Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to talk with former NFL star and author Ray Bentley as he was getting ready to call the Independence Bowl in Louisiana between Virginia Tech and Tulsa. Here are the ten questions that I asked Ray.
1. Q. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview with me today Ray. You’ve certainly had an amazing career in football, most notably with the Buffalo Bills, can you talk a little bit about your career and what you are doing now a days?
A. Well, I just saw the 30 for 30 and that brought it all back in my mind, broke my heart all over again, but it reminded me of how special we really had it. The relationships between the coaches, owner, players, and fans was truly something else. Since then, I've been doing college football analysis work with ESPN for 13 years, an doing Independence Bowl this season. I recently finished my first novel called Drift Wood. It's a story about a linebacker, set in Buffalo, it ties in off and on the field. It's loosely based off of my time in Buffalo, but definitely a work of fiction.
2. Q. Now that we have the get to know you portion out of the way, let’s get to why you are here talking with me today. You are going to be calling the Independence Bowl on Friday between Tulsa and Virginia Tech for ESPN, as you stated earlier. Off the top, what is it about this game on the field that is most intriguing for you?
A. Anxious to see what Brewer can do, especially against this Tulsa D. Tulsa’s O is great, but will be great to see what Bud and Coach Montgomery do against each other. Coach Beamer is so impressive and I met him a few years ago and has always treated people the way he would want to be treated.
3. Q. Obviously, the biggest topic going into this game is about Frank Beamer. We all know this is his final game as head coach of the Hokies and in many ways it gives us a chance to celebrate his career at Virginia Tech. So, when you think of Frank Beamer on the field, what comes to mind for you?
A. Beamer Ball. If you do something good enough where they name something after you, you must be pretty good. Coach Levy was a special teams coach and that’s how I made my mark to him in Buffalo. There are few people with the character of Frank Beamer. Everyone does lips service, few actually do it.
4. Q. The other bit of news that’s gone on since Virginia Tech played its final regular season game is that Justin Fuente is the new Hokie football coach, starting after the bowl game. What do you think of his hire and do you believe that he is a good fit for VT?
A. Great fit. Justin Fuente knows how to win and get the most out of his guys. The one thing that sticks in my mind is family atmosphere. I did Memphis games the last few years. The guys genuinely care for each other and it comes from the top. That sets the culture and the table for everyone to overachieve. Not so much X and O’s, but really sets people up to succeed.
5. Just a few days ago, it was announced that Coach Fuente would not go to the Bowl game so the game could stay all about Frank. What do you think about that decision and would you have made a similar decision if you were in Justin Fuente’s shoes?
A. Classy move. Doesn’t surprise me. He's going to have plenty of time to make his mark. Stepping aside shows that he gets it. Hope that I would have done the same thing because it is the right thing to do and I bet that I would have.
6. Q. Okay, let’s get to the game itself. The Hokies have had an inconsistent season on offense, but they seem to be quite talented, especially at receiver, with the likes of Ford, Hodges, and Malleck. What have you liked thus far from VT and what do you expect to see on offense when they play on Friday?
A. They had a tough deal. The season and plans were set for Brewer, but his loss it made things tough. They have their identity back now. They like shifting and moving guys around, getting the matchups they want, with the idea of running then throwing with play action. They will max protect to get things done. Nice talent on the outside. Establish run then play action. Recipe for success.
7. The defense for Virginia Tech, hasn’t been quite as solid this year as in years past, but they are still a very strong group, even if a little battered and bruised. What do you expect to see from the likes of Nicolas, Maddy, and Motuapuaka against Tulsa?
A. Going to be a little frustrating for the Tech defense because the ball comes out so quickly for Tulsa. The Hokies are going to have to get their hands up, bat balls down, and punish receivers. The key will be getting them into 3rd and longs, so they can pin their ears back and get at the QB. It will be nice to see the guys on the line getting pumped. They will play for Coach Beamer. Really excited to see the level of intensity in the game. Feel blessed to be there.
8. Q. Most Hokie fans haven’t really been closely following Tulsa this season and probably don’t know Dane Evans (Tulsa’s QB) from Keyarris Garrett (Tulsa’s WR). With that being said, who are the players to watch in this game for Tulsa?
A. I really like Evans, he showed really improvement this season, he can really throw the deep ball. Watch out for them to throw 10 or more deep shots. Garrett is very good and tough to handle one on one. They have a whole column of Garrett plays in their playbook and they will throw the ball to him even when he's covered. Very impressive. The key is that they have big receivers who use their bodies well. A Big height advantage against the Tech secondary. They want to go as fast as they can as well. Tech is going to have to withstand an initial onslaught, if they do they will be alright.
9. Q. Back to Frank Beamer for a moment. With this being his final game as head coach, do you see him coming up with some trick plays, especially as it pertains to the special teams, or as we like to call it in Blacksburg "Beamer Ball?"
A. I hope so. We’ve already seen it in the bowl games. It would show they have fun. I expect to see all the stops pulled out on both sides. Tech will really want to block a kick maybe more than ever, so it should be really fun to see if they get it done.
10. Q. Finally, while playing for the Bills, you were able to play with someone who is a quite beloved man around these parts in Bruce Smith. What was it like playing with him and do you have a story you can share on what he is like as a man?
A. Well, I've got a couple. One year for a Christmas party for some of the kids, he played Santa Clause and was the best Santa I've ever seen. He had everyone rolling and the kids loved it. You have to think of the image of this big massive guy who was the sweetest and jolliest Saint Nick that you have ever seen in your life.
My second story is from the field. I was trying to send a call on the field to Bruce, wanting him to do something, crash inside on a block I think, I knew he wasn’t going to do it, even after I asked another teammate to tell him to, instead he jumped outside and swam the block, and I got pancaked by two offensive lineman. Then I heard it, the crowd was going crazy and I realized that he did it again. He was standing on top of the QB with another sack, and I’m on my ass. It was always okay though, as long as he was making those kind of plays it was okay.
Special thanks to Ray for coming on and doing the interview. He is a classy guy.
By the way:
Here is a quick synopsis of Ray's book Drift Wood:
Jack Driftwood is heading into his 18th year as linebacker for the Buffalo Blizzard of the North American Football Association (NAFA). Buffalo has not been to the playoffs since his rookie season, but things are looking up as Steven Stark, their top draft pick, under Jack’s tutelage, is expected to help change their fortunes. The Blizzard's 93-year old owner, Gerald Wainscott III, has brought his daughter, Gerry, into the fold to take over the team after he passes. The team's GM, Donald Fegel, has his eyes on taking her and the team for himself, but Driftwood may have something to say about that. Intense battles ensue, both on and off the field, as Buffalo makes a run at the Mega Bowl title.
Ray's book Drift Wood is available on Amazon.