October 20, 2003 BLACKSBURG Bud Foster rips across Claytor Lake in the new powerboat he got this summer. He's racing to his favorite fishing spot to dip a line. There's no place he'd rather be. It's a departure from the grind for Foster, Virginia Tech's defensive coordinator. Fortunately for him, his job is rarely a grind, but he'll be the first to admit that he doesn't deal well when times get tough. This year, he hasn't had to do much escaping from reality.
Last season, when Virginia Tech lost three in a row to Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia, Foster was a tough guy to be around. He was defensive. He was moody. In a coaching move seldom seen, he deflected responsibility away from his play-calling and directly to his players.
The message was clear: If players don't follow instructions, they're going to get beat. There's only so much he can do to get them ready. After that, don't point the finger at the defensive coordinator if something breaks.
Foster wouldn't say those things, but he didn't have to, either. Every season, there's an expectation from some of the more overzealous Hokie fans that Virginia Tech's defense will be able to win games on its own. Foster knows that's not necessarily the case, but he doesn't mind his defensive players thinking that way.
Somebody asked me the question, ëWhat's the toughest thing about being a defensive coordinator at Virginia Tech?' Foster said recently. We've set some lofty goals for ourselves and reached a lot of them. Probably the toughest thing is that everybody expects you to be the best. Then, all of a sudden, you give up 300 yards in a game and that's not really a very good week. Really, all I see is a lot of offense out there.
Part of the reason Foster has spent the last 16 years of his life in Blacksburg is because he likes working for Hokies coach Frank Beamer. He likes raising his kids in southwestern Virginia, where life moves at a pace he's used to and the media glare isn't as bright as it might be in a place like Gainesville, Fla., where he once was wooed by former Florida coach Steve Spurrier with an offer to be the Gators' defensive coordinator.
Foster keeps in close contact with his roots. His childhood buddies, from Illinois and Kentucky, know the way to Blacksburg and come in to see Foster a few times a year.
Of course, he has been able to laugh a little louder and be a little preoccupied when he hangs out with his buddies this year. After last year's late-season swoon, Tech's defense once again is setting its standard as one of the nation's best.
The Hokies have had one of the nation's top 20 defenses for most of the season, a big reason why the team is again in the thick of the BCS picture. Defensive end Nathaniel Adibi, linebackers Mikal Baaqee and Vegas Robinson and defensive backs Michael Crawford, DeAngelo Hall and Jimmy Williams all have competed like guys who one day will be playing for the big money in the NFL.
As usual, the rush defense is where it usually resides in the nation's top 20, not giving up more than 81 yards to any single rusher this season. The real statement came in Tech's 51-7 victory against Syracuse on Oct. 11, when the Hokies held Orangemen tailback Walter Reyes to 40 yards. He entered the game as the nation's leading rusher, averaging more than 170 yards per game.
While the rush defense represents the Hokies' backbone, the pass defense is much improved, too. Through their first six games, the Hokies surrendered 13 pass plays of what coaches refer to as the dreaded big plays, which normally means gains of 20 yards or more. However, of those 13 plays, only three came when Tech had anything less than a 21-point lead.
All of the impressive numbers don't mean Foster is bellowing any less on the practice fields. If anything, he'll probably be screaming more in the coming weeks. The cruel winter is quickly approaching in the southwest Virginia mountains. It's almost time to put that powerboat in storage. Foster will be looking for some kind of release.
Willis Ready For Two-Sport Duty?
Though it may seem a bit of a stretch to envision Hokies tight end Keith Willis running the floor in Cassell Coliseum in a few months, that's just what might happen.
Rumors persist that Willis, a senior, will spend some time practicing with Tech's men's basketball team in December. While the hardwood Hokies have seven players listed at 6-6 or taller, they don't have a player who comes within 40 pounds of the 6-5, 265-pound Willis.
It's fair to say that if there's one player on the Hokies' football roster who could step in and contribute on the basketball court right away, it probably would be Willis. Basketball was almost his first choice of college athletic endeavors coming out of Norview High in Norfolk, Va.
As a senior in high school, he averaged 27 points and 12.7 rebounds a game from the forward position and was a first-team all-state selection. Willis scored over 1,000 points in his high school career, and he was a three-time all-district and two-time all-region choice.
Hokies coach Seth Greenberg could use a player with a wide body under the basket, especially considering the departure of Dimari Thompkins in April. Thompkins, a 6-9, 255-pound post player, played in 29 games and averaged 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds last season. But he decided to leave Virginia Tech, citing personal reasons.
With the way Bryan Stinespring, Virginia Tech's football offensive coordinator, has been reluctant to use his tight ends this season, Willis' offensive contributions may have more of an impact on the basketball court. The tight end hasn't been a primary target of Tech's passing game since 2001, the last year Rickey Bustle was offensive coordinator of the Hokies before taking the head coaching job at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Greenberg and Willis have been tight-lipped about the big man's possible role with the basketball team, but don't be surprised to see Willis become a regular part of Greenberg's seven- or eight-player rotation by mid-January. Willis is a lithe big man, and he could represent the most athletic presence the Hokies have had under the basket in years.