After a 7-6 campaign that marked Virginia Tech's least successful season in over 20 years, the pressure is on the Hokies to pick the program back up and restore it to where it was before last season.
Virginia Tech hired three new assistant coaches in January as a step towards getting back, but it will be on the players to control what happens on the field.
In preparation for what will be an important 2013 campaign, we cast our votes for the 13 most important players to a successful season. This includes all aspects of the game, both offensively and defensively, but also special teams, like kicking and return.
Players received 13 points for each first place vote, 12 points for each second place vote, etc. In a case of a tie, the players voted on by more staff members won the tie-breaker. If both players had been voted on by the same number of staff members, the next tie-breaker is which player had the highest vote by a staff member.
We continue our countdown at No. 8 with wide receiver D.J. Coles.
Jason Stamm, publisher
With what will be a very inexperienced wide receiving corps for Virginia Tech, the Hokies need some type of veteran leadership. The two leading receivers from last season, Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller, both graduated.
Coles is a bit of an unknown for this season. He'll be a fifth-year senior after redshirting last season following the Georgia Tech season-opener due to never fully recovering from reconstructive surgery on his right PCL in the off-season. He aggravated it against the Yellow Jackets and shut it down after that.
As a junior in 2011, Coles had 26 catches for 480 yards and three touchdowns, third-best on the team. This spring, he returned, seemingly fully healthy but looked a bit out of shape.
Coles split time between wide receiver and H-back and it's unclear which position he'll spent more time at this fall. Either way, the Hokies desperately need his veteran presence and for him to bounce back and at least play close to his 2011 form.
Doug Bowman, senior writer
Along with a tailback, quarterback Logan Thomas needs someone who can catch some passes. Coles, who sat out last season with a knee injury, is that kind of guy. He has the experience and the size to make an impact all over the field.
The key question with him is going to be how much his knee has set him back. Is he as fast or as quick as he once was? He was a little bit overweight in the spring, so what kind of shape he arrives in August in is going to tell us a lot about that. Realistically, his range in 2013 could be anywhere from a nonfactor due to the knee, essentially a tight end due to decreased speed and quickness, or a comeback player of the year candidate.
I do think his knee injury is going to prevent him from being the force he looked like the may be becoming in 2011, but he should still be useful for the Hokies. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler needs some receivers to step up and be productive, so he will find a way to make use of whatever Coles can give him. Loeffler showed a lot of bootlegs during spring practice, and I think that is a play Coles could be especially effective in during the fall.
Mike Stancik, staff writer
Replacing your top three receivers in terms of catches and yardage is no easy task. And amongst what is perhaps the most unproven position on the team, Coles must be able to catch the lion's share of passes and prove to be a go-to wide receiver. I had him at number 7 on my list (looks like we're in agreement) because of his vital importance in the offense.
You have to go back to Dec. 3, 2011 for Coles' last touchdown. Chances are fans won't have to wait much longer for his next one. As the "H-back" in the Hokie offense, Coles will be receiving the ball in a variety of ways and all over the field. Basically, the senior must anchor the unit if the Hokies are to have consistent success through the air.