Highlights of Hokies' Belk Bowl Experiences

Follow what the Hokies are doing in Charlotte leading up to their Belk Bowl game against Arkansas on Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m. This page will feature short write-ups of the team’s many activities in the Queen City and will include video highlights and photo galleries.

UPDATED Dec. 28, 11:05 p.m.

Downtown Charlotte served as the location of Belk Bowl Fan Central on Wednesday evening, as fans from both Virginia Tech and Arkansas gathered for what could have been considered a “battle of the bands.” The bands, cheerleaders and mascots from both schools performed in the main courtyard of the EpiCentre. The players and coaches from the teams did not make an appearance, as they were putting the final touches on game plans for Thursday’s Belk Bowl, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.

UPDATED Dec. 28, 12:20 p.m.

As a small group of Virginia Tech players met with media members at the Belk Bowl’s Media Day on Belk Bowl Eve, one could get the sense rather quickly that the Hokies are tired of practicing and are ready for game day.

“I would say that we’ve gotten a little restless,” defensive tackle Woody Baron admitted. “We haven’t played a game in three weeks, so we’re restless to get back on the field. Guys are eager to get back out there.”

Baron was one of five players who met with the media, joining quarterback Jerod Evans, receiver Isaiah Ford, running back Sam Rogers and defensive end Ken Ekanem. Head coach Justin Fuente also participated in the event, which was held at BB&T Ballpark, the home of the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A team, on Wednesday morning.

As expected, the contingent received pretty much every question possible, from questions about specific players to those about the matchup between Tech and Arkansas to ones about the impact of a win and/or loss on the future of the program.

For the Hokies, the game presents an opportunity to win three straight bowl games for the first time in program history. It also affords them the opportunity to win 10 games in a season – something that the program has done on 13 occasions, including an eight-year stretch from 2004-11. When Fuente took the job, he pointed out that fact and made his players aware that they needed to get back to doing the things that got them to the somewhat magical 10-win mark.

“I wanted there to be a clear definition of where we wanted to go,” Fuente said. “We want to get back to where Virginia Tech should be, and to do that, we had to do things the way they used to in terms of working and toughness.”

Tech’s players and coaches also have been consistent in their messaging in the buildup to the game. They all want to send the small senior class off on a winning note.

“There is no question that, when you win a bowl game, it makes everyone feel better,” Fuente said. “I know there is a strong desire to send our seniors out in the right way. These seniors mean a lot to our younger players.”

To send the seniors out the right way, the formula for winning is quite simple. The Hokies need to run the ball against an Arkansas defense allowing more than 6 yards per carry and giving up an average of 209.3 yards rushing per game – a number that ranks 95th nationally. Behind Evans and Travon McMillian, who have combined for nearly 1,400 yards rushing, the Hokies average 184.9 yards rushing per game.

The Hokies also need to take care of the ball. In the Hokies’ four losses this season, they have turned the ball over 13 times compared to four for their opponents.

“The key is to take care of the ball,” Ford said. “That’s been the key for every game for us. Coach Fuente always says, when you win the turnover battle, it gives you a chance to win the game. That’s the least we can do – give ourselves a chance to win the game. We’re going to have to take care of the ball.”

Tech will hold its final practice Wednesday afternoon and then return to the hotel for positional meetings. The remainder of the day will be low-key.

The Hokies and Razorbacks kick off at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. The game will be televised by ESPN.

UPDATED Dec. 27, 4:15 p.m.

Much of the attention on Tech’s football program Tuesday in Charlotte centered on a small group led by Terrell Edmunds, Andrew Motuapuaka and Bucky Hodges. They sang karaoke to the lyrics of the likes of Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber and mixed in some “whip and nae nae” dance moves.

A visit to the Levine Children’s Hospital in downtown Charlotte, one of the best children’s hospitals in the nation, turned into quite the party, as a group of 23 Tech players, along with head coach Justin Fuente and defensive coordinator Bud Foster, met with approximately a dozen children, handing out miniature footballs, signing autographs, posing for photographs and simply offering holiday cheer.

