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October 7, 2013

Hokies’ 2013 toughness a byproduct of grueling offseason

By: Bill Roth

Andrew Miller and his teammates worked harder in the offseason than ever before, lifting four days a week and running every day in preparation for the 2013 season.

From the time he trotted onto the field for his first practice at Virginia Tech under the watchful eye of his mentor and head coach Jerry Claiborne during the summer of 1966 until today, Frank Beamer has always valued toughness.

Claiborne’s teams – and Beamer’s better squads – have always been built around resilient, hardened guys who play football with a rugged attitude. Think of your favorite scene from a Clint Eastwood movie and that signature, gravelly snarl. It’s a look that Beamer enjoys seeing in orange and maroon.

The fact is that Beamer’s 2013 Hokies don’t win many points for aesthetic beauty. But boy, are they some tough hombres.

You have the sense that, following a third-down sack, Tech defenders like James Gayle and J.R. Collins look into the quarterback’s eyes, and in Gran Torino-style say, “Get off my lawn.”

“We’re not pretty, but we get it done,” Tech senior quarterback Logan Thomas said. “We’ll do pretty much anything to go out there and get a win. Play through pain, whatever it may be.”

Gayle separated his shoulder at East Carolina. The trainers popped it back into place, and he returned to action and recorded a key sack and forced a fumble that led to a safety in the waning moments.

Thomas couldn’t practice the week of the Georgia Tech game because of an abdominal strain. But he battering-rammed his way to 58 grueling rushing yards and a touchdown, leading the Hokies to a huge road win.

Center David Wang had to snap the ball with his opposite hand in practice because of a shoulder injury in the week leading up to the game against the Yellow Jackets. Receiver Willie Byrn sprained his knee in the first half of the Georgia Tech game, but he returned for the second half.

“I think we have a mentally tough football team and a physically tough football team," Beamer said after the win at Georgia Tech. "What we've done over the last 12 days – three games, two of them away from Blacksburg – and we come in here [Atlanta], a short week and not much rest and the kids said, 'Hey, we don't want any excuses. We want to go down there and get it done.’ And that's what we did. This is a special win right here.”

It was a win, and a team, that Claiborne would’ve enjoyed.

“I’ll say this about our team,” Beamer said a few days later. “We move on to the next play. When something goes wrong, we just move on, line up and make it right on the next play. That’s mental toughness. I like that about this team.”

Beamer and staff put this in motion last spring with the “T-Time” drill. See for yourself:

“We did a lot of things last spring and over the summer that were harder on our guys than usual,” said Dr. Mike Gentry, Tech’s associate AD for athletics performance. “We had some new lifts. We had more running. We challenged our players more this past offseason. Not that we weren’t challenging them before, but we did some different things since the end of last year.”

Ah yes, last year. The Hokies’ 7-6 record in 2012 was their worst in 20 years.

“Unacceptable,” senior lineman Andrew Miller said. “Unacceptable.”

How to fix it?

“We worked harder this past year than ever,” Miller said. “We lifted four days a week and ran every day. It was the hardest we’ve worked in the offseason since I’ve been here, and I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, I can tell you that.”

The results?

“We’ve seen some good and some bad throughout the weeks,” Miller said. “But the main thing I think you should see out of all of this is how we’ve gotten better from week to week.”

Big challenges lie ahead in November for the Hokies. Their margin for error is small.

They may not “wow” with talent, but they should earn your respect with their effort, their unity, and their toughness.

“I think it has a lot to do with how we’re brought up,” Thomas said. “Never say no. That’s not who I am. Those guys (Gentry, his staff and the coaching staff) are installing those qualities in us.”

They’ll block a would-be game-winning field goal in overtime to extend a game. They’ll play hurt, with sprained knees, and snap the football with the off-hand. As their coach likes to say, they’ll “hit you in the mouth.”

“Being tough and never giving up. You see that throughout our team,” Miller said. “We find a way to grind it out and find a way to win. We play until the last whistle blows.”

Addressing a hot issue

Many people have been asking questions about the many early kickoffs this season, so here is my in-depth take on the issue.

Under its contract with the ACC (and other conferences), ESPN is allowed to set the kickoff times for any game it televises. ESPN owns the rights to all ACC home games (including nonconference contests played at ACC stadiums) and will televise about 450 games from throughout the country this regular season. That’s a lot of games to show on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU.

If you look closely at your Virginia Tech ticket, there are no times listed on them whatsoever, not even the letters “TBA.”


ESPN, under its billion-dollar contracts with the ACC and other conferences, has the right to set game times and wait until 12 days before kickoff, and in some instances, only six, to inform the league office as to the schedule.

Here’s how it works: every Monday morning during the season, ESPN’s football brass, led by USC alum Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN’s vice president of programming and acquisitions for college football, meet in a conference room in Building 12 on ESPN’s campus in Bristol, Conn.

