November 30, 2004 BLACKSBURG As much as it would satisfy Virginia Tech defensive end Darryl Tapp to hear ACC reporters and columnists give Tech a collective apology, he doesn't expect it. He just can't imagine why so many thought the Hokies wouldn't be able to compete at the highest levels of the ACC. He's not alone. For most teams, playing the "nobody-respects-us" card is popular in modern college athletics. It's a concept that plays directly to the ego of the athletes. But in the midst of Tech's summer 2003 struggle to gain admission into the ACC, it became apparent that respect was indeed an issue. With Tech picking up at least a share of the ACC football championship in its first season in the league, punctuated by a 24-10 victory over archrival Virginia, respect definitely has been earned.
"In my opinion," Tech coach Frank Beamer said, "what conference wouldn't want us?"
The ACC, circa May 2003, provides one answer to Beamer's question. The original expansion plan called for Boston College, Syracuse and Miami to bolt from the Big East. There also were rumblings of Pittsburgh being included in the mix. Rumors flew that the ACC might have been on the brink of swiping just BC and Miami and tried to pick up a 12th league member from a lesser conference again totally bypassing Tech, which is geographically placed near the heart of ACC country.
"It's kind of a slap in our face, but it's probably the best thing that could've happened," Tech cornerback Eric Green said. "But when people doubt us, we step up. Ö When people doubt us, that gives us motivation."
When Tech finally was included in the ACC's expansion plans, along with BC and Miami, many writers and analysts focused on the strong-arming tactics of Virginia politicians and university presidents to get Tech into the ACC fold. Some detractors even said the Hokies would be overmatched in the new conference. One of the league's more seasoned scribes even went so far as to say that Tech would never win a conference title in any sport in his lifetime.
Before this football season, Tech was predicted to finish sixth in the ACC, according to a media vote. College football publications had Tech projected as high as fourth or as low as eighth. Tapp and Co. knew they were better.
"We had a chip on our shoulder," Tapp said. "It played a major part in this team coming together."
In fairness, who could blame anybody for thinking Tech would struggle this season? The two-deep depth chart was composed of 50 percent freshmen and redshirt freshmen heading into Tech's first game, Aug. 28 against Southern California. Legal troubles involving quarterback Marcus Vick, tailback Mike Imoh and defensive backs Brenden Hill and Mike Hinton plagued the team in the offseason.
It looked like a recipe for disaster a team enduring moderate-to-heavy internal troubles while entering a huge transitional phase. The factor nobody could account for was Tech's desire to make an impression.
After another late-season swoon last year, some Tech fans called for the jobs of defensive coordinator Bud Foster and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. A year later, don't be surprised if Foster winds up on the wish lists of many mid-level Division I-A schools for head coach openings. Stinespring has been applauded by fans for his balanced attack and the incorporation of the tight ends in the offense.
What has the 2004 success bred? Tech is in the process of putting together a recruiting class worthy of being considered one of the top 25 in the nation. The Hokies already have commitments from defensive end Stephen Friday and tailback Elan Lewis, both from Phoebus High in Hampton, Va., linebacker Deveon Simmons from Virginia Beach, Va., and quarterback Ike Whitaker from Germantown, Md. All are among the nation's top-rated recruits at their positions.
Hoops: Seeking Frontcourt Stability
Virginia Tech basketball coach Seth Greenberg has some questions about his team. He knows he has depth in his backcourt, but he doesn't have that luxury in the frontcourt.
Tech has three true post players on scholarship: sophomore forward Coleman Collins, junior forward Allen Calloway and freshman center Robert Krabbendam. If any of them misses significant time, rebounds and second-chance points likely will become difficult to find, and Greenberg may have to get even more creative with his lineups.
Of course, that's not to say Greenberg doesn't have some versatile players on his roster. Freshmen Deron Washington and Wynton Witherspoon and senior Carlos Dixon all are capable of playing two or three positions, but not in the low post. Tech has a smallish team, which means Greenberg is used to the idea of going with three or even four guards for long stretches. But rebounding already has become a problem.
In Tech's first two games, against lowly Loyola-Maryland and Maryland-Eastern Shore, teams that combined to go 9-48 last season, Tech was out-rebounded by a 72-70 margin. Collins, who started at power forward in both games, didn't have more than five rebounds in either game. Calloway and Krabbendam didn't start either game but could begin demanding more minutes because they provide a rebounding presence under the basket. The duo combined to pull down 15 rebounds in 47 minutes off the bench.
It will be interesting to see how Greenberg utilizes Washington in the future. The rookie's leaping ability could make him a rebounding threat, even if he is only 6-7. But Washington is most effective at shooting guard or small forward, where he can run and finish in transition. He already has proven he can do a pretty decent Vince Carter impression, and it has nothing to do with trade demands or chronic injuries.
Washington likes the high-percentage shot. Like Carter, Washington attacks the rim. In Washington's first two games, he had 11 dunks, more than half of his field goals. It helped him to an uncanny 83 percent shooting tally (19-of-23) after those games.
Other than Washington, there really aren't any other options for Greenberg to find rebounding help for Collins, Calloway and Krabbendam. Tech will be in danger of getting out-muscled in the paint against every ACC opponent. Collins is Tech's beefiest player, and he's just 6-8 and 228 pounds.
Greenberg took the right approach in the offseason to try to solve the rebounding problem in the future. He missed most of his top targets, but he added forwards Hyman Taylor from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Terrance Vinson from Valdosta, Ga., in the early signing period. Neither will arrive at Tech until August, but both are already in the 6-9 range and weigh 220-235 pounds. If they can run the floor (a necessity for big men in the ACC), they might be encouraged to put on a little more bulk. Tech definitely is going to need it.