Tech players meet the media at ACC Football Kickoff
By Jimmy Robertson
July 22, 2007

PINEHURST, N.C. - Virginia Tech football players Duane Brown and Carlton Powell represented the school at the 2007 ACC Football Kickoff, which started Sunday at the sleepy little village of Pinehurst in south-central North Carolina. Hordes of media members descended upon this small town, best known for its array of beautiful golf courses, to ask questions of players, coaches, bowl executives and ACC officials.

Sunday afternoon marked the players' time to meet with the media, and most of the questions lobbed at Brown and Powell centered on the April 16th incident on the Tech campus, one in which a gunman killed 32 people before taking his own life in the worst mass shooting in American history.

"I'd say it was 50-50," Powell said of the number of questions he fielded about the incident compared to the number of questions he got related to football. "We expected it. There's no way of getting around it. It [the shootings] happened. Everyone's trying to get past it and move on, but you can't take it away."

"We've [the Tech players] all accepted that we're going to be talking about this throughout the season," Brown said. "Everyone used to associate Virginia Tech with football and now they're going to connect Virginia Tech and football with this."

As a result of the tragedy, ESPN's Gameday crew will be coming to Blacksburg for the Hokies' season opener against East Carolina on Sept. 1. They figure to be the first of many media entities to visit Blacksburg throughout the season, with the emphasis on telling the story of how the school is trying to cope and move forward and using football to do it.

"In a way, I think we'll kind of be America's team outside of the teams we play," Brown said. "I've had people who don't follow football tell me that they are anxious for this season to start and to see what happens. It may be for a bad reason, but everyone seems to be pulling for us."

According to Brown and Powell, Tech's players are looking forward to the start of this season. They say they view it as their way of helping the school move forward.

"I don't think there's that much more pressure on us than there was before," Powell said. "There's always been pressure on us to perform and to live up to what we've done in the past. But I don't think we'll prepare any differently. We'll prepare for this season the same way we prepare for every season."

Now, here are some more nuggets from the afternoon's Q&A session with the players:

  • Each school brought two players to meet with the media, and on Saturday night, the players got to spend time together at dinner. Despite being rivals, and in some cases, bitter rivals, the players got along quite well. In fact, Sunday afternoon, Brown, Powell, Miami's Calais Campbell and UVa's Chris Long were hamming it up in a hallway during an afternoon break.

    "I figured they'd be here," Brown said. "It's not strange at all. I don't take my battles any further than the football field. On the football field, it's all business. But after that, they seem like good guys to hang out with."

  • In years past, the media crowd around the Wake Forest table was sparse. This year turned out to be a different story as a large throng gathered to interview Steve Justice and Jeremy Thompson to mostly get their perspectives on the Demon Deacons' run to the ACC title last season.

    "I'm sure a lot of people think last year was a fluke," Justice said. "But no one on our team does. We feel like we've got a lot of talent and we work hard. I think our talent level is close to the top [of the league]. We're not at the top, but we're close."

    Despite Justice's assessment of his team, he still expects the media to pick Wake Forest to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Division this season.

    "That's what we expect," Justice said. "We like being the underdog. We like going out and trying to prove people wrong. I'd love to be picked [to finish] last."

    The preseason polls, as voted on by media members, come out Monday afternoon.

  • BC quarterback Matt Ryan was the only starting quarterback at the ACC Football Kickoff, which many media members took as a poor reflection of the league's quarterback play. In fact, some asked Ryan questions related to that.

    "I don't know, that's not for me to say," he said. "I was just asked to come here along with Jolonn [Dunbar, a BC linebacker] and represent BC and I'm honored to do that."

    Interestingly, Ryan spent a portion of the interview session talking about UVa guard Sean Singletary. Ryan and Singletary attended the same high school in Philadelphia together (Ryan's a year older) and they played on the same football and basketball teams.

    "He was a helluva football player," Ryan said. "No question about it. He was a really good receiver and he was also a cornerback. He could hit and catch. He made me look good quite a bit."

    And how would Ryan characterize his own basketball abilities?

    "I was a much worse basketball player than he was a football player," Ryan joked. "I was a small forward and I was great at standing on the wing and watching him make plays."

  • Speaking of former high school teammates, Florida State running back Antone Smith gave a shout out to Zabian Dowdell, the former Hokie standout who graduated this past spring after a fantastic season in which he earned first-team All-ACC honors. Smith and Dowdell were teammates in high school in Pahokee, Fla.

    "I can't believe he didn't get picked up [in the NBA Draft]," Smith said. "Where is he now?"

    When informed that Dowdell was playing in a summer league in Las Vegas, Smith wished him the best.

    "That's my guy right there," Smith said. "I hope he does well."

  • Florida State coach Bobby Bowden brought in five new assistants this past spring in an attempt to turn around the Seminoles' fortunes - a year ago, they went 7-6. With those new assistants has come a renewed emphasis on discipline, which apparently had been lacking in Tallahassee the past few years. In fact, Chuck Amato, the former N.C. State head coach, is now on Bowden's staff, and while never known as a disciplinarian, Amato is at the forefront of the emphasis. For example, Amato and the rest of the staff instituted a rule that says players who refused to keep their lockers clean will lose locker room privileges and be forced to dress in the opponents' locker room for a week.

    "You can get sent over there for not having your cleats in the right place," Smith said. "Or for having too many gloves in your locker. We've had some guys sent over there and I think people are getting the message. No one guy is bigger than the team and we need to start doing the little things around here if we want to start winning more games."

    The Seminoles lost five games by seven points or less.

  • Another big topic on Sunday afternoon centered on the coaching changes within the ACC. Four schools - BC, N.C. State, North Carolina and Miami - have new head coaches, and the story is more intriguing considering Tom O'Brien left BC to go to N.C. State and that Butch Davis, who coached at Miami before heading to Cleveland to coach the NFL's Browns, returned to the league, taking the UNC job.

    Also, some head coaches made major changes to their staffs. Bowden replaced five assistants himself, and Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey hired a new offensive coordinator after Patrick Nix left to go to Miami as the coordinator there. In short, there will be a lot of transition going on within the league this year.

    The move talked about the most on Sunday was O'Brien's move to N.C. State. BC replaced him with Jeff Jagodzinski, who was the offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers last season. And no one was more qualified to comment on both guys than Ryan, BC's quarterback.

    "I've enjoyed working with Coach Jagodzinski," Ryan said. "The day he was hired, I sat in his office for about 30 minutes that night talked with him about his game plan for the Minnesota Vikings game [Green Bay played Minnesota the following day]. We also talked about Brett Favre and why he did some of the things he did, and the funny thing was Coach couldn't answer some of them.

    "And we talked about what he wanted out of me. It was a great first meeting. I'm sure that there will be some speed bumps along the way for us as an offense, but I'm confident we'll get it worked out."

    And about O'Brien's demeanor: "I think they [N.C. State's players] will find that Coach O'Brien is not difficult to get along with," Ryan said. "He's straight forward. He doesn't say a lot, but they shouldn't take that silence as him being mad at them. He's just not a chatty guy. I have so much respect for him, though. He's a great coach."

    N.C. State and BC do battle on Sept. 8 in Chestnut Hill, Mass., in an early-season ACC slugfest.