Returns to homepage

Where are They Now? Catching up with Ken Oxendine Virginia Tech Running Back 1994-1997 (Part I)

By Rich Luttenberger | April 11
Ken oxendine 2 Virginia Tech sports photography
via Virginia Tech Athletics

This is the first of a two-part series chronicling the journey of Ken Oxendine, Virginia Tech running back from 1994-1997.  The link to Part II will be at the bottom of this article after Part II is published.

There is an Ox in the Stable

If you were a fan of the Virginia Tech football team in the 1990’s, then you remember watching a lot of Ken Oxendine, a standout running back for the Hokies in the early years of legendary head coach Frank Beamer’s successful run of 26 straight bowl games. 

You probably remember Oxendine’s first touchdown, a 53-yard burst up the middle as a true freshman on a Thursday night at Lane Stadium.  You probably remember his gritty, 150-yard game as a junior against a powerhouse Nebraska squad in the Orange Bowl.  You definitely appreciated his four years as a highly effective running back for the teams that would raise the bar for the program.

Long-time Virginia Tech running backs coach Billy Hite remembers the skillset that Oxendine brought to the table:  “It was his vision, speed, power, and strength that he developed on his own that made him,” Hite said.  “He was a difference maker.”

Under Hite, the Virginia Tech football team had a long line of highly successful running backs.  They were so deep and productive at running back that the position earned the nickname of the “Stallions,” and the position room was often referred to as the “Stable.”  Ox, as he was nicknamed, was an early stud in that stable.

“Ken was a leader among that group of young Stallions that would follow in his path and rewrite Tech history year in and year out at that position.”

— Former Virginia Tech Lineman Anthony Lambo

At six feet tall and in the ballpark of 220 pounds, Oxendine was a bruiser.  But he was also explosive and athletic, allowing him to contribute from the get-go in Blacksburg.

His journey has taken him to the top of the football mountain, and then he was able to use his gifts and experiences to “pay it forward” in his post-playing career.

It has been a rewarding journey for Ox, one where family, faith, relationships, and hard work have been the foundation for his success.

Strong Family Values In Early Childhood

Oxendine’s youth was rooted in strong family bonds. He grew up in Chester, Virginia, a blue-collar town that is approximately fifteen miles south of downtown Richmond.  He was raised in a large family, as his grandmother was one of twenty children and Ox himself had 42 first cousins. 

With fond memories of his childhood, Oxendine recalled early life in a hundred-year-old, three story home that was previously a train depot.  His grandmother lived on the first floor and some of her brothers lived on the other floors. And every weekend the family gathered for Sunday dinner with their matriarch.

With all these adults around him and eyes on him, Oxendine had a lot of support growing up, helping to protect him from the potential dangers of the region.  As he noted, there were a lot of tough neighborhoods nearby, areas where, as he put it, “if you went into those places not knowing anybody, you probably wouldn’t come out of those places alive.”

They also shielded him from the realities of financial struggle.  With a family of bricklayers and masons where only three of the uncles and aunts were high school graduates, the family worked hard to earn a living. 

They also pitched in to help Oxendine’s mother, who battled epilepsy, when he was born prematurely.  Aunts and uncles and cousins were always around, helping out. “That’s what I saw growing up,” he remembered.  Everyone pitched in, and as he looked back, the family hid him from knowing that there was any financial struggle.  “It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how poor I was,” he said.

The strong family bonds allowed Oxendine to have a happy childhood full of love and innocence.  His family was also one of strong faith, and they went to church regularly.  He credited his faith for providing strong guiding principles in his life.   

Ox as kid
Photo credit: Ken Oxendine

Athletics and Education Set the Foundation

Coming from a family of blue-collar workers, Oxendine’s childhood helped him develop a sense of drive.  The family also instilled the value of education in their young son.  School was a priority, and something as seemingly simple as attendance wasn’t overlooked; Ox did not have any unexcused absences throughout all of grade school!

His family also instilled a strong sense of discipline in the young athlete.  During his freshmen year of high school, Oxendine admitted that his grades slipped, so his mother pulled him out of all sports.  Instead of allowing this to set him back, however, his motivation and determination led him to improve his body.  He worked out and trained during that time, going from 180 pounds to 200.

