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December 8, 2009

That's "Outland," spelled B-I-G

By: Jimmy Robertson

Dec. 11, 1984

Jack Williams, Tech’s sports information director, tells the story of how D.J. Dozier, the super running back from Tidewater who chose to play football at Penn State, was making his official visit to Virginia Tech.

“Mr. Williams,” the young man said, “can I make All-America at Virginia Tech?”

Williams told him that indeed he could, that the cream will always rise to the top. But even as he said it, he could see the doubt in Dozier’s eyes.

After all, how much tradition did Virginia Tech have? Only one consensus All-American, Frank Loria, and that had been nearly 20 years before.

So Dozier chose Penn State, a big-name football school.

Bruce Smith defied tradition. While in high school, Smith was told by all the big-name schools’ recruiters not to go to Virginia Tech because he couldn’t get the publicity he needed.

My, oh my, how Bruce has proved them wrong.

The Outland Trophy, which Bruce Smith won for being the best lineman in college football, is instant tradition. Gone is the idea that Tech doesn’t have the pull to get its players in the national limelight. Gone, too, will be the doubt in the eyes of future recruits, who can visit Tech and, instead of wondering whether they can make it here, can think to themselves, “Bruce Smith won the Outland Trophy here.”

Yes, as big as the Outland Trophy is for Bruce Smith, it’s tremendously bigger for the university. The Outland Trophy. The No. 1 award given to a college football lineman. Nationally.

And here it sits in Blacksburg.

It has assured Big Bruce of a lifetime spot in the history of Virginia Tech athletics and the history of college football, as if he didn’t already have those things on the strength of 46 career quarterback sacks.

It also assured Virginia Tech of the most national publicity it has ever received in football. What a plus that will be when recruiting time rolls around.

An elated Bruce Smith tells reporters what it feels like to be voted the best in the nation.
What would Bruce say now to those big-name recruiters who told him he couldn’t do well at Virginia Tech?

“I’d say no matter where you decide to go to school to further your education and further your career in football, you can accomplish your goals,” the soft-spoken Smith told a larger gathering of reporters last week at Cassell Coliseum.

You run down the list of previous Outland Trophy winners – 38 of them – and you see names such as Alex Karras, Merlin Olsen, Tommy Nobis, Rich Glover, Lee Roy Selmon, Ross Browner and Dave Rimington.

And you see schools such as Nebraska, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Texas, Ohio State, Penn State, Southern Cal and Pittsburgh.

And there, on the 39th line, is, “1984, Bruce Smith, Virginia Tech.”

That’s some heady company for the Hokies, and in fact, for the state of Virginia, which had not produced an Outland Trophy winner until Bruce came along.

It is most significant that Bruce is a Virginia native (Norfolk) who decided to stay in the state and play his college football despite being wooed by so many big-name, out-of-state schools. At the Thursday press conference, coach Bill Dooley made a point of bringing up that fact.

“I’m really proud that Bruce elected to stay in the state of Virginia to continue his education,” Dooley said. “He’s the only athlete in Virginia history to achieve this type of award.”

This has been a big year all the way around for football in the state. This is the first time Virginia Tech and Virginia have gone to bowl games in the same year, and both of those programs are in very good shape. Also, this year, Richmond made the Division I-AA playoffs. And to cap it off, Bruce Smith, besides becoming Virginia Tech’s second consensus All-American, has won the most important national award a lineman can win.

Tech’s recruiting coordinator, Tom Fletcher, has said that he tries to convince Virginia’s high-school players to attend a Virginia university because of the many advantages: they can play close to home, they’ll receive much better local media coverage because of their state ties, and they’ll make numerous contacts in school that they can make use of after school when they return home.

Add to that now the example set by Bruce Smith, who, instead of searching far and wide for national fame, has brought national fame to his own back yard.