So, what’s in a pause? The football season is over, it’s recruiting season and February 1st is the big day for everyone. We are all geared up and the assignments are out. There is new blood coming in the door, and the ‘game’ is afoot.
This all is true, but there just isn’t anything that really substitutes for football season. Some of us are reflecting on the 2016 Virginia Tech Hokies Fuente Inaugural Season. The recruiting effort, commits, and Letters of Intent are largely ready to be signed sealed and faxed because of something pretty special that happened in the Fall of 2016.
Justin Fuente could have stormed in, tossed everything over the side, scrapped the Hokie works and started over. It might have been a few struggling years, and some difficult times. ‘Might’ is the operative word. It wasn’t and we have discussed the deft pick-up of the reins, the imaginative use of former staff – especially the retention and re-invigoration of Bud Foster. That stuff was critical, but what made it closer to magic is what happened to Gobbler Country last season.
Before 2016 we were a standard SB Nation fan run sports blog site. We worked hard to get current information from the periphery and we watched on TV like nearly everyone else in the sports blogging world. In August of 2016, Whit Babcock and Pete Moris changed that formula. We found a welcome reception of our request for credentials to the Spring 2016 Football game, the event was fun, and the experience was gratifying. We had never covered a Tech game from the Press Box, and the chance to stretch our legs and prove our worth was greatly appreciated. Well April became August and the email instructing us to pick up our media passes for the Fall season came with some nervousness.
The trip to the media relations office, on that warm August day, was a nervous event. Getting to the office means going through Jamerson Hall’s lower levels and up the elevator. There were some football players, women’s volleyball team members, and a few support staff milling about. Everyone smiled, and when I got off the elevator and got aimed in the correct direction I arrived at the reception desk, was greeted by a very pleasant smile and handed a fat manila envelope. “Here are your passes! Thanks for covering the Hokies, see you at the games”, was the pleasant response, and that left it up to me to retrace my steps and find my way back out of the Jamerson maze. I hadn’t even bothered to look in the envelope.
When I opened the envelope to see what sort of parking and media passes we had, there were more passes than games. So, they gave us two press box passes? I pulled out the 2nd rubber banded pack of game passes and was so stunned; I had to call Roy in a hot second. We had been issued a full set of SIDELINE credentials for photography. A Hokie sports fan dream, just turned into a massive bucket list item. I was going to have to get busy with a new camera and even more I was going to have to refocus the way that I looked at football. I’d be a field level, on the sidelines, hopping cables and dodging other sideline people and players, and maybe even an occasional football.
So, the “View from the Sidelines” series was born. No major series should be wrapped without an article to show you what was so special about the experience. Here are a few of my favorite pictures, and who do I check with regarding the “Hokie Bucket List” because I think I just hit several existing items, and maybe even touched on one or two that never occurred to the original author?
The Liberty Game was a learning experience. As the season opener and I was still flummoxed and bamboozled by what to do on the sideline and where I could go and what I could shoot. Here I paused in the mad sprint from the 20 to the 20 to catch Coach Foster in an interesting moment.
This was one of the cool plays where I got set up really close to the action and it’s like being just behind Bucky as Sam is diving for a few more yards. Of course it was pretty “roasty” on that side of the field on that late Summer day so even the heat and exhaustion were factors in photography.
This one is always the interesting revelation when you are editing the pictures late at night and into the next day. Suddenly you pick up the ball (since you are following the action from the lineup through the snap to the end of the play with the automatic shutter mode) that was headed right for your head. It’s cool because it’s like what the receiver sees, only you were glad to not be a TV attraction as the photographer who got run over by the players going for the ball.
If you want to know why you stick to your spot to get the shot of the football, then this is what happens at the end, hopefully.
My favorite action picture for the Liberty Game has to be this one, though. It’s Jerod Evans’ first pass from scrimmage for the 2016 season.
The Boston College game came very early in the season. It was not your typical BC at home football game. BC has always played us hard and these games mostly always thrillers in the past; but this one meant more given the troubles that we had over the prior several seasons.
The entire stadium was “up” for the event, but like often happens there are plays that remind us of the fierce competition between these two schools. This shot of Ford just missing a TD pass, and having the ball twirl up on its nose almost mocking Isaiah Ford for not grabbing it.
Of course no 2016 game would be complete for the season if the home crowd didn’t get to see Sam Rogers score a touchdown in some method. This is Sam, running left into the South end zone and lunging into the far corner with a defender draped all over him.
Sometimes it’s just fun to see the stage being set in warmups, and this picture sums up the BC game so well. Tim Settle is probably the largest human being to wear the #25 on a football field above the high school level. #25 would work its magic for the game, and Settle joined the ranks of the starting quality defensive linemen and Special Teams players during the BC game.
The ECU game was arguably the stage setting contest of the season. The Accidental Rival they have become, and 2016’s contest was a serious grudge match. Most of the Hokies were present for both the 2014 and 2015 ECU games, and frankly there was not a lot of fun and games going on for anyone on the Tech sideline.
Here I caught Cam Phillips blocking an ECU Punt. The shot was thrilling because, well isn’t a BeamerBall Event thrilling?
Of course no one is going to miss the thrill of the 55 yard Jerod Evans touchdown run, here is the sequence from beginning to end.
Brenden Motley got a measure of revenge for 2015 by scoring a TD himself. Everyone was all smiles for him, even the folks just covering the game who don’t really root for the Hokies.
The #25 Special Teams BeamerBall magic just kept coming for the game as Greg Stroman grabbed a punt and scorched the Pirates for an 87 yard touchdown.
Of course Cam Phillips had a season in a game with this nice catch and touchdown combination.
There were lots of things to celebrate for the ECU game but the Miami game was a bit on the tense side. Thursday night is special in Blacksburg, and Lane stadium was aflame as usual. It was embarrassed determination in the air, because we had really blown it big time in the Carrier Dome, and even warm ups were earnestly tense. The focus was definitely there.
There isn’t much more to relate since the outcome is well known, but the effect of a Thursday evening game at Lane Stadium, especially from the field level is absolutely real. The Miami game was the first time that Coach Fuente had experienced the full din and rumble of “Enter Sandman” on a Thursday night, and you could see it on his face. It was electric.
The game belonged to Jerod Evans and the Hokie Defense. Evans’s one read and go offense took full advantage of a Miami squad that was over pursuing and playing at a repeated disadvantage. Catching the break moment for Evans’ 20 yard TD run was a great shot.
It’s really fun to get a good shot of a great play just as it’s happening. Isaiah Ford locks into this pass after putting a serious move on the Miami secondary and is wide open.
Bucky Hodges had a good night. This one got him catching the ball at about 8 feet in the air, or so it seemed.
The offense was big, but he defense was even bigger, here are some shots of Brad Kaaya’s evening on Worsham Field.
And no game would be complete without Sam “Swiss Army Knife” Rogers figuring out some way to score, even if he’s on the other side of a fullback to fullback (Steven Peoples) touchdown pass.
I will end it here, at the Miami game, with the picture that I think embodies the entire 2016 season. It was one of winning big games, and recovering from losses that shouldn’t have been. It was the legacy players from all three upper classes signing on to the new Fuente era. The team was its own “Swiss Army Knife”. Players stepped up and became leaders.
It was a thrilling season for so many reasons but the biggest thrill was to get a chance to bring the View from the Sidelines to the Gobbler Country readership.
Baseball is coming up and you are going to start seeing the roster and related articles as a new season of Hokies on the Diamond takes shape so keep checking back, it’s going to be great.