Antone Exum is steadily working his way back from a torn ACL suffered in January, hoping to get back on the field within the season's first few weeks.
For Bud Foster and the rest of the Hokies defense, that day can't come soon enough -- and they're not the only ones who understand the value he brings.
Earlier this week, Exum was named to the preseason watch list for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, presented each year to the top defensive player in NCAA football.
He added to that Friday by landing on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, which honors the the nation's top defensive back.
On the heels of a dominant 2012 season, neither preseason accolade comes as a shock.
The Glen Allen, Va. product wrapped up his junior season by taking home MVP honors in the Russell Athletic Bowl, breaking up a pass and intercepting another, returning the pick 32 yards.
Three plays later, Logan Thomas connected with Corey Fuller on a 21-yard scoring pass, tying the game in the fourth quarter. Virginia Tech would go on to win in overtime.
That lead to a spot on SI.com's All-Bowl Team, an honorable mention on their All-American squad, and unanimous Second-Team All-ACC selections.
The only thing holding him back heading into his senior season is his recovery from offseason knee surgery, performed by noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews; Exum tore his ACL and lateral meniscus in his right knee playing pickup basketball shortly after the end of the season.
Unable to participate in spring drills or offseason workouts, Exum has focused his efforts on rehabbing.
He is expected to miss the season opener against Alabama, in the Georgia Dome, but is targeting a return by week three.
Whenever he's able to resume contributing, it is likely to make all the difference for Virginia Tech -- and if he returns at full strength, another offseason of awards could follow.