McMillian looking for bigger role in Hokies' offense
Virginia Tech running back Travon McMillian (34) carries the ball during an NCAA college football spring practice in Blacksburg Va. Thursday, March 23, 2017. Virginia's Tech junior tailback ran for 1,043 yards as a redshirt freshman, but just 671 last season as he adjusted to first-year coach Justin Fuente's new quarterback-focused offense. It was a difficult adjustment for McMillian after spending two years in Frank Beamer's tailback-oriented style, and he hopes that's ready to change. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)
By Bu HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) Virginia Tech tailback Travon McMillian wants to turn back the clock.
The junior ran for 1,043 yards as a redshirt freshman, but just 671 last season while adjusting to first-year coach Justin Fuente's new quarterback-focused offense. It was a difficult transition for McMillian after spending two years in Frank Beamer's tailback-oriented system, and he hopes that's about to change.
"I feel like it is totally different this spring, because they know what I'm capable of based on last year," McMillian said this week. "I feel like I've become a better player over this offseason, looking at film and figuring out the things that I need to improve on. I feel like they know where I'm at right now."
He may get a chance to see if things are different Saturday, when the Hokies wrap up workouts with their spring game.
Quarterback Jerod Evans, who has entered the NFL draft, led the Hokies in rushing last season with 846 yards, but also had 59 more attempts than McMillian. The Hokies haven't decided on a quarterback for this year yet, and it once again figures to be a dual-threat. Whoever gets the job, McMillian hopes being a more complete tailback will make him a more utilized one.
In a rare open practice Tuesday night, McMillian even caught a few passes out of the backfield, something he did only 11 times last season.
During the offseason, McMillian watched film of every play he was in on last season, looking for ways to get better.
"You know, just simple things - getting my hands inside when I'm blocking. You're always just working on the same things, just trying to improve the same things," McMillian said. While studying his own carries, he realized he needs to focus on "getting my pad level lower. I've been working on that a lot this spring, just pad level."
Running lower, he said, makes him quicker, more elusive and more capable of running a defender over.
McMillian also studied the blocking techniques used by Sam Rogers, a tailback-fullback whose blocking was vital to the offense last year.
Rogers, who has graduated, started 12 of 14 games last season. McMillian started seven.
McMillian and Steven Peoples (16 carries for 60 yards last season) have gotten the bulk of the work this spring and will be the two leading tailbacks, and Fuente said he's been pleased with how both have improved.
"Travon has had a good spring and Steven Peoples has had a good spring," the coach said.
What that means in the fall remains to be seen, but McMillian has also learned not to focus on numbers as much as doing what he's asked to do.
"At the end of the day, winning matters, but I try not to put my personal accolades ahead of the team or anything like that," he said when asked if another 1,000-yard season is in the offing. "I do want to rush for 1,000 yards, yeah, so I'm just going to try to utilize every rep I can this year and see where it gets me."
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Updated April 20, 2017