Hokies defensive end James Gayle tweeted Thursday afternoon that he plans to return for his senior season at Virginia Tech, one day after cornerback Antone Exum announced the same.
“After much thought I have decided to postpone my NFL ambitions to complete my degree and work towards another championship,” Gayle tweeted.
That leaves quarterback Logan Thomas as the only underclassmen the Hokies are waiting on for official word about whether he goes pro or not.
Gayle, a 6-foot-4, 269-pound defensive end from Hampton, was a second-team All-ACC pick for a second straight season after finishing with 43 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and five sacks. Those numbers are down slightly from the 12.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks he had in 2011 and less than the double-digit sack total he set out as his goal. He did have a team-high 27 quarterback hurries, though.
Gayle, who might have had a tough time being selected high in a draft flush with top-end pass rushers, said last month that he still wanted to get first-team All-ACC honors before he finished college.
“I want to gain more accolades,” he said prior to the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Defensive line coach Charley Wiles wanted to see Gayle be more productive as a pass rusher before moving on to the next level.
“I think he’s very, very capable of being a first-, second-round draft pick and having a great year [if he comes back],” Wiles said late last month. “That’s what I’d like to see him do is reach his potential here at Virginia Tech. … He’s been good, but he could be better.”
Gayle’s return is yet another boost to a Virginia Tech defense that, after some rough patches early in the year, finished the season ranked 18th nationally. With Gayle and Exum back, the Hokies will return nine defensive starters in 2013, only losing linebackers Bruce Taylor and Alonzo Tweedy (although 2011 starter Tariq Edwards, who missed almost all of this season with a knee/leg injury, returns to the fold).
The defensive line is particularly deep. The top seven tacklers from this year’s group — Gayle, Derrick Hopkins, Luther Maddy, J.R. Collins, Tyrel Wilson, Corey Marshall and Dadi Nicolas — are expected to return. Those seven accounted for 47 tackles for a loss and 22 sacks in 2012. The only departing player who got significant playing time is senior Antoine Hopkins.