November 6, 2007
BLACKSBURG Standing inside a weight room late in the evening of Nov. 1 at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, Virginia Tech's Chris Ellis and Josh Morgan answered questions from the media after the Hokies' 27-3 win against the Yellow Jackets.
Ellis and Morgan had both been key contributors in the win Ellis helping hold Georgia Tech to 271 yards total offense, Morgan with six catches for 103 yards and a 71-yard touchdown. It was a redemption game for Virginia Tech, which had lost to No. 2 Boston College in heartbreaking fashion a week earlier.
As important as the win was for Virginia Tech, Ellis and Morgan had to feel more redeemed than any other players on Virginia Tech's roster. They are poster kids for Virginia Tech's apparent raised level of team discipline this season.
"It was funny, because I got more calls than usual from people before (the Georgia Tech game) about things like, It's a big game,' and Good luck tonight,' and things like that," Ellis said. "It's what I would've expected the week before (for the BC game). The fans wanted to see if we were going to bounce back or if we were going to tank the season."
Maybe those phone calls came because Ellis was getting his first crack against Georgia Tech since 2005. He and Morgan didn't get to play in last season's 38-27 loss at home against Georgia Tech. Both players were suspended for that game.
Ellis and Morgan were arrested Sept. 24, 2006, after a late Saturday night incident in downtown Blacksburg. Ellis was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing justice without threats or force. Morgan was charged with disorderly conduct in a street or public place and obstructing justice without threats or force.
Since then, it has been relatively quiet for football players in Blacksburg. No players have been arrested this season. Receiver Josh Hyman was arrested and charged with DUI three weeks after Ellis' and Morgan's incident with the law. Hyman, who was suspended for last season's 22-3 loss at Boston College as a result of the DUI, was also charged in August with credit card fraud. The charge was eventually dropped.
Other than Hyman's indiscretions, there hasn't been any notable legal turmoil involving players, and very little need for coaches to take significant disciplinary action for off-field transgressions. Though wins and losses and graduation rates provide the ultimate long-term measuring sticks for most programs, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer's efforts to repair his team's image after the lengthy Marcus Vick saga of 2004 and '05 have been successful.
Last season, defensive tackle Joey Hall and defensive William Wall were both dismissed from the team. Quarterback Ike Whitaker, who is now a wide receiver, took the brave step last December and decided to get help for issues related to drinking and entered an in-patient alcohol rehabilitation program. It kept him out of Virginia Tech's bowl game preparations and the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
This season, there have been no such dismissals or distractions. Defensive tackle Carlton Powell and right guard Sergio Render both have had to serve first-quarter suspensions this season, but that's it as far as significant team disciplinary situations.
Have Tech's players just had good luck avoiding trouble this season? Or has there been a change in the approach and maturity of the players? That's hard to say, but Ellis believes he and his senior teammates are at least more focused on goals than they've been in the past.
"What was it? Was it (DeAngelo Hall's) last year when they went 8-5 and tanked the end of the season?" said Ellis, referring to the '03 season when Tech started 6-0 before losing five of its last seven games. "That was the redshirt year for this group of seniors. We had a chance to see that side of it. We had two choices (this season). We could've tanked it like that (after this season's BC loss) and everybody could've gone their separate ways when it was all over, or everybody could just rally around each other.
"That's stuck in my mind. We're so much more focused now. The seniors had a talk amongst ourselves (the week before the Georgia Tech game). This is our last four games, and it's pretty much do or die. We approached it like that."
Big words like Ellis' are nothing new for top football programs, but maybe keeping players from running afoul of the law can give Tech a chance to actually fulfill its goal of winning the ACC championship. In truth, Tech should be stronger down the stretch than it has been at any point during the season.
Linebacker Vince Hall, who has been out since breaking his left wrist Oct. 6 against Clemson, should be back for at least the last two games of the year. If Tech doesn't wind up having any discipline-related suspensions or dismissals in the last month of the season, Hall's return should put the Hokies' defense at full strength.
GREENBERG TOUGH ON FRESHMEN
Before Jamon Gordon left Virginia Tech's campus after his senior season, Coach Seth Greenberg had a chance to sit and chat with his star guard. Just call it an exit exam.
Gordon reflected on his years in Blacksburg and what he'd learned. He couldn't get his freshman season out of his head. All of the running, yelling, badgering and grinding for perfection had paid off, but it wasn't easy.
"He said, Coach, during that freshman year, you crushed us,'" Greenberg said.
Greenberg hasn't changed his ways. With six freshmen on his roster this season, including guards Tom Amalfe, Hank Thorns and Malcolm Delaney and forwards Jeff Allen, Terrell Bell and J.T. Thompson, Greenberg knows this is no time to turn into a softy.
Allen, Thorns, Delaney and Thompson will start or play significant minutes, which means all of them will have to prepared to play from day one in one of the nation's most competitive conferences. So, how has Greenberg gone about getting them ready? He has fired up the meat grinder again.
"I use Jeff (Allen) as an example," Greenberg said. "He went to Hargrave (Military Academy) and Oak Hill; great programs and great coaches, just terrific guys. They played about three tough games a year. They're so much better than everybody they played against. So, they really have to kind of jack it up (emotionally) three times a year. If you're not ready to play any night against any team on our schedule, that (opponent) is pretty good, too. So, getting them to understand how to practice and how to work on their game and how to prepare is an adjustment. What I try to do is put them in a very uncomfortable situation every day.
"I've been very, very demanding on these guys because I do not want to give them any excuse. I want to get them to understand just how difficult and how demanding it's going to be every single night."