As part of the Good Hands Roadside Rivalry Road Trip, former Virginia Tech wide receiver Antonio Freeman was kind enough to do a quick Q&A with us about the VT-UVa rivalry, his time at Tech and his memories of Frank Beamer. Freeman and my fellow SB Nation blogger Spencer Hall, of Every Day Should Be Saturday fame, will be at TOTS from 10-11 a.m. Saturday signing autographs (Well, Freeman will. Spencer charges $10 for his John Hancock, kid.) and taking questions from the Hokie faithful. They'll also be giving away 10 pairs of tickets to the UVa game and signing up fans for Good Hands Roadside. Thanks to Antonio and Allstate.
GC: What is it about the Virginia Tech-UVa game that you think makes this rivalry so great?
AF: It's the bragging rights for the state of Virginia. You're talking about the two 1A schools in the state fighting for the right to claim Virginia for the year. It's typically the last game of the year and it's a heated rivalry. We just don't like those guys and they don't like us, so it makes for a great rivalry, a great Saturday of college football and a great close to the college football season.
What's your favorite memory of this game from when you played at Virginia Tech?
Just winning. This game was always tough and at the end of the year when you're battling injuries and guys are aching, wanting to go home and dying to get a break before the bowl game comes. I remember playing on that turf at UVa, the intense battles and how much this game meant to both schools. It meant a lot for us to go down there and beat UVa because my freshman year was during the Shawn Moore/Herman Moore era. During my time at Virginia Tech we were trying to pay those guys back for having such a talented team during those years.
The game was played before Thanksgiving when you were there. Now it's always the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Do you think that helps the rivalry or does it hurt that the kids no longer get to experience Thanksgiving?
Not experiencing Thanksgiving is just part of being an athlete, whether it's pro or college level. I think that it's helped the rivalry by playing it the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I've mentioned before that there were distractions there (when I played). Guys wanted to hurry up and play that game so they could get back home and eat mom's food. Guys were as excited about the opportunity to go home and eat mom's Thanksgiving cooking as rallying around and getting ready to play that tough UVa ball club.
Moving it to the Saturday after Thanksgiving has really helped the rivalry. It gives the team a lot more time to bond because when you're stuck in a place you don't really want to be for the holidays you have no choice but to bond.
Your playing days helped set the foundation for what we have now -- you guys started the bowl streak at the Independence Bowl in 1993. When you were there did you think this program would reach the heights that it's reached now under Frank Beamer?
To be honest, not to this extent. I knew the program would be successful because I know coach Beamer and I know he's a demanding coach who wants the best for his players and wants his players to give their best. I didn't think he'd get to this level where he has an elite program in college football.
It's funny how he's arrived at this point. He started as a special teams guru and our special teams were a big key to our success back in the early 90s. He's gone from that and Bud Foster has brought his defense along, so then you have those two components of winning - good special teams and good defense. Those two components can win football games.
What coach Beamer has been able to do repeatedly, even before the Michael Vick era, is recruit running and scrambling quarterbacks, which is great for the college game. If you have a mobile quarterback that can run the option and drop back to pass and leave defenses mesmerized - if you look back you have Al Clark, Mike Vick, Marcus Vick, Bryan Randall, it goes on and on and on - it helps the offense come along. For so many years Virginia Tech was a run-first football team. What coach Beamer has been able to do is go out and give himself a lot of playmaking talent on this football team - offensively, defensively and on special teams. That's what makes this football team so great year in and year out. They do it every year because of those three components.
How do you stay involved with the program? What do you do to stay connected with Virginia Tech?
I typically try to go to at least two or three games and try to surround myself with the guys who are on the team. Bruce Smith is another guy who often comes back and is available on the sidelines for many of the Hokies' games. I like to show these guys that it's possible. We did it when Virginia Tech was small and trying to get up there with the big dogs. I'm a success story from Virginia Tech so I want to come back and let these guys be able to ask me questions, be able to talk to me, be able to touch me and be able to envision their own personal dreams that they have in life - whether it's sports or career-oriented.
Just to be a part of a successful program and just be available, in all aspects, for this football team and coach Beamer is my role here. I'm a fan, I'm a supporter and I'm a Hokie for life.
What's your favorite memory of coach Beamer from your time at Tech?
My favorite memory is probably one of my worst memories. I was a redshirt freshman and through the first four weeks of the season I wasn't playing a lot - I'm sure this is his favorite moment from me as well. We had a JV game against, I think, Fork Union and it fell on the Saturday of our bye week. Typically guys will get in their cars on Thursday and drive home to have an extended weekend to hang out with their family. That was in my plans. I was going to go home like everyone else and visit my family, my old school and my old classmates.
Coach Beamer had a different plan in mind. He wanted me to play in the JV game, which would give me an opportunity to show the coaches, get some reps under my belt and potentially play later on in the season. I wasn't buying it and I wanted to go home and I was adamant about wanting to go home. Coach Beamer put his foot down and said, "This is how it's going to be, so you better buckle up and get ready and stay this weekend and play in this game. This will help you along the way, trust me."
So I invested my trust in coach Beamer. I stayed, I played in that game, against my will, and I had a career day. I think I had eight catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns. That let that coaching staff know that I could play at that level and had some potential. From that point on, coach Beamer and his staff just started plugging me into different situations throughout the year. I think I managed to get two touchdowns and finished third or fourth on the team in receiving on the team as a redshirt freshman.
So that game really propelled me for the success I had throughout my stay at Virginia Tech. That wouldn't have been possible without coach Beamer putting his foot down. Without coach Beamer making me play in that football game the Antonio Freeman legacy may have never been unveiled. That's my favorite story of coach Beamer and from what I've heard from the Virginia Tech alumni from after I left school, that's his favorite story to tell and motivate some of the guys on that team that may not be playing a lot.
You're going to be in Blacksburg this Saturday doing a Q&A with the fans. What do you expect at it and what do you expect out of Hokie fans for that?
I expect Hokie fans to be Hokie fans - excited, crazy and ready for football. On another note, I'm excited to partner up with Allstate and be a part of the Rivalry Road Trip from Good Hands roadside assistance. It's a good program because Virginia Tech fans spend a lot of time on the road travelling to games. Good Hands roadside assistance is a great safety net to have while going to the game to watch the Hokies win.
How about a real quick prediction on the game?
Hey, we're already in the ACC Championship Game, but I don't expect the Hokies to let up any. I think coach Beamer's going to keep this thing steamrolling all the way through the end of the year. I'm expecting 28-17. We're going to pull it out late and gain some distance late. UVa's going to bring their "A game" - but in Lane Stadium after Thanksgiving? No, we're not losing this one. We're going to keep rolling into that ACC Championship game.