"I knew before they snapped the ball that would be my play to make," said Gayle, a Hampton, Va., native. "They had a dynamic guy back there who can make a play and I knew I had to get back there before he got the ball off. I was able to."
Gayle has been named second-team All-ACC two years in a row, and NFLDraftScout.com ranks him the No. 12 defensive end prospect in a crowded field, a third- or fourth-round pick. "Gayle lacks imposing size, but is strongly built throughout his frame with the natural burst and quickness to explode off the edge with flexibility and raw power."
Gayle is a fifth-year senior, along with his defensive end counterpart, J.R. Collins. The tackles are experienced and plenty beefy - senior Derrick Hopkins (6-0, 311) and junior Luther Maddy (6-1, 296). They will rotate with the second unit liberally.
"They roll them in and out of there and they're all, like, 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, and can run," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said.
Tech almost had to improve on last year's defense, which contributed to the Hokies' sub-par 7-6 record. The Hokies finished 32nd in scoring defense (22.85), 29th in rushing defense (134.08) and 18th in total defense (333.15) - good for many teams, but unacceptable in Blacksburg.
Those figures improved from the first snap, when Tech held Alabama to 209 total yards and two touchdowns (the Crimson Tide scored three by other means). The defenders have a deep loyalty to defensive coordinator Bud Foster and want to give him a better effort.
"Bud Foster is the reason I came to Virginia Tech," Gayle said. "I liked his intensity when I came here and was watching him. I knew he was a great coordinator."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.