With his blue-collar work ethic and his determination to become a better version of himself, traits that were an essential part of who he was as a young man, Oxendine forged ahead into his sophomore year, where he was an outstanding linebacker, with a few carries at running back too.  In the winter, he also found success as a wrestler.  Despite being undersized as a heavyweight and often grappling with guys the size of offensive linemen, Ox made it all the way to the district tournament. 

 “Surround yourself with people who are positive, people who want more.”

— Ken Oxendine

Growing up in a family of athletes with a lot of cousins near his age prepared him for this success, as he regularly played sports with his cousins, both organized and in pick-up games.  The Oxendine family was a baseball family first, but they also excelled in basketball and track, and Ox developed his athleticism and drive through these experiences.   

It was during this time that Oxendine faced some social challenges, but he acknowledged the impact they had on shaping his character.  “I  had to leave some people and make some tough decisions,” he said, but it taught him to be around people who were like minded.

Oxendine credited his family and friends and coaches for their influence in guiding him through his youth.  They helped him learn important values and develop in sports, which then allowed him to be the person he was.

“Sports is foundational.  It teaches you fundamentals.  Your work ethic, how you treat people, how to be better…Those are my guiding principles.”

— Ken Oxendine

Football as an Opportunity

While in high school, Oxendine lettered in football, baseball, track, and wrestling.  “Baseball was my first love,” he confessed, but he saw football as an opportunity to have more. 

He was a big kid, so naturally his early years in the sport were spent on the line.  But he was fast, too, so he was moved to the backfield early in his high school career. Oxendine’s work ethic and desire took over, as he started doing running back drills on his own to improve his skills as a runner.  It paid off.

At the start of his junior season playing for legendary coach Vic Williams at Thomas Dale High School, Oxendine had a lot of competition in the backfield.  He recalled only getting four or five carries per game but gaining close to 100 yards in those carries. 

While Oxendine admitted he was still learning how to be a running back as a junior, he showed such great promise in his limited early opportunities that he eventually won the starting job.  He had a breakout year as both a running back and a linebacker, leading his team to 13 straight wins and a berth in the state final.

“You might not always get the opportunity you want, but you have to take advantage of the opportunities you get.”

— Ken Oxendine

This vaulted him up the recruiting charts, where he remembered being rated as high as ninth in the nation going in to his senior year.  Following that success, the schools came calling.

With so much interest, he turned to Coach Williams for help.  “By October, I want you to cut it down to twenty schools,” the coach told Ox.  “By November, we want it down to ten.”  Williams then recommended five official visits in December.

The young running back took his coach’s advice to heart and had his list down to four schools by the end of his senior season, a list that included Virginia Tech.

The Decision to Come to Blacksburg

By December of his senior season, Oxendine’s list of schools included Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Virginia Tech, even though the Hokies’ coaching staff entered the recruiting process late. 

With weekends that included state playoff games, Ox did not have many opportunities to take his visits.  He went to Georgia and Tennessee, but neither trip did enough to seal the deal for him.  And knowing the struggles of some guys playing at UVa and hearing some Tech-bashing from the Wahoos, he was also turned off by the school in Charlottesville. This left the door open for Tech, but Oxendine did not have an official visit planned.

Luckily for Hokie fans, fate intervened, and Thomas Dale suffered an unfortunate loss in the state playoffs.  “If that (loss) wouldn’t have happened, I probably would never have gone to Virginia Tech,” Oxendine reflected, because it opened up his schedule and allowed him to make a trip to Blacksburg. 

As so many Hokies already know, Blacksburg is beautiful, and Oxendine was sold.  “Tech just has a mystique about the campus,” he said.  He loved his visit, and the school was close enough to home. And of course, there was the Stable of Stallions. 

Ox All Metro
Photo credit: Ken Oxendine

Becoming a Stallion

Oxendine enrolled at Tech as a 220-pound freshman with power and speed.  However, when Ox joined the Stable in the fall of 1994, the Hokies were already established at running back. Dwayne Thomas, Tommy Edwards, and Brian Edmunds all returned from the ‘93 squad, where they combined to rush for over 1800 yards.