The group considers options for coming games and makes sure the best matchups get the best time slots on the various ESPN networks. After decisions are made, ESPN notifies the conference office as to game times and channels. The league then sends out an e-mail with the kickoff times to the athletic directors and the media.

There haven’t been many prime-time games yet this year for ACC teams. The SEC deserves, and is getting, many of those slots. Next year, many SEC football games will move to the SEC Network, which, in an odd way, may help the ACC in that it could open up some later time slots on ESPN’s other networks. But winning and having teams ranked in the top-10 is the sure way to get the most attractive kickoff times.

But keep in mind, ESPN doesn’t consider noon a bad time slot. Some of its biggest games this year are noon kicks. Here are a couple of those games:

• Ohio State at Michigan

• Florida at Miami

• In fact, this year’s Oklahoma-Texas game was set for an 11 a.m. Central kickoff so it can fit into the noon slot on the East Coast. It will be Oklahoma’s second 11 a.m. kickoff this season.

Keep in mind that every Big 10, SEC and Big 12 game played in the Central time zone that kicks at noon Eastern is actually starting at 11 a.m. locally—even a game like UCLA at Nebraska or No. 1 Alabama’s home game with Georgia State.

Fortunately, all ACC schools are in the Eastern time zone, so there are no 11 a.m. kickoffs for Hokie fans. But the noon games can be a challenge for folks in D.C., Richmond or Hampton Roads.

For the record, I went back and charted the kickoff times for every ACC team over the past five seasons. The Hokies have played 19 games that kicked at noon or 12:30. That’s second only to North Carolina’s 22 appearances in the early games, but not much more than most of the other teams in the league.

Here’s the number of noon or 12:30 kickoffs since the start of the 2009 season for ACC teams:

North Carolina 22
Duke 19
Virginia Tech 19
Georgia Tech 18
Maryland 18
N.C. State 17
Boston College 16
Maryland 16
Virginia 16
Clemson 15
Miami 15
Wake Forest 15
Florida State 12

The Voice’s Mailbag

Dear Bill,

I was kind of hoping for more out of Trey Edmunds this year. After the opening night against Alabama, I would've thought he would have been THE MAN. What's the deal? Greg, Norfolk.


Wow, you’re being tough on the kid. Trey rushed for 100-plus yards twice in his first five college games as a freshman. And remember, he did get banged up with a hip injury against Marshall. With his skill set and toughness, he’s going to have a sensational career at Tech. You can’t judge anyone on just five games, of course, but for fun, here are the stats for the first five games for Edmunds, Ryan Williams, David Wilson and Darren Evans during their careers at Tech.

Trey Edmunds 353 3
Darren Evans 336 6
Ryan Williams 335 5
David Wilson 161 1


I heard your interview with Senator [Mark] Warner during the last game and wondered why you guys didn't ask him about the government shutdown. Are you told not to ask questions like that? How do you determine what political candidates to interview? Do you hear from Republicans who might not want to hear from a Democrat on a Hokies’ broadcast? Kevin, Richmond.


Interesting question. There’s a pretty big difference between a political candidate who is running for office, or a sitting U.S. senator or governor (who is not in the midst of a campaign) who happens to be visiting Lane Stadium for a football Saturday.

In the case of Senator Warner, he was honored, along with Tech President Dr. Charles Steger, during the Hokies’ game with Marshall on the 10th anniversary of Virginia Tech joining the ACC. Our discussion with the Senator was based on his involvement in the league’s decision to offer Tech membership back in 2003.

Over the years, we’ve interviewed plenty of people from both sides of the aisle, including Republicans George Allen (as both Virginia’s governor and senator) and Governor Jim Gilmore. And, of course, we’ve talked several times with Warner (as both Virginia’s governor and senator) and dozens of other political types.

We’ve never been instructed to avoid any controversial topics or hot-button issues, and we keep it light. This isn’t “Meet the Press,” of course, and I would think our listeners don’t expect to hear hardcore political talk during a Hokies’ football broadcast.

That being said, then-Governor Warner did use a phone-in appearance during Hurricane Isabel to remind people in the Commonwealth to exercise caution around downed power lines and not to drive through water during our broadcast of the Texas A&M game in 2003. That was a serious night in Virginia, and there were hundreds of thousands of people without power whom the Governor’s office thought might be listening to the Texas A&M game on their portable radios. So Warner called into our broadcast and was able to pass on what he felt was important information.

One of my favorite political interviews ever was with Iowa Governor Chet Culver, a 1988 Virginia Tech graduate and former Hokie football player. Governor Culver stopped by our radio booth and joined Mike Burnop and me on the air at the Orange Bowl. He took off his Iowa Hawkeyes jacket and proudly revealed a Virginia Tech golf shirt.