But can FSU contain Virginia Tech DE Darryl Tapp, whose motor is always running?
By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 2, 2005
During his off time in the summer, Virginia Tech defensive end Darryl Tapp would strap on ankle weights, mount his bicycle and ride the mountains around Blacksburg, Va.
"You have to be in top physical condition," he said.
With each grueling crank of his pedals, squeezing the handlebars ever tighter to wring more drive from his body, he knew he was getting ever closer to the peak he sought. Or not. There was always that next one to attack and find a way to conquer.
That meant strengthening the legs.
That meant fortifying the will.
"Your body is going to get you through; you have to take care of it," said Tapp, 21. "But you also have to get your mind in shape to get ready for the season."
Tapp has performed like an All-American as a senior, on and off the field, for the No. 5-ranked Hokies (10-1), who won the Coastal Division and meet Atlantic winner Florida State (7-4) in the inaugural ACC Championship Game Saturday in Jacksonville. The winner earns the league's Bowl Championship Series berth.
He has 41 tackles, a team-best 10.5 for a loss, to go with a career-high nine sacks and 34 quarterback hurries. He has forced three fumbles, broken up three passes and, in last weekend's division-clinching win against North Carolina, blocked a field goal.
In a league blessed with standout ends who figure to be high NFL draft picks, including Boston College's Mathias Kiwanuka and North Carolina State's Mario Williams, the 6-foot-1, 265-pound Tapp might be the best and he could be constant problem for the Seminoles. They have had trouble protecting quarterback Drew Weatherford with a piecemeal offensive line.
"He's like a bowling ball out there," FSU senior tight end Matt Henshaw said. "He's short, but he's fast and very, very strong. He's got a spin move. He can bull rush you. He can speed rush you. He can do anything he wants."
It's no coincidence that the Hokies lead the nation in total defense, scoring defense and passing defense.
"He's got talent, but he plays so daggone hard," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "He's just a good player with a big heart who just plays hard. We like him on our side. I can tell you that."
Renowned on his team as a tireless worker and a self-made star, Tapp's energy flows unabated like it's always happy hour, like the mountain top is ever nearer.
"He's one of those special players," said senior tight end Jeff King, who has to block him each day in practice. "He rubs off on everyone. He's just one of those guys who gets everyone going. We feed off his energy."
You don't have to be on the field to recognize that.
It comes through with plasma-TV resolution on game tape.
"He's a beast," said FSU senior nose guard Brodrick Bunkley, no slouch himself with an ACC-best 20.5 tackles for a loss. "I've watched plenty of film of him. I watched film of him last year. He has a great motor. For a bigger defensive end, he gets after it. That's something I admire. He hustles every play."
Beamer credits Tapp's parents for instilling that attitude in him.
Tapp politely amends that to include his two older brothers, Charles Jr. and Brian.
"When I was younger, we enforced the rule that if you do it right the first time, you don't have to do it again," he said. "It took me a couple tries to learn that, but it finally stuck with me."
"They did their brotherly duties to keep me in line," he said, chortling. "So, if I slipped up, they were right there to straighten me out."
The Chesapeake, Va., native has taken that approach off the field, too. After last year's seniors led the Hokies to the ACC title in their first season in the league, he wanted to keep it going. He wanted to show the way.
"You really can't be a great leader unless you lead in the locker room," he said. "Guys really bond around how they see you go about doing things as far as your regular life and your classes and school and how you handle different people and also what you do on the practice field and on game day."
And during the summer, with each turn of the pedal to ascend each rising summit.
"You've got to continue to get better," he said. "You can't become stagnant with the things you do. You have to continually progress to become a better player and a better person."