December 13, 2004 After Magical Run To Title In Conference Debut, BeamerBall Has More Believers Than Ever Before BLACKSBURG Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer isn't an "I-told-you-so" kind of guy. It's too bad. He has every right to express those sentiments now. When practice opened in August, it couldn't have come at a better time for Tech. Finally, Beamer had something more productive to talk about than police blotters and court proceedings. Five Tech players, including promising quarterback Marcus Vick, were disciplined or dismissed between January and August for various legal run-ins or violations of team rules.
Of course, most college football analysts didn't think Beamer would have much to look forward to this season anyway. Tech's first season in the ACC was supposed to be a rebuilding year. An ACC championship? A trip to the Sugar Bowl? The mere mention of those kinds of preseason goals by any analyst would've been proof that he had consumed one too many cups of maroon and orange Kool-aid.
With half of its two-deep depth chart on offense and defense composed of freshmen and redshirt freshmen, Tech was predicted to finish sixth in the ACC in the preseason media vote. Given the summer chatter, an eight-win season and a 12th consecutive bowl game for the Hokies might have been considered Beamer's best coaching job in his 18 seasons in Blacksburg.
But Beamer had other plans. After failing miserably in November for the third consecutive season last year, he figured it was time to make an early impression with this year's team. In January, at the group's first full meeting following its 52-49 loss to California in the Insight Bowl, Beamer laid down the law.
He wanted no more goofing off in practice. He wasn't giving second chances to problem personalities on the team anymore. He wanted players to be accountable for their actions. No more clashing personalities or ego-maniacs. Issues that arose during the season would be dealt with swiftly and without fuss.
Beamer's initiative got off to a rocky start, with the legal problems involving his players that cropped up within two weeks of his impassioned speech. But the vast majority of the team bought into Beamer's ideas.
"We did things a little differently this season," said Beamer, who was named the ACC's coach of the year after leading Tech to a 10-2 record in the regular season. "We didn't talk about bowl games. We didn't talk about championships. We just talked about the next game and what we needed to do to win."
Few realized Beamer was sitting on a gold mine of talent, a near-perfect blend of experience and youth.
There was senior quarterback Bryan Randall, who was more determined than ever after shaking free of all the talk of having to fight for his job. Vick was suspended from the university for the fall semester, after dealing with charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and marijuana possession in the spring and summer. Randall went on to win the ACC's player of the year award.
There was senior linebacker Mikal Baaqee, who came into the season 15 pounds lighter and in the best shape of his life following a 2003 season he considered a disappointment. There was cornerback Jimmy Williams and free safety Vincent Fuller, who switched positions in the offseason and made seamless transitions in a secondary that was one of Tech's biggest question marks entering 2004.
There was tailback Mike Imoh, who was suspended for Tech's first three games in connection with the same contributing to the delinquency charge that got Vick in trouble. Imoh kept his mouth shut, accepted a demotion to the scout team for the first month of the season and returned to the varsity in late September to give the Hokies' running game an enormous, much-needed boost.
There was defensive tackle Jim Davis, who returned from a 2003 redshirt season he used to heal a torn pectoral muscle. Like Williams and Fuller, Davis made a position change (from end to tackle) for the better of the team. Davis' impact alongside tackle Jonathan Lewis paved the way for end Darryl Tapp to dominate against overwhelmed offensive tackles.
Davis, Tapp, Lewis and Williams were the catalysts for a defense that improved by leaps and bounds. In 2003, Tech surrendered averages of 368 yards and 23 points per game. This season, Tech gave up 265 yards and 12.6 points per game.
Then there were the young guys. Freshman Eddie Royal and redshirt freshman Josh Hyman gradually made the graduation of receiver Ernest Wilford seem a lot less damaging. Royal took no time in becoming one of the ACC's most electrifying players, with his pass catching and kickoff and punt return abilities.
