August 22, 2016
Former football lettermen enjoy return trip home
A group of 90 former players watched Saturday's scrimmage, met with Coach Fuente and the team, and had lunch as part of an exclusive event designed to bring them closer to the football program

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Perhaps more than any former Tech player, Lorenzo Williams keeps a close watch on the Virginia Tech football program.

After all, he played for the previous coaching staff and he helps the current coaching staff in his role as an academic advisor in the Pamplin College of Business. If a recruit shows an interest in business, then he gets to meet with Williams, who is working on his Ph.D. in public administration.

I’m in an interesting spot,” Williams said. “I was fortunate to be connected to the old regime and now the new regime. I know the old players and staff and I’m working with the new players and staff, and from the players to the coaching staff and the administration, the consensus is the same – Coach [Justin] Fuente brings a lot of energy.

“I heard that he’s a ‘player’s coach’ from everyone. I hear that he’s preaching healthy eating and conditioning in a different way and I believe that he is preparing the athletes to be even more conditioned on the football field. And I think we are moving in the right direction. I don’t think we could have found a better successor to Coach [Frank] Beamer.”

Williams and 89 former Tech football lettermen got to witness Fuente’s energy, as the football program invited former football lettermen back to campus to watch Saturday’s scrimmage at Lane Stadium. The contingent included former players from all eras, including the likes of Don Divers and Leo Burke, who played on the Hokies’ undefeated 1954 squad, to more modern-era guys like André Davis, Pierson Prioleau, Derek Smith and Dwight Vick.

The event was part of the athletics department’s continuing efforts to reach out to former football players. Administrators, especially AD Whit Babcock, and Fuente and his staff want those players to be a part of the program. The department always has welcomed former players when they returned to campus on their own, but Babcock and Fuente want to organize more gatherings, such as the one that took place Saturday.

Of course, the former players are receptive to such ideas.

“I was talking to Chad Beasley [a former defensive tackle] and some of the other guys and they certainly want to have more of an alumni presence, whether that’s like functions like this or the spring game,” said Will Montgomery, a former center who lettered at Tech from 2003-05 and played in the NFL for 10 seasons. “Or maybe tickets for regular-season games, maybe even helping guys get jobs out of college or maybe even guys who are already alumni and helping them network.

“I think that everyone wants to help for the future, so this is a starting point, but there is a lot more that guys want to get done. I think a lot of guys are proud to have gone to Virginia Tech and have some great relationships there, and going forward, you can always say that you are a Hokie and network with Hokies. So I think this is a good idea.”

An enhanced relationship between the program and former players creates so many benefits for all involved. Events such as this one allow the athletics department to show appreciation to a group of players who helped build the Virginia Tech program into the national brand that it is today.

There is also a recruiting impact. Former players’ pride in their school often permeates throughout the recruiting world, whether it be through word of mouth or through social media. Former players can be terrific ambassadors for a program – and recruits pay attention to these types of things.

In addition, and maybe most importantly, former players can help the current crop of players with their future careers. Many former players own businesses or work in supervisory roles and are in a position to hire current players interns or full-time employees once they graduate.

“I’ve been in the real world, the working world, now for 13 years and I think in any industry in any job, guys need to take advantage of getting to know some people, some alumni,” said Grant Noel, a former quarterback who lettered at Tech 2001-02. “Most football players are disciplined, organized, have to be on time, have to be accountable … so guys who played, they would be more than willing to interview anyone from their brotherhood, so to speak, of their football team before anyone else standing in line for the job.”

These types of events also provide a central gathering spot for former players to reconnect with some of their teammates who live in different locales. Former players love catching up with their buddies and re-living some of the past games when they played. It provides a way of strengthening a bond – not just among the players, but also among the generations and with both the football program and the university community.

Following Saturday’s scrimmage, the players were allowed onto the field to meet with the current team. Both Babcock and Fuente addressed the former players and their families and then everyone enjoyed a catered lunch.

A good time was had by all – and that’s what the athletics department wanted.

“I commend this event and it’s big of the university to step out,” said former defensive tackle Jim Baron, who played in 1994-95. “Hopefully we can continue to do things like this moving forward.”

“This is Home” is more than a marketing slogan for the department. They want former players to return “home” to Blacksburg as often as possible. Hopefully, Saturday’s event was only the first trip home for many of them.

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