By DAVID HACKETT

Sun Correspondent

This new column on what former local sports standouts are doing today will be appear regularly in the Venice Gondolier Sun. If you know of someone who merits coverage, please email davidmhackett@comcast.net.

Venice High School has produced so many college football players in the John Peacock era that former Indians can’t help running into each other – sometimes literally. Twice in the past two years, Virginia Tech defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt found himself in the trenches going to battle with Miami offensive lineman Ty Gauthier.

“It was surreal, I’m not going to lie to you,” Hewitt recalled lining up against his former Venice teammate and friend since first grade. “We kind of looked each other in the eye and said, ‘Let’s get after it.’”

‘Getting after it’ has been Hewitt’s modus operandi since he was a youngster making a name for himself playing Pop Warner ball at Letson Stadium.

Now a redshirt junior at Virginia Tech, the 6-foot-1, 288-pounder is projected to anchor the defense of a team picked to contend for the ACC Coastal Division title. Hewitt started 10 games last season and then built on that success by having the most impressive offseason of any Virginia Tech player, which led to him being crowned the team’s 2019 Hard Hat Champion. That award encompasses training, effort, leadership, performance and enthusiasm during the months of workouts leading up to the season.

“It’s a prestigious award, and truthfully it meant a lot because I really want to be a leader and I want to have the best season of my life,” Hewitt said.

When he played at Venice, Hewitt was among the biggest and often the strongest player on the field. As a senior, he squatted 550 pounds and bench pressed 415 pounds — on par with many college players. But what separated him, and what put a shiver into many opposing runners and quarterbacks, was the ferocity and determination he showed on every play. The sight of Hewitt fighting past two blockers and chasing down a running back across the field, then slamming him to the turf became a signature highlight for the Indians.

In the lexicon of coaches, he had a motor that did not quit.

“Effort!” Peacock responded, when asked for one word that described Hewitt.

Despite dominating every game and winning area Player of the Year, Hewitt was ranked as only the 185th best prospect in Florida and he did not receive scholarship offers from Florida, Florida State or Miami. The recruiters measured his body, not his heart.

“I had a chip on my shoulder because I always wanted to play college football in Florida and I thought that the big schools in my home state overlooked me,” Hewitt said. “It was always, ‘If you were an inch taller or weighed a little more’ … always something.”

Then one day Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster came to Venice to offer Hewitt a scholarship, and Hewitt knew he was headed to the right place. In a world of nomad football coaches, Foster has been coaching at Virginia Tech since 1987 and is regarded as one of the best defensive minds in college football. He is known for his “lunch pail defense” in which the team’s defensive goals are written each week on a battered metal lunch pail and a player is chosen to carry the pail when the team runs into the stadium.

“He’s a Hokie, completely and totally,” Hewitt said of Foster. “He understands everything about old-school football and about the fast-paced way it is played today. And he really knows how to get us ready to play at our best.”

Hewitt’s appreciation for Foster is matched by his gratitude toward Peacock and his other coaches at Venice. He says Venice’s program, including its mandatory offseason workouts and its coaching staff filled with former professional and college players, prepared him for the demands of playing top-level college football.

“Coach Peacock and his staff mold teenagers into men,” Hewitt said. “The level of accountability it takes to succeed as a football player at Venice prepared me tremendously for college. It’s all about doing the right thing all the time, even when you know that nobody is looking.”

When Hewitt lines up for the Hookies this season, fans and opposing teams may do a double take. He will be wearing No. 5, a numeral traditionally donned by quarterbacks and defensive backs. Hewitt said five has been his favorite number dating to his years when he played running back for the Venice Vikings in Pop Warner. He settled for No. 55 his first three years at Virginia Tech.

“But now that a few years have gone by and I assumed a leadership role, I got the opportunity (to pick a new number) and I seized it,” Hewitt said. “Life is too short not to take the opportunities when you can.”

Hewitt is on track to graduate next spring with a degree in property management. His family has a real estate business and Hewitt interned this summer at a leasing agency. But before going into the business world, he first hopes to realize a lifelong dream by playing in the NFL.

“I’ve always loved playing football,” Hewitt said. “And if you love the game, you’ve got to play with all-out effort on every play. That’s what I try to do. I definitely want to play in the NFL. But all my thoughts are on this season. It’s the biggest season of my life.”

Virginia Tech opens the season at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, at Boston College. The game will be televised on the new ACC Network.

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