It’s really hard to believe we are here. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and a few days from sealing a deal that no one other than serious ‘homers’ even came close to predicting. I know, I know, John, you’ve said that before. Please, indulge me and think about how far we have come in one year’s time.
It was this week, last year that Frank Beamer was carried off the field in Scott Stadium after another close fought game with the Wahoos. No true Hokie can wait until that College Football Hall of Fame induction. However, we all knew that the prior seasons were beginning to show the thinning fabric of the Virginia Tech football program. Yes, the parting was a bit painful for some folks, and more than a bit painful for those of us calling for it. Time moves on, and “things” don’t ever remain the same. It’s knowing when to turn the page on good terms that makes the transitions both understandable and acceptable. Frank Beamer has meant, and means, because Frank is still very much a part of Virginia Tech. Whether it is a chance encounter at the stadium on Game Day, or passing him on the sidewalk along Washington Street, Frank Beamer always has a smile, something nice to say and a wish for a good day for you. He brought so much to this university and community. Funny, I don’t think that anyone remembers the old name of the street that runs in front of Lane Stadium from Washington Street to Southgate. Beamer Way it will stay.
Of course the 2015 Football Season ended with Frank’s retirement, but it began with something interesting. There was a genuine deep search for a new head coach who not only fit the Hokies’ needs, but fit into the potential for another long term mutually beneficial relationship. Whit Babcock, having demonstrated some serious recruiting chops of his own had already scored a major improvement to the Virginia Tech Men’s Basketball Program by nabbing Buzz Williams for that team. Everyone was sitting on edge to find out who we was going to get for the Tech spot. There were lots of the usual names floated. The Foster Fans lead the pack with the “RichRod Boosters” seemed to be the loudest of the outsider bunch. There was time, and certainly would have been some “top tier” coaching changes going to happen, but Babcock did something really brash and original. Before the season ended – and our bowl game played the Virginia Tech Athletic Director nabbed the person who was the top coaching prospect on most sports writers’ note pads; Justin Fuente. The 39 year-old new shooting star coach with the reputation for offensive originality and program building was offered the position. Who were the Memphis Tigers before Justin Fuente took over as their HC?
Remember the late night arrival, the press conference, the shots of his beautiful family, and Hokie gear so new that you knew someone was getting stuck in a tender spot from a little nylon tag holder. Then we saw something interesting happen. Justin Fuente, who you knew was going to bring his own staff, quickly lined up Bud Foster to stay at Defensive Coordinator with a promotion to Associate Head Coach. There might have been some feelings salved, but what certainly was a potential issue became a real benefit to the program. Both Murray State Alumni seemed to really hit it off. We shed some old staff, and brought in new fresh faces. James Shibest would prove to be a Beamer Ball practitioner, and Holloman Wiggins was brought in to help get the receivers on the same page with Coach Fuente’s new system. Coach Foster kept Coach Wiles at defensive line, and Coach Burden was moved to the Running Back coach slot. With Coach Gray’s departure to Florida, Coaches Galen Scott (who is also the Assistant Head Coach) and Brian Mitchell took over to work on #DBU as they worked with the Cornerbacks and Safeties.
There would be other changes building, but first was a grace that often doesn’t happen in coaching transitions. Coach Fuente stepped aside from the limelight and the activity to concentrate on rescuing the 2015 recruiting effort, and building the new staff, while Coach Beamer and staff were given the reins of the team through the bowl game. That victory over Tulsa in an ironic shoot-out was a great send off and interesting finale.
The Fuente Era got rolling with something a bit more than a football game or Spring Practice. Tech had lost its quarterback, south western Texas’s Michael Brewer, to “graduation” as his eligibility ended. Though Brenden Motley had done a competent job filling in for Brewer during the 2016 season, Motley only had a single year left on his NCAA books. Joshua Jackson’s commitment had been cemented, thankfully, and there were no significant transfers out at other positions,; but we had no “Fuente” type QB to carry the team into what is going to presumably be the Jackson period. Fuente opened his southwest recruiting book and went back to Texas to pick up Jerod Evans from the ranks of Texas Junior College football. Since he was a JUCO transfer, Evans matriculated in the Spring Semester of 2016.
Spring practice and the Spring (now Maroon and Orange – instead of Maroon and White) Practice game did little to settle things out at QB. It did show that remaining redshirt freshman Jack Click was getting ready for his next role, and Chris Durkin made the move to Tight End shortly after the Spring Game. It also opened a new door to Gobbler Country as Whit Babcock and Pete Moris opened the door for “New Media” coverage at the football games, with our first official Press Box credential.
The excitement ebbed; however, as the Spring and Summer months wore into Football Roster Reviews (Though we opened Gobbler Country up to a commitment to cover the Hokie Baseball Team). The anticipation was really palpable by the middle of August. Just before the season started, the team announced the Special Teams player of the week would wear the retired #25 in honor of Coach Beamer’s famous commitment to quality Special Teams play. Somehow that weekly award has figured in to nearly every game this season.
The truth is that the preseason NCAA sports football buzz had us coming in behind Carolina, Duke, and well, nearly everyone else for the Coastal Division placement of the ACC. The fantasy for most of us was to finish better than .500 and get some respectable notices in the media. Winning on the ground wouldn’t be a bad thing, either, but the best expectations for the season were “no expectations”. That really isn’t a bad thing, considering the monumental level of change in the program.
Well, it’s now the Wednesday before the UVa Game. It’s another shot at keeping the Commonwealth Cup, and after some ups and downs in the season, plagued by a couple of really disappointing performances that cropped up virtually at random (Syracuse and Georgia Tech), but salved by some amazing performances (Carolina, Pitt, and Notre Dame) Virginia Tech finds itself in the ACC Costal lead, and also with its own destiny in the hands of a squad eager and able to beat the Wahoos. Nothing between Tech and UVa is a guarantee, other than the games have been closer than the records indicated. It is truly a family feud, and this year its significance cannot be understated. Win and Justin Fuente’s Virginia Tech Hokies finish the season with an ACC Coastal Division Championship, and a shot at Clemson in the ACC Championship. We’ll talk about that sometime after 5:00 o’clock PM on Saturday, though.
For now, let’s enjoy the feeling of a solid winning regular season, having an actual offense, and seriously challenging for things that no one thought we’d get near when we kicked off the Liberty game back on September 3rd.