In the 1990s, Virginia Tech established a reputation on the football field for its unmatched success with special teams. Blocked kicks, punts, and touchdown returns became the trademark of the program, and soon became known as "Beamerball", after its head coach Frank Beamer, who oversees the special teams himself.
During that decade, Tech averaged more than six blocked kicks per season, easily the best in the country. Since then, the block party has become more of a casual gathering.
From 2003 until 2005, the Hokies blocked only 11 kicks, half of the season average from the previous decade. In 2009, the Hokies came up with a single blocked kick, when Jacob Sykes blocked Matt Bosher's punt against Miami, leading to Matt Reidy's recovery in the end zone for a touchdown.
It was well publicized for the longest time about the Hokies dedication to special teams, more specifically coach Beamer's contributions to the success. However, a few changes in recent years have led to the Beamerball demise.
First of all, virtually every Tech opponent began developing unique schemes in their alignment to confuse the Hokies. In a 2002 game against Temple, the Owls spread all ten men besides the punter from one sideline to the other, forcing the Tech defense to spread their men out as well. That was one of the first games in which the Hokies' opponent clearly made an effort to not succumb to the Tech trademark.
Since that point, many other formations and adaptations to the typical special teams strategies have kept the Hokies from blocking so many kicks.
Another reason the blocks are fewer and farther between now is coach Beamer isn't the only man paying special attention to that area of the game, no pun intended. Many head coaches, including Urban Meyer at Florida, take care of the special teams themselves, or if they don't they hire a very strong special teams coordinator to do the job.
Before this shift in emphasis to the kicking game, Beamer was one of the few guys on the block (man, I'm getting carried away with the play on words here) that spent a significant amount of time practicing special teams. He's simply not on his own anymore.
The other part of the Hokies' games that fell under the "Beamerball" classification was the team's knack for opportunistic defensive play. Forced fumbles and interceptions are the mark of a great football team, but no team scored as many points on defense as the Hokies did during the 90's, and that tradition continues today.
For those of you still following along, that means that the special teams, coached by Beamer, has seen a dip in productivity in recent years, while the defense, coached by Bud Foster, remains on top of its game.
Maybe it's time to shed the Beamerball image and adopt Fosterball instead.
Let's face it; the Hokies won back-to-back ACC championships in 2007 and 2008 thanks to a defense that was ranked in the top five nationally. Neither year was the offense very productive, ranking in the bottom 30 in total yards both seasons. 2009 saw a spike in offensive productivity, and a slight statistical dip from the defense, thanks in large part to an inexperienced front seven. Despite the early season struggles from Foster's unit, they responded in the final five games of the season to allow exactly zero points in the second half of all those games.
Foster has been sought after by other programs year after year. Two years ago, West Virginia courted Foster for its head-coaching job. In 2008 it was Clemson doing the same thing. Just last month, Georgia head coach Mark Richt offered Foster the defensive coordinator job with his program. In each instance, Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver tossed a sizable raise Foster's way to keep him in town. This year, he signed Foster to a five-year deal worth over $2 million, making him one of highest paid at his post in the country.
The one item that stands above all in the Tech program is the lunch pail, a Foster establishment representing the hard work that goes into every practice, workout, and game for his defense. It has come to be the adornment of Hokie Nation, and it will forever remain a symbol of what the program stands for.
How much clearer could it be that Foster has become the heart and soul of this program? If he wanted to leave for a head-coaching gig, he would have done it by now.
Beamer has told me before that he will stick around as the Hokies' coach until "the time is right," but logical thinking says that won't be too awfully long. Foster, 50, seems primed to hold tight in Blacksburg for another five years or so before taking over for Beamer.
The defense in 2010 will undergo a major overhaul; replacing seven players with starting experience will be no small task. But anyone who's been around the Tech program, namely Foster, knows he will stop at nothing to have the lunch pail tradition upheld with honor.
There is not a Hokie fan on the planet that has any doubt in Foster, and that's the mark of a program linchpin.