Oxendine just wanted to work his way into the lineup and contribute.  However, he was confident that if given the chance, he could do more.  “I knew I was bigger, stronger, and faster than a lot of people, so I knew I could come in and change the course of Tech’s future.”

That sentiment proved to be prophetic.  Even though he saw limited action as a true freshman, much like his high school experiences, Oxendine made the most of the opportunities he had. 

By the fourth game of the season, a Thursday nighter against West Virginia, Oxendine only had one carry, an eight-yard gain in the opener against Arkansas State.  Late in the contest against the Mountaineers, however, the freshman was inserted into the game and made his impact felt immediately. 

On his first carry from scrimmage, Oxendine broke through the line of scrimmage, Bill Roth exclaimed, “The Ox is on the way!” and he sprinted 53-yards for a touchdown to seal the 34-6 victory. Blacksburg was put on notice that there was a new Stallion in the Stable.

A Loaded Stable

Battling both upperclassmen and injuries as a freshman, Oxendine only carried the ball 33 times and gained 265 yards (a whopping eight yards-per-carry).  However, Ox was poised to compete with senior Dwayne Thomas for the starting running back role in 1995.

When Oxendine was injured heading into September and missed the first two games, the coaches debated tagging a redshirt on him.  “No, I’m not redshirting.  I don’t want to redshirt,” a very determined Ox told the coaches.   The Hokies lost both games, but Ox was on the mend and would be ready to contribute to a game that would go down as a turning point in Hokie History.

Oxendine returned for the infamous Miami game, a 13-7 victory that started Virginia Tech’s ten-game winning streak that ended with the Sugar Bowl victory over Texas.  Ox ran for 82 yards against the Hurricanes to go along with 165 yards from Thomas.  This should cause a Hokie to ponder: would Virginia Tech have won either – or both – of their first two games that season if Oxendine had played?

He finished the year with 593 yards on 106 rushes, good for 5.6 yards per carry.  He was the second leading rusher only to Thomas, who had 673 yards on 61 more attempts.  Together, they were the offensive core to a team that changed Tech’s trajectory. 

As Big East champions, they won the program’s first conference title since 1963, and as Sugar Bowl champions, they earn the Hokies’ third-ever bowl victory and first-ever major bowl victory.  It was the beginning of a run where the Hokies would finish with at least ten wins in thirteen of seventeen years.

 “You think about stallions, the way they run, their work ethic, it’s a great group of guys.”

— Ken Oxendine

Ox as Stallion 1

In 1996, Thomas was no longer there, so Oxendine moved to the top of the depth chart.  It was the second year with Rickey Bustle as offensive coordinator, and there were a lot of returning starters.  Thus, Oxendine felt that “offensively, we were a more productive machine.”

Quarterback Jim Druckenmiller threw for just over 2,000 yards, and the Stallions combined for almost 2500 rushing yards.  Oxendine led the way with 890 yards in just nine games, averaging 5.9 yards per carry.  When Ox was banged up, fullback Marcus Parker and freshman tailback Shyrone Stith shared the carries, and they gained 468 and 476 yards respectively.  They each also averaged over five yards per carry.  It was a deep stable of runners.

The ’96 team finished the regular season 10-1, giving Virginia Tech its first back to back ten-win seasons ever.  It was a banner year for Oxendine, whose 5.9 yards per carry led the Big East, and his 13 touchdowns (all on the ground) also led the league.  All that despite missing two games to injury!

Returning for his Senior Season

Because of the depth in his backfield stable, Coach Hite had the luxury of spreading the carries around.  And that played into a philosophy that Oxendine described as one with player safety in mind.  “He did not want his backs to wear out,” Ox recalled.  “Coach Hite wanted to protect his players.” 

However, the 1997 season proved to be a little different.  With Stith taking a redshirt year and junior transfer Lamont Pegues in his first year of eligibility with the Hokies, it left Oxendine as the lone tailback with experience. 

And unlike years past, he got the lion’s share of carries. As a senior, Oxendine ran the ball 237 times, a whopping 87 more than the previous season.  In 44% of all Virginia Tech running plays in 1997, Ken Oxendine was the one carrying the ball.