Linebacker Xavier Adibi, a redshirt freshman, was one of Tech's best stories this season in any class. On a team that stayed remarkably injury-free, Adibi was one of the major casualties. He tore a tendon in his right biceps Aug. 28 against Southern California. The original diagnosis was that the injury was of the season-ending variety. Instead, he returned two months later and provided Tech with a valuable presence in pass coverage. He and redshirt freshman Vince Hall figure to be formidable linebackers in Tech's lineup for years to come.
Sophomore placekicker Brandon Pace is another perfect example of the quick emergence of some of Tech's youth. He was an unknown walk-on in early August. By the end of the season, he was a first-team All-ACC scholarship player.
Now Tech must prove it has learned to do something it only recently has shown the potential of doing: live with prosperity. With as much talent as Tech has returning (eight offensive starters, at least five defensive starters), it's possible that the Hokies could start out as a top-10 or top-15 team in the nation in 2005. But there will be questions.
Who's the starting quarterback, Vick or Sean Glennon, Randall's promising freshman backup? How will Beamer divvy up carries between Imoh, Cedric Humes, talented youngsters George Bell and Branden Ore and incoming prep All-American Elan Lewis? With right tackle Jon Dunn and right guard James Miller graduating, will any of the inexperienced linemen step up? If Williams turns pro, as he has been rumored to be exploring, Tech will lose all four starters in its secondary. Who fills those spots?
Some of those questions are more daunting than others, but the frame of mind in Blacksburg will be a lot more positive going into the spring practice answer-seeking phase than it was last spring.
Virginia Tech Departing Players
LB Mikal Baaqee, P Vinnie Burns, DT Jim Davis, RT Jon Dunn, FS Vincent Fuller, CB Eric Green, RV James Griffin, TE Jared Mazzetta, RG James Miller, QB Bryan Randall
DS Travis Conway, LB Chad Cooper, FS Mike Daniels, WR Richard Johnson, DT Jason Lallis, DT Kevin Lewis, LB Brandon Manning
2005 Returning Starters
Special Teams (1)
Other Tested Returnees
FB Jesse Allen, OG Reggie Butler, WR Chris Clifton, WR David Clowney, OG Brandon Gore, RB Justin Hamilton, WR Justin Harper, WR Brenden Hill, RB Cedric Humes, FB John Kinzer, WR Josh Morgan
LB Xavier Adibi, KO Jared Develli, DE Chris Ellis, DB Roland Minor, DB D.J. Parker, DT Carlton Powell, LB Aaron Rouse, DT Tim Sandidge, DE Jordan Trott, DB Cary Wade, DB D.J. Walton, LB Blake Warren, LB Brett Warren
Projected 2005 Strengths
With five starters in Tech's rock-solid defensive front seven eligible to return, and with Adibi clearly ready for a potentially dominating first-team role, defensive coordinator Bud Foster may have the makings of a juggernaut on his hands. Similarly, with four of the front six blockers (including tight end) plus all of the tailbacks back next season, OC Bryan Stinespring should have a nice ground-based foundation upon which to build. The bottom line: Football remains a game that's largely won and lost in the trenches, and that's good news for a Tech team that's extremely well-coached, has a bunch of athletic linemen and never shies away from contact. The Hokies were the best team in the ACC at the point of attack this season, and that's where they may continue to have a significant advantage.
Projected 2005 Questions
Without Randall, the ACC player of the year and a superb on- and off-field leader, can Tech avoid the 2004 fates of very talented but quarterback-deficient Maryland and N.C. State teams? Will untested true sophomore QB Sean Glennon be ready? Can a post-suspension Marcus Vick return to Blacksburg and work some family magic without disrupting team chemistry? Who will provide consistent help for Imoh, a smallish, beat-up back whose timely arrival undoubtedly saved the Hokies' season? With Williams reportedly considering an early NFL jump, and the other four most experienced defensive backs definitely departing, can Tech avoid the devastating big plays that usually confound young, rebuilt secondaries? Will the team's next punter allow it to continue its tradition of outstanding special teams play?
CHART BY: EDITOR DAVE GLENN