Sykes learning new role
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on August 21, 2008 1:35 PM
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Jacob Sykes has endured a a redshirt season, a position change and a life-altering on-campus tragedy all before playing a single down of college football.
The former Goldsboro High School standout sat out the 2007 season at Virginia Tech and recently transitioned from receiver to cornerback. He also re-evaluated his outlook on life after the April 2007 shootings on the Blacksburg campus.
An all-state, all-conference and all-area selection as a senior at receiver, free safety and kick returner for Goldsboro, Sykes initially found life as a redshirt player on the sidelines difficult.
"It was hard," said Sykes. "I had never really sat out of football for that long. All the seniors were telling me it was going to be better in the end than it was at first. It was a great experience and I feel like it's time for me to play, make a difference and take a positive step."
Originally penciled in at receiver, Sykes (6 feet, 189 pounds) was one 14 players on the Virginia Tech roster battling for playing time at that position. Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer along with defensive coordinator Bud Foster elected to move Sykes to corner. They hope the change gets the athletic underclassman on the field sooner.
The Hokies allowed 16.1 points, nearly 300 yards a game in 2007 and finished 11-3 in 2007. They defeated Boston College in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, but lost to Kansas in the Orange Bowl. Virginia Tech lost defensive leaders in linebackers Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi along with the squad's co-interception leader -- corner Brandon Flowers.
Now one of just seven corners on the Hokies' roster, Sykes is enthused about his opportunity to be a part of a defensive unit rich in tradition.
"I'm real excited to be under coach Foster," said Sykes. "I'm looking forward to being part of the tradition of Virginia Tech defense."
Virginia Tech was picked to win the ACC's Coastal Division and was ranked 15th in the USA Today/ESPN Top 25 preseason poll.
Sykes' teammates are helping Sykes adjust to lofty expectations that surround the Hokies' program. He's also found it easier adapting to the rigors in the ACC.
"They tell me I'm looking good out there," said Sykes. "Macho Harris is teaching me a lot of stuff and he's given me good pointers out there. He's telling me how to take it on and I'm just staying positive."
Two weeks into the 2007 season, Virginia Tech was routed 48-7 at eventual national champion LSU. The Hokies also dropped a last-minute, regular-season heartbreaker at home to Boston College.
Those moments of adversity have drawn Beamer's squad closer together while preparing them for future bumps in the road.
"We're becoming more of a family," said Sykes. "We learned that you have to play every down like it's your last. We have to play for 60 minutes and this season we'll be better prepared for adversity."
Sykes was on campus when a gunman took the lives of 32 Virginia Tech students in April 2007. That experience, coupled with the patience he was forced to develop while redshirting, has altered not only his outlook on life but the game of football as well.
"It made me realize that any day can be your last and you just have to take everything more serious, including football," said Sykes. "It was very tragic. I was very near both shootings and it showed me that I could have been one of the victims that was killed."
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