(Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

It hasn’t been an easy road Khalil Ladler, but some of his hard work is finally beginning to pay off. After suffering an ACL injury his senior year of high school, going through intense rehab as a redshirt freshman, and switching positions prior to the start of the 2017 season; not much was expected out of the reserve free safety. Then a few injuries struck the Hokies secondary and the 5-foot-11 inch 180-pound safety might be a pivotal component if Virginia Tech wants to close out a win against in-state rival Virginia on Friday.

Ladler admitted his expectation for the season was simply to do whatever he could to help make the team better.

“It’s all a process. I just worked through it, did my rehab, and the coaches put me in the right position to do what I needed to do to help the team out,” said Ladler on finding his role early in his Virginia Tech career.

His help would be desperately needed as the Hokies were without defensive backs Terrell Edmunds and Mook Reynolds on their final defensive drive last Saturday, and needed the young redshirt freshman to step up.

Ladler, who has seen action on special teams all season, was a big key in the Hokies’ goal-line stand versus Pittsburgh last Saturday. He was able to penetrate the backfield on several plays and even communicated with regular starters about the opposing formation.

“Yeah we practiced it all week, so when my number was called I went out there and executed,” said Ladler on being able to shutdown the Pittsburgh offense with a mere yard to gain.

Even defensive coordinator Bud Foster noticed his courage to step up into a vocal role and still execute his assignment in a high-pressure situation.

“Its just a credit to Khalil, him working the game, him being in the game as far as in his mindset and that type of thing. He knew the formation that they were in that last play and knew what we could anticipate the play they were going to run and he played that way. That’s a credit to him and Coach Galen Scott and his preparation. He’s a guy that has improved throughout. Every time he’s stepped in the game, he’s performed,” said Foster on the play of Ladler late in the game against Pittsburgh.”

Foster also hinted that Ladler has earned some trust with the defensive staff and could be in-line for a very big game if Mook Reynolds is limited by his injuries.

If he’s going to play a bigger role this week, I fully expect him to excel,” said Foster on Ladler’s preparation for Virginia. “That’s what we expect, but yeah he’s improved and been steady and I think he’s at the right spot for us. We made that move, I think that’s the best sport for him and for us.”

Even though Ladler may only be a redshirt freshman, he was pretty in sync with how much this rivalry means to the football program and the state of Virginia.

“They don’t like us, and we don’t like them, so that’s just how it goes,” said the free safety.

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