First start is a bear

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Jaymes Brooks first heard the news from a teammate.

"You're going in for Nick Marshman today," Sergio Render told him two Fridays ago as Virginia Tech's football team gathered for position meetings.

Brooks, an offensive guard from Denbigh High, thought the move routine and temporary. He figured Marshman had tweaked an ankle, or that seniors had the day off.

Moments later, offensive line coach Curt Newsome cornered Brooks and told him the complete story:

Marshman is academically ineligible for the bowl. He earned his degree last spring and competed this season as a graduate student, yet somehow failed to pass the NCAA-minimum six credits during the recently completed fall semester.

"I was shocked," Brooks said Christmas Eve morning from his mother's Newport News home. "Then I was thinking, 'Wow, my first start in the Orange Bowl. What a start.' "

Indeed, thanks to the strangest, and perhaps most inexcusable, case of academic neglect in memory, Brooks will make his first college start Jan. 1 against Cincinnati.

Render, a second-team All-ACC selection, moves from right guard to replace Marshman. Brooks takes over Render's normal spot for his first start since 2006, his senior season at Denbigh.

Marshman had started 27 consecutive games and played 863 snaps this season, missing only three. He played approximately 1,800 snaps during his Tech career.

Brooks, an unfailingly polite "yes, sir, no, sir" young man, has played four snaps, three against Division I-AA Furman and one at Boston College. In the Orange Bowl, he'll line up next to right tackle and fellow redshirt freshman Blake DeChristopher.

Tech's all-rookie right side will encounter a defense that starts 10 seniors, including all four linemen and all three linebackers.

Can you say daunting?

"We're not really concerning ourselves with the snaps he hasn't taken," offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said of Brooks. "We're concerning ourselves with the snaps he's going to take. Those are the ones that are important. …

"We've got a lot of confidence in Jaymes. I'm sure Jaymes is going to have a little bit of jitters out there. … He's getting ready to face a very experienced, very difficult, physical defensive line."

What about it, Jaymes? Nervous?

"Just anxious to get out there and get that first hit out of the way," he said. "I've always been like that, even with the shot put. I was anxious until I got that first throw out of the way."

Brooks was the state Group AAA runner-up in the shot put and discus as a senior, was ranked among the state's top 10 football prospects and attracted scholarship offers from Florida, Tennessee, Maryland and Virginia Tech.

He sat out the 2007 season as a redshirt, and when we chatted in August he couldn't wait to run out of the Lane Stadium tunnel for the home opener against Furman. Brooks understood and accepted that playing time would be sparse in 2008 behind Marshman and Ed Wang, a fourth-year junior.

Now Brooks prepares for a Cincinnati defense that ranks 13th nationally against the run and features first-team All-Big East end Connor Barwin. So bank on Bearcats coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, VMI's secondary coach from 1999-2001, attacking Tech's right side with every stunt and blitz imaginable.

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