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MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
Tailback Joel Caleb (15) takes a water break during Virginia Tech football’s media day in Lane Stadium in Blacksburg on Saturday. Tailback Joel Caleb (15) takes a water break during Virginia Tech football’s media day in Lane Stadium in Blacksburg on Saturday.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
BLACKSBURG — Disappointing. Unacceptable. Surprising. Inconsistent. Motivating.
The exact response varies from player to player and from coach to coach, but it takes only two numbers to elicit a cringe around these parts: seven and six.
Virginia Tech’s record last year.
Saturday was football media day at Tech, and 7-6 was not the primary focus. The primary focus was on unanswered questions on the depth chart, newcomers who could make an impact, the clenched fist that is top-ranked Alabama.
Like baseball’s spring training, media day provides the annual soapbox for all things hope.
But 7-6 still colored the proceedings, because media day also serves as the unofficial pivot point between last year and this year.
You’re close enough that you can feel the opener coming in three weeks, but every question is posed with the perspective that this team is starting from somewhere, and that somewhere is what happened last year.
Until Tech and Alabama tee it up, the record that resonates remains 7-6.
That’s not a bad thing for the Hokies. Because even though the worst Tech record in 20 years still stings, it also inspires.
“I think with what happened last year, we understand that there’s a real thin line between being OK and not being OK, that you’ve got to play every play, prepare for every team,” coach Frank Beamer said. “It’s hard to win football games. I think all those things became very clear to us last year.”
That’s probably not the first time you’ve read those words from Beamer, and as often as he’s said them publicly over the years, his players must have heard them exponentially more often.
The difference after 7-6? The Hokies understand how and why they got to a point where those truisms were lost on them.
“It’s just complacency, man,” junior defensive tackle Corey Marshall said. “You get comfortable in a position. There’s certain expectations, and you don’t live up to them. Things like that tend to happen when you’ve built a tradition of winning over 10 years.
“We’ve just got to get back to the basics. Our leaders are taking control of the team. We’ve got to fall in line to keep moving forward.”
The 2013 leaders are well-defined: quarterback Logan Thomas on offense, linebacker Jack Tyler on defense. Both have made a vow to be vocal.
Both have embraced the gifts that 7-6 can give them when they need to be vocal.
“We know what it’s like to be at the bottom, and I think that is going to be the biggest thing,” Tyler said. “It’s not a good feeling. We don’t want to get back there.”
Even players who had very little to do with last year’s record have had to wear 7-6 as a scarlet letter for seven months.
“Bad season for Virginia Tech. Bad season,” said wide receiver D.J. Coles, who played just 13 snaps in 2012 before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Georgia Tech. “We’d won double-digit games for the past, what, [eight] years here? And to come out and go 7-6? It’s a very big motivator.”
Not that they’ve been able to do anything about it since January.
“That’s the tough part,” offensive lineman Caleb Farris said. “You’ve got to drive yourself with it. You’ve got to put it in the back of your mind. It comes to the surface every once in a while. You use it in the weight room, on the field when you get tired and you want to do things sloppy and let your technique go, you’ve got to kind of step up and use that as fuel.”
Three weeks from today, Tech will be 1-0 or 0-1. Seven and six will fade, but if the Hokies are smart about it, they will never forget.
“I think the way coach Beamer’s addressed it, we’ve stomped out a lot of those problems, a lot of immaturity,” Marshall said. “As a team this year, I think we’ll be ready to sidestep all those pitfalls.”
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