Once upon a time, I was a fourteen year old boy playing varsity soccer in a high school that had a total of 50 students. My soccer coach was mean, ornery, and pompous. It did not matter what I did, he would always find something wrong and blow it up. He once told me I ran like an old woman. During the final week of the season, I had enough of his BS, and was ready to quit. Instead of quitting, I stuck through the week, and I am glad I did.
The soccer team claimed our 7th straight regional championship, defeated a bitter rival, and was awarded the national championship by a now defunct magazine publication
Fast forward many years later, I volunteered to coach my daughter's soccer team, applying everything I learned from that mean, ornery, and pompous coach without the nastiness. The team won six games and only lost four. The parents were disappointed when I decided not to return for the fall.
This brings me to Virginia Tech and the football team.
Head coach Frank Beamer issued a challenge to his team, telling them that he wanted them to be tough. Remember the 1999 squad that set the benchmark? It is safe to say Beamer wants them to meet that benchmark, and then shatter it.
How do we measure toughness? Is it something like I did, sticking it out in spite of having a coach that rode me into the ground, or is it much more than simply being mentally, emotionally, and physically tough? How do we truly define what toughness is?
Offensive line coach, Jeff Grimes, said he wanted the offensive line to pave the way. He has the know-how, the experience, and most importantly, a national championship on his resume to back up his talk. In fact, former Auburn center and national championship letter-winner, Ryan Pugh, is on the coaching staff as a graduate assistant. He can easily back up Grimes in the toughness department.
According to multiple media reports, the first spring practice was a smashing success, as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Scott Loeffler, was all over the offense. Whenever he saw something he didn't like, he barked it, and demonstrated what was proper. He got onto a quarterback for taking it easy. He even disliked how the Hokies huddled, and told them how he wanted it done. Media members remarked that he was a perfectionist.
Even Aaron Morehead, the wide receivers coach, was in on the act. A report came out that he actually did up and downs, getting in his players' faces, and even told the wide receivers that if they did not make it to a 6 A.M. meeting, he would schedule it for 5 A.M.
Accountability. Attention to details. Are those attributes part of how we define toughness?
What I find interesting is how obsessed Loeffler is to attention details, it reminded me of a certain coach who breathes, preaches, walks, talks and thinks the same way. That coach is going to be on Frank Beamer's opposite on August 31, and that coach is Alabama's Nick Saban.
Is it a coincidence, perhaps, that Saban recommended Loeffler to Beamer? I don't think so.
Measuring toughness is practically an impossibility. It is not something we can quantify the same way mathematicians develop equations based on raw data. Therefore, toughness must be inherent, borne out of practice, and sharpened by experience. Toughness can be compared to steel. Steel must go through fire to be softened and malleable to create a form, and it must go into a cold water to harden it. Then the whole process is repeated until the steel become so hard it is indestructible.
The football team has shown flashes of toughness in the past, but perhaps not on a near consistent enough basis.
Off the top of my head, I can recall a couple of examples of that toughness.
The first would be the infamous Miami game where Logan Thomas scored the decisive touchdown on 4th and 1. The defense, however, were put into a situation where they, being exhausted, had to prevent Miami from scoring another touchdown and winning the ball game. On the very last play, Miami's quarterback, Jacory Harris, dumped the ball to Lamar Miller, who made several Hokies' tacklers miss, running sideline to sideline in vain search for a running lane, and it was Alonzo Tweedy saving the game by tackling Miller to the ground.
The second example is the Labor Day's night game against Georgia Tech. Linebacker Jack Tyler missed a runner in the open field and Georgia Tech scored the touchdown. The game was all but decided at that point. With only 44 seconds on the clock in the 4th quarter, Logan Thomas and the offense proceeded to make several plays, converting a crucial fourth down into a big gain. Placekicker Cody Journell nailed the field goal attempt to tie the game and send it into overtime. The defense, this time, did not fold, and brought just enough pressure to force Tevin Washington into an interception. Cody Journell again was clutch as he nailed the game winning field goal attempt in overtime.
I think toughness is the refusal to give up when the odds are stacked against the team. Toughness is looking at the opponent across from you, knowing they know how tired you are, but having the dogged determination to win the battle one more time. Toughness is bending, but refusing to break.
I think that is what Frank Beamer wants. I think he wants the team to, collectively, win every battle on every single possession, whether it is on defense, offense or special teams. I think he wants the team, individually, to hone their talents and skills by learning all the techniques and footwork necessary to be successful.
When the team masters the attention to detail, I believe that is when game can be won long before it is decided, and I believe that Beamer made the right hires to move the team in the direction of being the toughest sons-of-guns that line up on the field.