Witten finding niche in Hokie scheme

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Tech wide receiver Shawn Witten is similar to a Chevy truck. He's like a rock.
   The former Elizabethton High School standout has been very solid for the Hokies this season. The junior has 12 catches for 116 yards so far, and has started five of Virginia Tech's six games.
   "I feel really good," Witten said. "I've played well, and I've played hard. It's a great situation. I love starting. I have gained so much experience. It's going to take me a long ways."
   Witten arguably had his best game of the season Saturday night in Virginia Tech's 34-20 ousting of Boston College. In that contest, Witten had three catches for 48 yards, including a nice 29-yard catch in first quarter on a play that saw him get wide open and was found by a scrambling Grant Noel.
   "On that first one we kind of checked to it," Witten said. "Then Grant was kind of pressured. We work on scrambling situations a lot in practice. I just try to be always in the right spot at the right time."
   Witten has had to wait his turn on offense. He saw limited action his first two years in Blacksburg, but has emerged as an offensive threat this season.
   Witten did see a lot of action on the Hokies' renowned special teams unit his first two years, and he still plays on kickoffs.
   Witten was just glad to get in those games early on in his career so he could be the player he has become.
   "The more plays you get in there, the better off you're going to be," Witten said. "The more experience, the more things you can see. Like right now, I'm seeing more of the coverages better, I'm reading things better, and after I make a catch I'm seeing the defense and trying to make yards after the catch. That's the most important thing, once you make that catch just see what you can do. You find that spot and go."
   Witten has learned a lot from playing with Andre Davis, who is one of the best receivers in the country. Davis is a different type of receiver from Witten, but the duo keeps burning opposing defenses.
   "He's just very disciplined," Witten said. "Andre is a good receiver because he's got great speed. He does a lot of good things. He's been here for five years, and he's accustomed to the offense. He's there to help anybody else. I feel really good playing beside him, and knowing that he's beside of me."
   Witten might be becoming a serious threat at receiver for the Hokies, but that doesn't mean he wants to quit playing special teams. For the former Cyclone, it's a true honor to play on a unit that may be the best in the country.
   "I love playing special teams," Witten said. "Kickoffs may be my favorite thing. I love running down on the kickoff. We're very well organized, everybody knows what they're supposed to do. We take pride in special teams, we work on it everyday. Playing on kickoff returns and punt blocks, there's no better feeling."
   Not only is the Virginia Tech special teams unit one of the best country, but so is the Hokie program. Virginia Tech is now 6-0 and is ranked No. 6 in the nation. However, a lot of college football fans still don't believe the Hokies are for real.
   People have flooded sports talk shows throughout the southeast and in this area to bash the Hokies, calling them overrated.
   Witten thinks that his team is starting to prove people wrong.
   "I think we're starting to show people what we're made of," Witten said. "We're getting into the cream of our schedule, we're starting to play our Big East games. We can't take nothing away from ourselves, we're going out here each and everyday and trying to get better. I think we don't get the respect that we deserve, but we have to concentrate each and everyday. If we win the rest of our games, we know we're going to be in the national championship game. That's our only goal, and we're trying to get there."
   If the Hokies win the national championship this year, it may be sweeter for Witten than for any other player on the team. In addition to losing against Florida State in the national championship game two years ago, Witten made it to the TSSAA semifinals in high school twice with Elizabethton, but the Cyclones lost both times. And the year after he graduated, his brother Jason's senior season.
   "It would be unbelievable for us to win the national championship," Witten said. "A national championship would probably be the best thing. This year the title game is the Rose Bowl, and nothing would be better."
   When a family has a young man that is playing college football, it's very special, but when you have two young men playing at top 15 schools, that's about unheard of. That's the situation facing the Rider-Witten family as Jason is playing tight end for the University of Tennessee.
   Despite being five hours apart, the two remain very close.
   "We talk just about everyday," the Hokie said. "We don't give out too much about teams and stuff. I ask how he's doing and how practice is going and things like that. We're just really good friends and we're competitive. He's having a great season, I think they can do great things. They just have to keep their heads on straight and good things will happen for them."
   The Witten currently residing in Blacksburg has accomplished many things already, but he hasn't caught a touchdown pass yet. He came close in the Central Florida game, but that day seems to be getting closer.
   It will be special for Witten once it happens.
   "It will be sweet," Witten said. "No doubt about that. I just have to keep working hard, and be in the right place at the right time. It will come along."