Va. Tech cornerback is earning his stripes
Dec 26, 2012 (Menafn - The Virginian-Pilot - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --ORLANDO, Fla. -- Antone Exum was thinking about some speakers and a few DVDs on Christmas Eve to finish off the 470 Best Buy gift card all the Hokies received as part of their Russell Athletic Bowl swag.
Then the spirit of the season got into the Virginia Tech cornerback.
"It was really all wants," he said Tuesday. "It wasn't anything that I needed, so I just put it back and tried to help some kids out."
Exum sought out three kids from the Bahamas he had seen earlier, and let them go on a shopping spree.
Their final haul -- a game system, controllers, games and a Blackberry -- totaled over 500. Teammates Tariq Edwards and Marcus Davis covered the difference.
"I was blessed to have a lot of fortunate Christmases when I was a kid," Exum said Tuesday. "Every kid deserves to have those perfect Christmases."
After Exum tweeted a picture of himself with the kids, it went viral. A blog post made it up on the national sports blog, Deadspin. Hundreds of people tweeted to thank him.
Praised for his good deed off the field, Exum, after some bumps in his transition from safety to cornerback, is starting to get the same for his work on the field.
The junior from Glen Allen earned second-team All-ACC honors at cornerback and an All-America honorable mention from Sports Illustrated after a season in which he made 47 tackles, had a team-high four interceptions and a league-high 15 passes defended.
The ride there wasn't all smooth. Exum, used to the physical nature of the safety position, was a little too aggressive at corner to start out. That showed in the Cincinnati game, when he was flagged twice for pass interference and twice for facemasks.
"I knew I would have some things that I would work through, some things that you would only get by having game experience," Exum said. "So I feel like I improved in a lot of those areas and continued to get better as the year went on."
He grew from the experience, playing strong coverage for the rest of the year. He had interceptions in the Hokies' final two games, the one against Virginia coming in the final minutes to set up a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Exum's physicality will come in handy in Friday's Russell Athletic Bowl against Rutgers receivers Tim Wright and Brandon Coleman, who stand 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, respectively.
"It's not like I'm going to be out there being bullied around or pushed around or anything," said Exum, who at 6-foot-1, 224 pounds, is big for a cornerback. "So that will just slow him down out of his flow of things. Hopefully. That's the plan."
It's Exum's versatility, being able to cover all types of receivers and play multiple positions, that makes him attractive in the NFL, although the junior has said he's probably coming back for his senior season, a decision he'll finalize after the bowl.
Whenever Exum decides to pursue the NFL, he already has a plus in his column for character after his generosity Monday.
"Hopefully it's a Christmas that they won't forget," Exum said of the kids. "And I know that it was a Christmas that I won't forget because I won't forget those smiles and the excitement on their faces."
Andy Bitter, (757) 446-2374 email@example.com
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