Over eleven games, Ox tallied 912 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.  Like his junior season, he finished the year among the top four Big East running backs in several rushing categories. 

- 2653 yards (fifth most when he finished at Tech, currently ninth)

- 27 rushing touchdowns (tied for eighth)

- 13 rushing touchdowns in 1996 is tied for sixth most in a Tech season

- 11 games rushing for 100 yards or more (tied for fifth)

- 5.04 average yards per carry

— Ken Oxendine Career Statistics at Virginia Tech

When his senior season ended, Oxendine concluded one of the most impressive careers in Virginia Tech running back history.  At the time, he was among the top five in several categories. In total rushing yards, he was only 43 behind Dwayne Thomas and 328 behind Maurice Williams, two of the four guys ahead of him. 

Ox has the second fewest total carries of the top nine Hokie running backs on the all-time yardage list though.  He also never played twelve games in a season.  Had he been healthy all four years, he would have quite a few more carries, and it is very likely that Ox would be a top four or five rusher in Tech history.

The Oxendine Legacy

As fans, it is easy to look back and recall the great moments that Oxendine provided on the field.  But that is only part of his legacy.  He is remembered by coaches and teammates as a great leader and an excellent teammate.

“It was his determination and desire to be the best that made a difference.”

— Former Virginia Tech Running Backs Coach Billy Hite

Shyrone Stith, who was the next Stallion up after Oxendine graduated, appreciated the positive, upbeat energy from Ox, who helped the other backs with plays, blocking schemes, film study, and patience in hitting the holes.  “Ken was a leader and he helped set the tone for the running backs at practice,” Stith commented.  “Ox was another coach at practice.”

In high school, Stith watched Oxendine, Brian Edmonds, and Dwayne Thomas on television.  Stith went to Tech because he wanted to do what Oxendine and the others were doing in Blacksburg.  Once there, he knew he had to keep the Stallions legacy going.  Stith knew that the next generation of running backs “were now looking at me, Jarrett Ferguson, Andre Kendrick, and Lee Suggs like I was looking at Ox and Thomas.”

Anthony Lambo was a young lineman at Tech when Oxendine was an upperclassman.  Ox made a strong impression on Lambo, who, a quarter of a century later, still remembers the personal side of the football player.  “Oxendine was a quiet leader who loved being a Hokie,” Lambo said.  “Ox treated everyone, regardless of their role on the team, as an equal.”

Coach Hite praised Oxendine’s drive and work ethic, calling him a “self-made player.”  Hite showed Ox the drills, but it was Ox who worked tirelessly to improve his natural abilities and make himself the best he could be.  “He helped make me a good coach!” Hite exclaimed.

“He outworked everybody every day to become one of the best running backs to ever play at Virginia Tech”

— Coach Billy Hite

So after four highly productive years as a leader who raised the bar for Virginia Tech running backs, it was time to take his game to the next level.

Where are They Now? Ken Oxendine Virginia Tech Running Back – Part II

This story will be continued in Part II.  Read about Oxendine’s NFL career, his XFL experiences, and what he has done since his playing days ended.  A link will be added here when the second part of this series is available.

Screenshot 2023 12 23 at 12 20 07 PM

Born in the Bronx but otherwise raised in northern New Jersey, my Hokie life began in the fall of 1989. I walked on to the baseball team and spent a year and a half as a redshirt catcher. After my stint with the baseball team ended, I finished my time at Tech on the ice hockey team, playing Hokie hockey as a club sport. Despite this pursuit of other sporting interests, my passion became Tech football, and I have been a die hard fan ever since.

When I’m not obsessing over Hokie sports, I enjoy running, traveling, and fostering dogs. And of course, spending time with my wife and three kids. My “real job” is as a high school English teacher, where I have worked for over a quarter of a century (and everyone in the building knows where Mr. Lutt went to school). My daughter is now a Hokie - as if I needed another reason to make the long drive to Blacksburg!

I started my sports writing journey with Gridiron Heroics, covering Virginia Tech football and some college sports news. But I’m excited to join the Sons of Saturday now and I look forward to adding content through my story-telling abilities.

Read More of Rich's Articles