BLACKSBURG – Mother Nature didn’t cooperate with Virginia Tech Athletics’ inaugural Fan Appreciation Day – an event designed to give fans an opportunity to mingle with and get autographs of Tech football players and coaches.
But that didn’t keep Hokie Nation away.
An estimated 4,700 fans endured the rain and unseasonably cold conditions outside of Lane Stadium before the gates were opened shortly after 11 a.m. to allow guests to escape the weather and get into the concourse area.
The first Hokie fans arrived at 7:30 a.m. It was father Randall Cantrell along with his stepson, Alex Blankenship, and his son, Anthony Cantrell. The family, who reside in Whitewood, Virginia, about 120 miles to the west of the Tech campus, woke up at 5 a.m. and drove to Blacksburg to get to the stadium as early as possible. They were the only ones in line until about 9 a.m.
“I actually surprised these guys,” Randall Cantrell said. “They didn’t even know we were coming out until we were on the way. That’s actually why we aren’t dressed in Hokie stuff, because I wanted to surprise them. I think this event is great for the fans. It brings more people in and gets more people interested in Virginia Tech.
“When we first got here, I tried to get the kids to stay in the car, but they refused to. They wanted to stay in line. And I thought maybe we got here way too early, but I’m glad we did since we were first in line.”
“Meeting VT fans and getting autographs,” 8-year-old Anthony said. “I just want to get the whole team.”
As the rain varied from a slight drizzle to a heavy downpour to a steady soaker, more fans arrived and stood in line with typical autograph merchandise such as footballs, posters and media guides, but they were also armed with umbrellas, ponchos and rain boots – other necessities of the day.
Once under cover, fans scattered to the many stations set up, as players were broken up by positions. Four coaches were also on hand – head coach Frank Beamer, associate head coach and running backs coach Shane Beamer, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
“What an impressive turnout,” Virginia Tech Director of Athletics Whit Babcock said. “We created Fan Day as a way of saying thank you to our loyal Hokie fans and we were not going to let a little rain dampen this day. The Hokie Nation has the best fans in college football.”
The day also was not lost on any of the players. Speaking to media earlier in the day – at Tech’s annual Media Day – a couple players expressed their opinions of the event.
“It’s awesome to have kids coming up to you and asking for your autograph,” senior Kyshoen Jarrett said. “This is a dream for them, and you know you’re making it come true. To meet a Hokie football player that they admire and look up to, it’s great. It’s great for us to do. Plus, I have nieces and nephews that love coming to the games, so it’s great for our youth to experience something like this.”
“I remember when I was a little kid. I looked up to the high school guys when I went to high school games,” senior Willie Byrn said. “So I understand it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s reminds you of how rabid the fans are here and how much fun they have. It’s cool to see and be a part of it.”
It was all over shortly before 1 p.m., and as fans filed out of Lane, with the rain continuing to come down, Randall Cantrell reflected on the event.
“It was a great day. We got to meet a lot of the football players and coaches,” Randall said. “Everyone was super nice, and I hope they do this again next year.”
The Hokies open their season against William & Mary at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 30. A limited number of football tickets are on sale for the season opener versus the Tribe.
Additionally, a limited number of season tickets also remain for the 2014 football season. To purchase season tickets or tickets to the William & Mary game, log on to hokietickets.com or call the Virginia Tech Athletics Ticket Office at (540) 231-6731 or toll-free at 1-800 VA TECH4 (1-800-828-3244).
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