 percent, he took a low hit near the sideline on the Hokies’ third drive. Although it was to his left knee, he landed awkwardly, leaving the game in significant pain. An MRI afterward showed no new damage to the PCL of his right knee, but there was extra fluid and a significant bruise, enough that doctors concluded it would be wise to shut the whole thing down.
“At the beginning of the season, I could feel it,” Coles said. “I didn’t have the strength and the motion that I needed, so I knew it, but I was just trying to get out there to help my team.
“I went through two scrimmages before, got hit on the knee and nothing happened. I guess it was just a freak accident where I got hit in the same way I did earlier and it just went out.”
He sat out the rest of what was supposed to be his senior year and rehabbed for 2012, something that benefits Tech in the long-term.
Now, he’s the Hokies’ only proven receiving option. After Coles, Virginia Tech’s most experienced receiver is Demitri Knowles. a redshirt sophomore who is still relatively new to football and didn’t do too much more than run deep routes last year.
Beyond him, the Hokies are banking on a few players to step up among juniors E.L. Smiling and Willie Byrn, sophomore Kevin Asante and redshirt freshmen Josh Stanford, Joel Caleb and Charley Meyer . Their combined career receptions? Four.
Now that he’s back from the original PCL injury and working his way into shape (he’d like to get down in the range of 228 to 230 pounds as his playing weight), Coles is ready to be a No. 1 receiver — even if Tech’s coaches insist they don’t need one this spring.
“We don’t want to rush it,” head coach Frank Beamer said. “Next fall is when he really needs to be ready to go full tilt.”
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