Yet it turned out to be more than just a simple outing.

“I think our kids enjoyed it more than the patients,” Fuente said, smiling.

Much of the action took place in Seacrest Studios, a multimedia broadcast center located in the hospital’s atrium and built thanks to funds secured from The Ryan Seacrest Foundation founded by Ryan Seacrest, known best as the host for “America Idol.” The studio, manned by a full-time director, contains all sorts of audio-visual equipment that allows patients to participate in audio and video projects, or they can view programming from their rooms when celebrities stop by for visits.

Edmunds, Motuapuaka, Hodges, Tremaine Edmunds, Nigel Williams, Woody Baron, Sam Rogers and Chuck Clark met with kids in the studio and sang songs. As they opened up to the kids, they broke out the dance moves. Several of the kids seemed overwhelmed at seeing tall, 220-plus pounders dancing, but quickly warmed up to the group.

“I wish we could do this more often,” the extroverted Terrell Edmunds said. “I know that we could only do it this time right here. I’d do this every day if I could, just to give back and see the smiles that we put on their faces from giving them footballs and from dancing and singing with them … to see the joy was just great.”

Another group, led by Isaiah Ford, Ken Ekanem, Jon McLaughlin, Augie Conte and Jerod Evans, met with children in an adjacent room next to the atrium and played video games. Several of the players tossed the miniature footballs to the patients, though Joey Slye took a different approach and had one young lad working on his kicking skills.

The Tech contingent spent approximately an hour at the hospital before returning to the hotel to begin preparations for the Hokies’ afternoon practice. Following their afternoon practice, they were scheduled to use a Belk gift card given to them by bowl officials and go on a shopping spree at a local Belk store.

But the impact of their hospital visit should last quite some time – on both them and the patients.

“It just makes you appreciate things so much more,” Ford said of the visit. “Life itself is a blessing and to not have to go through things like that and to not be in a hospital for a period of time is something that we shouldn’t take for granted.

“I think they [the patients] were a little intimidated at first. Some of them were a little shy, but they opened up, and they started to smile. Seeing smiles on their faces was a joy to me.”

UPDATED Dec. 27, 12 p.m.

The Hokies split up on Tuesday morning with approximately two dozen players heading to the Levin Children's Hospital and the rest - about 100 players and coaches - travelling to the Second Harvest Food Bank.

The Second Harvest Food Bank supplies food and gracoery items to charitable agencies that assist people in need. The group at Second Harvest split into four lines and helped stuff 1,300 packages for the community and those in need.

UPDATED Dec. 26, 11 p.m.

The Hokies had dinner at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, just a few blocks away from the hotel. The team received its bowl watches there and were able to take in some of the venue's interactive experiences.

UPDATED Dec. 26, 6 p.m.

Tech held its second practice of bowl week down in Charlotte at Mallard Creek High School and the session included post-practice media availability. Charlotte native Adonis Alexander and Arkansas product Henri Murphy were among the players who met with media after the session.

UPDATED Dec. 26, 1 p.m.

The Hokies traveled to Charlotte Motor Speedway, the second NASCAR racetrack the team visited this season, and took part in the Richard Petty Driving School ride-along.

Almost 200 players, coaches and staff of the football program suited up, strapped on helmets and jumped into a two-seat NASCAR race car driven by one of the racetrack’s professional drivers for three laps around the track pushing upwards of 180 miles per hour.

UPDATED Dec. 25, 10 p.m.

The travel party headed over to Strike City for an evening of entertainment at the local bowling alley that featured more than a dozen lanes.

UPDATED Dec. 25, 4 p.m.

After their first practice in Charlotte – Sunday morning – a special guest visited the Hokies at their lunch and he had gifts for the kids in the travel party.

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