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Freshmen Files: The Liberty Game

By Sam Stromberg | November 23
Football Team Huddle Liberty Tl Z Kx
Virginia Tech team huddle at Liberty (Photo - Virginia Tech Athletics).

Virginia Tech capped off its season in the win column.

The Hokies defeated Liberty (8-3) 23-22 in Lynchburg. Virginia Tech made winning plays down the stretch, something that previously seemed foreign to Hokie fans. The defense, especially the defensive line, stepped up late, pressuring Liberty quarterbacks Kaidon Salter and Johnathan Bennett. The offense made enough plays to secure the win, headlined by running backs Jalen Holston and Keshawn King. Despite the rough season, hopefully this win can provide some much needed momentum going into 2023.

With that being covered, let’s take a look at which freshman impressed in the season finale for the Hokies.

On Offense

#13 Dae’Quan Wright (Fr., TE) finished with 35 yards on two receptions in the win over Liberty. Wright was a nice surprise for the Hokies in 2022, considering he signed at the last minute. Still, though, he should have been more involved. Look for Wright to be a top-pass catcher for the Hokies in 2023, especially with the loss of senior tight ends Nick Gallo and Drake De Iulliis.

#11 Tucker Holloway (Fr., WR/PR) played a season-high 18 snaps at wide-receiver on Saturday but had no targets. On special teams, Holloway remained back deep for punt returns.

With his decision to play, Holloway burned his redshirt for the 2022 season. Holloway should have a bigger role next season at wideout. Additionally, he has the punt return job locked down for his remaining time at Tech.

#65 Xavier Chaplin (Fr., OT) received some of his first playing time of the year. The true freshman from South Carolina mostly rotated in at the tackle position, with Silas Dzansi moving over to guard. Chaplin is 6’6” 340 lbs – and could potentially be a starter next season for the Hokies.

On Defense

#21 Keli Lawson (R-Fr., WLB/SLB) had another impressive performance. Lawson saw the most time he had all year against Liberty, playing 53 total snaps. Lawson finished with five total tackles and a sack.

Lawson has drastically improved over the course of the season. In the month of October, Lawson played two games: UNC and NC State. He registered poor PFF defensive grades of 28.3 and 43.8 respectively in those two games. In the month of November, Lawson has looked much more comfortable. Each week, his PFF defensive grades have gone up – this week it was at 78.1. Lawson plays with speed and aggression. He truly became a difference-maker down the stretch. Virginia Tech fans should be very excited about Keli Lawson’s future.

#23 Mansoor Delane (Fr., CB) proved once again that he is CB1 for the Hokies. Delane forced a pivotal fumble in the fourth quarter, allowing the Hokies to take over on offense and take the lead. Delane was elite back there – the true freshman cornerback was targeted six times, and only let up one reception (which, by the way, was a catch for -1 yards). He also finished with two pass break ups.

Delane finished with his best defensive grade of the year, 90.2, which ranked top three nationally. For the year, PFF ranks Delane 21st in the country at the cornerback spot.

Delane was another surprise for Hokie fans. He is an All-ACC caliber player, and should continue to have a big role next season for the Hokies.

#38 Jayden McDonald (R-Fr., WLB) and #39 Jorden McDonald (R-Fr., DE) both saw action in the season finale. Jayden finished with a tackle at the Will position, and Jorden rotated in at defensive-end.

#14 Kyree Moyston (Fr., DE) wore #12, his high school number for a year, vs. Liberty. Moyston rotated in at defensive end for the second straight week. The true freshman recorded a TFL in the Hokies win. Moyston, at 6’4” 240 lbs, has the size to become a solid contributor for the Hokies in the future. Moyston and fellow true freshmen Malachi Madison and Keyshawn Burgos were the only true freshmen to play on the defensive line this season.

On Special Teams

#97 John Love (Fr., K) was the starting placekicker for the second week in a row. Love was perfect on Saturday, knocking in two PAT’s and a 23-yard field goal. And of course, Love was part of the beautifully executed fake field goal to pick up a first down. Love gained 11-yards on the fake field goal pitch from holder Peter Moore.

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Been a Hokie fan ever since I can remember. Immensely passionate about journalism and Virginia Tech sports. Go Hokies!

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